Is the property market hotting up?

With the spring buying season under way, Jonathan Christie takes the nation's property temperature
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The daffodils are out, Easter has come and gone, and estate agents throughout the land should be eagerly awaiting the bonanza of the "spring buying season". But the last couple of years have tempered this normal seasonal giddiness, bringing instead uncertainty and unpredictability. So, as the spring breeze ushers in the warmer air, will Britain's housing market show signs of hotting up?

There has been some good news for agents over the last 12 months. According to Nationwide, house prices have risen around 9.1 per cent from their April 2009 low point with the average UK home now costing £164,519 – £14,000 higher than a year ago. First-time buyers are now exempt from stamp duty up to £250,000, potentially saving them an average of £1,368, and London has experienced a "mini-boom".

Outside the capital, housing experts Hometrack report that properties are taking an average of eight weeks to sell after 11 viewings – both these figures back in line with the boom of 2007 – and interest rates have remained low.

But storm clouds still linger. According to the Bank of England, the number of mortgage approvals fell for the third month in a row in February and average earnings have risen by less than 1 per cent in a year. First-time buyers need to stump up an average deposit of around £30,000, and London's success is contrasted with price falls elsewhere. A report by Lombard Street Research concludes the long-term impact of the credit crunch may mean that the next five years could be, at best, "flat".

Marcus Dixon, associate director at Savills Residential Research, is cautious. "Housing transactions over the last two years have struck a record low, but the "pent-up" demand for home ownership is significant and still building. This has the potential to underpin several years of relatively high house price growth."

But it's the coming year where most buyers' and sellers' minds are focused. Gary Styles, risk and strategy director at Hometrack, sees finance as a sticking point. "Banks are still reluctant to lend at higher loan-to-value ratios. Hopefully, as they become more comfortable with their balance sheets and greater competition enters the market we will see more competitive mortgage products available. The consensus is that house prices for 2010 may reach +2.0 per cent."

Such a projection emphasises that the market is not about short-term speculation; the seemingly endless good times experienced by the "property ladder" generation remain a distant memory. Just like our weather, buying and selling a property continues to be very unpredictable indeed.

State of the market: Key hot spots

Weymouth: Price change 09/10: -13%

The West Country has shown steady signs of picking up with South Gloucestershire and North Somerset impressing with +7.3 per cent and +5.8 per cent respectively over 12 months. But Dorset's average prices are down -4.9 per cent. Unglamorous Weymouth is still looking for a change of fortune against Christchurch's strong 4 per cent annual rise.

Temperature: Mainly cold with sunny patches

Barking & Dagenham: Price change 09/10: -9.3%

Barking & Dagenham has been the cheapest area to live in the capital for years now. Land Registry figures show London is up 11 per cent, and an average price of £333,394 makes Barking & Dagenham’s £168,106 average seem amazing value.

Temperature: Glacial

Tunbridge Wells: Price change 09/10: +23.5%

Commuter-favourite Tunbridge Wells has found its groove again, wooing buyers with top-performing schools, high-end shops and speedy trains into the city.

Temperature: Sweltering

Hull: Price change 09/10: +2.6%

Hull has rallied since this time last yearwhen its investments had dried up and average prices had slumped by 35 per cent to £84,000. This figure now stands at £100,668 and symbolises a change of fortune for the whole region.

Temperature: Mild and calm

Middlesborough: Price change 09/10: +9.7%

It’s no longer grim up North. Despite prices in Northumberland tumbling nearly 10 per cent in recent months, the North in general is up 6.6 per cent. Middlesbrough has been consistently strong since 2007, bucking nationwide trends.

Temperature: Almost hot

Blaenau Gwent: Price change 09/10: +2.9%

Blaenau Gwent is still one of Britain’s cheapest areas, but a halt to the downward slide of prices here has resulted in glimmers of optimism. Previous bullish markets in bordering Torfaen have registered negative growth over the last 12 months whilst the rest of Wales has been a mixed bag.

Temperature: Defrosting

Kensington & Chelsea: Price change 09/10: -6.5%

Amicroclimate that continues to bamboozle. Prices fell 6.5 per cent over the year, but it still sits at the top of the list in London for average prices. Mixed-bag boroughs like Haringey, Lambeth and Tower Hamlets showed double-figure annual growth, but Newham is yet to register its Olympic boost.

Temperature: Isolated cold snaps

Greater Manchester: Price change 09/10: +8.2%

All regions in the North-west are rising, with Manchester and Merseyside leading the charge. While Manchester’s glut of unsold flats has finally gone, this is down to the lack of new-builds coming on to the market.

Temperature: Becoming barmy