Buyers keep their foot on the brake

Anne Spackman on a romantic north Wales estate which a family is selling after 1,000 years
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The Independent Online
Every time a report on house prices is published, somebody somewhere says it does not apply to them. In general, those at the top of the market and in the most affluent parts of the country continually dispute the gloomy version of the housing market put out by the building societies. Recently their protests have diminished. The market is patchy everywhere, with business up one week and down the next. Prices, in general, are sticking.

One area which did have good reason to complain was outer London and Surrey, which saw price growth of up to 12 per cent in 1994. Barnard Marcus, the estate agency chain owned by Royal Insurance, has more than 40 offices in this area. It has just produced an office-by-office report on price movements in 1995 based on real sales figures - and it looks remarkably similar to the picture across the rest of the country.

The vast majority of Surrey offices report no increase in prices in the first quarter of the year in most kinds of property. What small rises there are tend to be in three- and four-bedroom houses, with flats still showing a fall. Surbiton is a typical example. One-bedroom flats have fallen by 4 per cent, two-bedroom flats by 2 per cent and two-bedroom houses are stable. Prices for three-bedroom houses have gone up 4 per cent and for four-bedroom houses more than 3 per cent. The pattern is repeated in London. In the south-west the value of one-bedroom flats in Richmond and Earlsfield has fallen, while the value of houses has risen by as much as 8 per cent. The strongest rises across the board have been seen in Clapham, East Sheen, Kennington and Tooting.

In north London, there are no reports of prices falling, but only Highgate is showing significant price increases. In west London, Chiswick and Ealing are the main bright spots, with prices falling in Acton.

The area managers cite fears about interest rates as the major brake on an improvement in the market. The manager of the west London area could have been speaking for almost anywhere in the country when he said: "Instructions remain similar to the last quarter of 1994, but there is a definite downturn in sales and exchanges. Buyers are becoming increasingly uncompromising and vendors still believe they can obtain premium prices, which is not necessarily the case."

Still the most saleable property is the good period house. One of the prettiest for sale is The Higher House at Grinshill near Shrewsbury. The Grade II house nestles under a wooded slope in one and a half acres of grounds. It has three large reception rooms and a kitchen/breakfast room on the ground floor, the main bedroom suite and two bedrooms and a bathroom on the first floor and two bedrooms and a bathroom on the top floor. Balfour & Cooke in Shrewsbury is inviting offers over £300,000.

Beltons in King's Lynn is selling a fine three-storey Georgian house with paddocks running down to a 400ft frontage on the River Nar. The listed house sits in five acres of grounds. The house has four large reception rooms, seven bedrooms, three bathrooms and a self-contained flat and is priced at £340,000.

Baroness Thatcher's famous phrase that Mr Gorbachev was a man she could do business with was echoed last week by estate agent Trevor Abrahmsohn. He was one of the British agents who took a stand at the first International Property Market Exhibition in Moscow and St Petersburg. Mr Abrahmsohn has sold a steady stream of properties in Hampstead and Highgate to Russian customers over the past two years. He says they are the easiest nationality to do business with, as they make up their minds quickly. Perhaps estate agents fed up with waiting for the British to rediscover their faith in home ownership should convert the Russians to the merits of a property- owning democracy.