Buyers and sellers alike are struggling in a stagnant market, with strict mortgage lending still proving a barrier and house prices dipping. But some parts of the UK seem more resilient. Homes in central London often buck the national trend, but new research reveals that other areas are weathering the storm too.
"There are many reasons why some postcodes feature a bustling property market," says Nigel Lewis, a property analyst at FindaProperty.com.
"This can include being underpriced compared with neighbouring areas, which is true in Chorley in Lancashire; attracting people escaping London for a quieter life, for example in Brighton; and economic success in the face of the recession, as with parts of Essex," he says.
Figures from Findaproperty.com covering areas all over the UK outside London highlight the top 50 postcodes with the highest number of sales from January 2010 to January 2011. There are a few surprises.
Brighton and Hove
The past year has been a relatively busy time for estate agents in Brighton and Hove, with postcodes in the area taking the top three slots in FindaProperty's list. There were 1,505 transactions in BN2 homes alone, compared with the average of 291 property sales per postcode in the UK as a whole.
Although the Brighton market was hit hard in the early part of the recession, the seaside resort has bounced back better than most. Land Registry figures show that average house prices in Brighton have dropped off since last July but stood at £220,550 this January, compared with £215,747 a year before.
Alex Mackay, the managing director of estate agents Mishon Mackay, attributes a busy market to a combination of pricing correctly to generate activity, and Brighton's ongoing popularity as a cosmopolitan town which is only an hour's train journey to London.
"Our figures show that 35 per cent of all our sales in quarter one were to London buyers, double what it was at the same time last year. And although I don't think this is necessarily a trend, we are focused on the London market," he says.
Staying with the South-east, ITV 2's The Only Way Is Essex hasn't done Chelmsford any harm: takes the 12th spot in the list with 1,120 transactions.
The big pull here is easy commuting access to London, but without the typical commuter town price tag. Average house prices in Chelmsford were at £190,976 in January 2011, according to the Land Registry.
"Essex in general is under-reported. The train goes straight into Liverpool Street so if you want, relatively speaking, more for your money and you work in the City, anywhere along the train line is a popular option," says Mr Lewis.
Perhaps the biggest surprise entry in FindaProperty's list is Leicester, with various postcodes featuring throughout the list, but its inhabitants may not be so shocked.
"We're a little bit forgotten here in Leicester but we've had a lot of infrastructure and regeneration change in the city which has helped the market," says Nick Owen, the managing director of Spencers estate agents.
The old, formerly run-down part of the city centre has had a makeover in the shape of the St George's cultural quarter and the new Highcross shopping centre. The buy-to-let market is particularly buoyant thanks to the university.
Average house prices were £116,377 at the beginning of this year, down from a high of £130,392 in January 2008, according to the Land Registry. LE2 areas such as Braunstone, Glenfield and Westcotes secured a healthy 1,135 sales over the year.
"If you take a big regeneration and smartening up of the city, the university element, a new shopping centre, and add in the fact that sellers are market savvy and being more realistic with prices, you will get this sort of spike," says Mr Owen.
Students and young professionals making the most of being only five miles south of Manchester city centre and 10 minutes' drive to Manchester international airport have kept the M20 village of Didsbury and neighbouring Withington afloat with 846 sales last year. In Greater Manchester, prices reached an average of only £109,960 in January 2011, although Zoopla estimates that in the M20 areas, prices are closer to £227,504. Buyers in Manchester have been reeled in by attractive deals on newly built developments around some of the business centres, many of which sprang up before the recession but have been vacant ever since. In Salford, anticipation of an influx of workers relocating to the BBC's new offices in the MediaCity complex, Salford Quays, may improve on the 783 sales it reached in 2010.
"Properties in these developments can now be snapped up for a proverbial song. However, buyers and investors interested in purchasing in these areas of increased activity need to be careful," says Nicholas Leeming of Zoopla.co.uk.
He warns that buyers shouldn't be pressured into making quick decisions and should be wary of the threat of gazumping, but says that careful investment should pay off.
"The good news for buyers is that increasing interest in an area is good for future prices, and if they invest wisely, there is a good chance their purchases will continue to appreciate in value."
In Lancashire, areas in the borough of Chorley including Adlington, Buckshaw Village, Coppull, Eccleston and Heskin had 1,051 transactions in the year from January 2010.
Prices across the county are relatively affordable, with homes selling for an average of £116,622 in January, but Buckshaw Village is worth particular mention. This has been built as a sustainable community complete with 2,000 homes aimed at families and first-time buyers, with a new primary school and a health centre.
"Buckshaw is an interesting one because it's a complete new-build village with a school, supermarket, play areas and shopping centres which were all built from scratch," says Jonathan Corless, a regional director at Bridgfords estate agents.
Funding is in place for a Buckshaw Village station too, which will secure direct rail links to Bolton, Preston and Manchester offering residents an affordable, semi-rural lifestyle but with great access to big cities.
"Pricing is extremely competitive in relation to Manchester; you pay 20 to 30 per cent more in Manchester for the same type of property," says Mr Corless.
Boasting two universities, Nottingham has always been an attractive place to buy. FindaProperty's figures show that towns in the NG9 area, including Beeston, Stapleford, Lenton Abbey and Chilwell, collectively have had 943 transactions, placing them in the top 20.
Many buyers are pulled in because of nearby headquarters for Boots and the bigger Nottingham university which is nestled in the west, near the largest hospital in the UK, Queen's Medical Centre.
"There has always been huge demand in those areas because of those three key employers – Boots, the Queen's Medical Centre and Nottingham University – as well as the students themselves," says Jonathan Simpson, the managing director of estate agents Frank Innes.
Average city of Nottingham prices dropped to £89,246 in January, according to the Land Registry. This has sparked the interest of keen investors. "Prices have hardened but are now more realistic and in those areas the buy-to-let market has seen a resurgence. You simply cannot get enough property to let in those areas," adds Mr Simpson.