THE fall in residential property prices this summer has been relatively steep, but it has not been so sharp that it could be called a crash. This is a modest victory for the Government in its efforts to take the heat out of the market. So far, however, prices have not dropped far enough to give potential first-time buyers a chance of entering the market. The banks' tight lending policies, too, will help keep away new buyers for a long time to come. But the Government does appear to have managed to slow speculation without causing heavy losses to the bona fide home-owner. The existing market-restraining measures, announced in June and largely aimed at discouraging quick and speculative turnover of uncompleted apartments, will stay. But if the Government is aiming for stability, rather than for a dramatic decline in prices, the Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands, Tony Eason, is right to conclude there is no need for further measures for the moment. Weapons such as capital gains tax or punitive stamp duty on short term purchases can be returned to the armoury, for use, if necessary, in later battles. Whether Mr Eason is sensible to trumpet that conclusion so publicly, however, remains to be seen. With the threat of further retaliation lifted for the moment, some of the speculators he so naively claims have ''largely left the market'' might well come back. Many now have costly properties to offload. If the uncertainty overhanging the market had been allowed to continue, some might have been forced to sell and cut their losses rather than risk a further fall in prices. Now, however, Mr Eason's stated intention to lay off the residential market might encourage them to hold on longer in the expectation of higher prices later. The effect of Mr Eason's remarks is not to be what he intends. Already the developers are grateful to him for their ''soft-landing''. How long before the speculators conclude the Government is no longer serious about reining them in and the buying spiral starts again?