Hot spots in winter

December is hosting a property boom around the country. By Rosalind Russell
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The Independent Online
Hot spots in December are bringing an unseasonal but welcome glow to home owners sorely in need of some cheer. Spectacular rises in London and the south-east have been followed by clusters of mini-booms around the country. Even with this week's rise in interest rates the whole system has shifted up a gear, with sales agreed faster, offers being accepted within hours of houses coming on the market and fierce competition among buyers racing to best and final offers.

"The rate of deals falling through has dropped from 30 per cent to under 10 per cent," says John Husband of agents Humberts. "Prices are being marked up as demand exceeds supply by a ratio of 3 to 1. In our Lewes office, there have been price rises as high as 20 per cent for some properties."

A detached house in East Sussex now costs pounds 10,000 more than it it did six months ago, according to Land Registry figures, although flats have only risen by around pounds 2000.

"Lewes to London by rail is only about an hour which makes it popular with commuters," says John Husband. "Values drop off to the east of the town and rise in the north and west. Real hotspots are within 10 miles each side of the M23."

Even previously hard-to-sell old chestnuts - next to roads or power lines - are finding buyers. Humberts recently sold a house outside Crawley, just 300 yards from the M23, for pounds 330,000.

"A nice house, but the noise would be deafening," says Husband.

Even million pound houses have buyers queueing up. Humberts say they sold a pounds 1m house near Chichester four days after putting it on the market.

"Not only that, but people are prepared to bid 20 per cent over the guide price to get the house off the market before anyone else spots it." Part of the demand is being fuelled by a lack of good property. Although prices are rising, in most areas they haven't reached the mid 1988 peak, which leaves thousands still with negative equity.

The result, says Husband, is a complete missing tier of potential vendors.

"They see no point in moving until their property value recovers above the 1988/89 levels. This could take another two years."

In Hampshire there is lively competition between locals who want to trade up and ex-Londoners renting so they can pounce the minute a good house comes up. When a renter does buy, it doesn't release another house for sale onto the market.

"The locals are getting beaten to the draw," says Russell Hill, of Hill and Morrison in Odiham. "We are selling houses within days and price expectations are consistently exceeded. There is a phenomenal boom in the character country cottage market. I wouldn't have done it before, but now I would seriously advise people to put their homes on the market just a few weeks before Christmas."

Job confidence in Birmingham has enticed commuters out to Worcestershire and the south-west Midlands, where prices have risen by up to 10 per cent in the past six months, say Knight Frank.

There is no shortage of cash. Humberts sold a three storey house in need of complete modernisation in Worcester for almost pounds 175,000, after strong competition between potential buyers. The average time it takes to sell a house in the Midlands has dropped from 23 weeks to 19, in a matter of two months.

Post-crash rebound has returned some prices to near, or even above peak values, says Savills. Those include homes in Surrey, parts of Sussex, Kent, Essex and Hampshire. North Oxfordshire and Warwickshire have the extended M40 corridor to thank for property price hikes. Land Registry figures put the price of a semi in Oxfordshire up more than pounds 5000 and in Warwickshire almost pounds 3000 since June.

In Suffolk, five bidders competed to buy an old rectory, unoccupied for a year and with up to pounds 100,000 needing spent on it. All were over the guide price of pounds 265,000.

Smart Leicestershire villages like Woodhouse Eaves are a powerful draw for families moving up from the south. This year, 65 per cent of buyers in Strutt and Parker's Market Harborough office came from London and the Home Counties. As they report best and final offers of up to 25 per cent more than the asking price, there is a whiff of buyer desperation in the air. No-one wants to be left without a seat when the music stops.

Hot spot best buys...

In Hampshire, a brick and stone detached cottage about six miles from Odiham (mainline station to London five miles away at Farnham) is the commuter's dream.

On the edge of Bentley village, with garden and paddock, it has three bedrooms, beamed ceilings, inglenook fireplace and old oak staircase. Outside there's a double garage. A recent by-pass takes almost all through traffic away from the village. pounds 230,000 through Hill & Morrison (01256 702892)

In Worcestershire, Yew Tree Cottage in Hartlebury is Grade II listed, has more than an acre of grounds and is 20 miles from Birmingham. The white painted four bedroom house is on the edge of a thriving village. There are exposed wall timbers, open fireplaces, 16ft kitchen and a vaulted landing ceiling. pounds 250,000 through Humberts (01905 611066).

In Warwickshire, a cottage style barn conversion on the edge of Ilmington is eight miles from Moreton-in-Marsh (mainline trains to Paddington) and 13 miles from the M40. The three bedroom house has a private walled garden, open Cotswold stone fireplace, beamed ceiling in the 28ft sitting room and 13ft kitchen. pounds 143,000 through Hamptons (01386 852205).

In East Sussex, Old Barn Cottage in Rodmell, three miles from Lewes, is being sold with a brick and flint barn with potential for use as studio or office. The Grade II listed four bedroom house with views towards the Downs, is partly tile hung and covered by roses and clematis. Around pounds 215,000 through Humberts (01273 478828). The same agent is selling Church Farm Barn seven miles from Lewes, with four bedrooms, games room, 20ft kitchen, four stables, double garage and four acres of gardens and paddocks. Price around pounds 265,000.