The United States and Japan are expected to see the biggest rise in distressed property sales in the first quarter, as the fallout from the global property downturn intensifies, the results of a survey showed on Monday.

RICS, which last polled its members in the final quarter of 2009, defines distressed properties as those with a foreclosure order or are advertised for sale by their mortgagee, and which tend to fetch a lower price than their market value.

It said the net balance of 85 percent more respondents in the United States polled during the fourth quarter expect distressed property sales to rise in the first three months of 2010, compared with about 68 percent in Q3.

The turnaround was even more distinct in Japan, where the net balance of respondents predicting an increase in distressed sales this quarter jumped from 12 percent in the Q3 2009 poll, to 80 percent in the Q4 poll.

Rounding out the top five markets expected to be worst hit by distressed sales this quarter are Ireland, Scandinavia, and Spain, the survey showed.

It is the major real estate markets of the world, namely the United States and Japan, where agents expect the strongest growth in distressed sales in the first quarter of 2010, Oliver Gilmartin, RICS senior economist, said.

RICS also asked its members whether the levels of interest from specialist funds that buy distressed properties was rising, finding that 21 out of 25 countries saw increased interest, with interest in Spain, Ireland, UK, and US rising at a faster pace.

Significantly, whilst the U.S. is seeing ongoing rises in interest from specialist funds, Japan is not the recipient of the same level of investor appetite for distressed property assets, Gilmartin said.

(Reporting by Daryl Loo; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)