A happier new year for prices? Well . . . maybe

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The Independent Online
THE first sniff of a property recovery may be emerging from estate agents who worked solidly through the Christmas and New Year holiday dealing with potential buyers. More than 40 per cent of agents in a straw poll by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said prices remained unchanged over the last three months of 1992. A tiny number even reported increases of up to 2 per cent.

Bitter experience of previous false dawns means no one is getting excited, particularly as more than half the 150 agents questioned were still seeing falls. But one piece of hard evidence for an upturn has emerged from the South. David Mitchell of Newbury-based agents Dreweatt Neate says sales in the eight weeks before Christmas were 15 per cent higher than in 1991, despite the fact that fewer homes were sold in the year as a whole. Average prices also edged upwards, suggesting that property values have now stabilised in this territory, he says.

UK prices fell by almost 8 per cent last year, according to the Halifax Building Society, while the Nationwide recorded just over 4.5 per cent. But both saw signs of relief in December, when they edged down only 0.6 and 0.2 per cent respectively.

Family affair A LITTLE piece of history has slipped away with the sale of the 3,000-acre Mitford Estate near Morpeth for pounds 2.85m. The family name became famous this century with the literary and political exploits of the Mitford sisters, who were cousins of the owner, Brigadier E C Osbaldeston-Mitford. But Humberts and Sale & Partners, who sold the estate to a Newcastle-based company, point out that the Mitford name has been synonymous with this part of Northumberland since before the Norman Conquest. Mitford Castle was already old when laid waste by King John in 1215, although the main house was not built until the early 19th century.

Continental costings EUROPHILES claim moving to Paris or Frankfurt will become as simple as shifting to Portsmouth or Farnborough now the single market is in force. But homebuyers should look hard at the hidden costs before they leap.

A house in the German financial centre costs twice as much as in London, while apartments in the French capital are the most expensive in Europe. But the pain does not stop there. Extra costs, such as agents' fees and taxes, are almost four times higher in Germany and 11 times higher in France.

Buying an pounds 80,000 property in Germany, for instance, would involve pounds 5,650 in costs compared with less than pounds 1,600 in the UK, says a study by the Woolwich Building Society. Most of that goes to agents. They are more crafty in France, hiding their fees in the price of a property. But after the legal and other fees of pounds 3,000 have been paid, the government steps in to demand another pounds 8,000 in VAT, taking the purchase bill to pounds 11,000.

In fact Britain is the cheapest place in Europe to buy a home - although possibly not for long, as the Chancellor considers imposing VAT on property sales in the Budget.

These figures ignore the higher cost of the property itself. A 4/5-bed home in Frankfurt averaged between pounds 240,000 and pounds 390,000 last year compared with the surprisingly low figure of pounds 130,000 to pounds 153,000 in London, according to FIABCI, the international association of agents and developers. But that pales beside Milan, where a similar place costs up to pounds 900,000 because space is so prized in the overcrowded city.

The best place to look for a new career posting might be Amsterdam, where average prices range from pounds 73,000 to pounds 130,000, although the FIABCI survey picked out Cambrils on Spain's Costa Brava as Europe's bargain basement. The same home there costs a maximum of pounds 120,000.