England and Wales drive 1.9% increase in house prices but Scotland and Northern Ireland lag behind


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The Independent Online

House prices climbed by 1.9% year-on-year in February, but England and Wales drove the increase while Scotland and Northern Ireland posted falls, official figures showed today.

On a month-on-month basis, prices held steady at £233,000 on average across the UK, following a 0.7% dip in January, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

Its latest report highlighted the continued patchy performance of the market across the UK. Prices were up by 2.1% in England to reach £242,000 on average, while in Wales they climbed by 4.1% to around £160,000.

Meanwhile, prices in Scotland dropped by 1.2% annually to around £177,000 and in Northern Ireland they tumbled by 7.7% to reach £125,000 typically. House prices have been falling in Northern Ireland for the last five years, following a period of strong increases seen before the economic downturn.

In England, the North West was the only region to see house prices fall year-on-year, with a 0.1% dip. London, the North East and the South East saw the biggest annual increases, at 5.9%, 2.4% and 1.4% respectively.

Across the UK, house prices have been rising year-on-year for 11 months in a row, adding to recent signs that confidence in the housing market is generally on the up.

The Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) published a breakdown of its lending figures for February yesterday, which showed that 2013 has been the best start to the year for first-time buyers since 2008.

First-time buyers have consistently accounted for two-fifths of house purchase loans for the last six months according to the CML's figures, suggesting that market conditions are continuing to improve for people who are trying to get a foothold on the property ladder.

However, today's ONS figures also show that the typical house price paid by a first-time buyer in February was 1.6% higher than it would have been a year ago, reaching £173,000 on average.

Prices paid by existing home owners who are moving up the property ladder have increased at a higher rate of 2.1% year-on-year. The typical price paid by an existing home owner was £269,000 in February.

Jonathan Harris, director of mortgage broker Anderson Harris, said: "While home owners will welcome higher house prices, those struggling to get on the housing ladder for the first time are unlikely to feel the same.

"There was good news from the Council of Mortgage Lenders yesterday suggesting a rise in the number of first-time buyers, which does suggest that funding is easier to come by for those with more modest deposits... If property prices continue to edge up, this is not going to help the situation."

Mortgage availability has sharply increased since the Government launched its Funding for Lending scheme last August, which gives lenders access to cheap finance in order to help borrowers, and there have been signs of lenders bringing out more innovative deals for people with small deposits.

Lenders have also been offering some of their lowest ever mortgage rates, although financial information website Moneyfacts has warned consumers to watch out for hefty fees. The average fee attached to a mortgage deal currently on the market is around £1,500, which is the highest figure on records going back for 25 years.

Property search website Rightmove said yesterday that house sellers have hiked their asking prices to the highest amounts ever recorded in the month of April, in what it put down to further evidence of a recovering market.