Property: Another year of living dangerously

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The Independent Online
Property trends this year look set to mirror the last, when a burst of buying and selling in the first five months fizzled out in June, resulting in a disappointing summer and autumn.

There are more gloomy estate agents than happy ones, according to the latest report from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. And most of the happy ones are concentrated at the top end of the market.

The recovery is strongest in London and the South-east, with East Anglia also showing improvement. The North-west is suffering most with half the agents surveyed still reporting falling prices. Good family houses and flats in popular areas are selling well, but finding viewers for anything flawed is difficult.

A remark by an agent in Gosforth, an upmarket area of Newcastle upon Tyne, sums up the situation: 'It's an unreliable, patchy market. Demand for some properties in good residential areas is strong and not matched by supply, yet there is little interest in properties in secondary areas.'

Housebuilders appear to be more confident about the future. Despite stiff increases in the price of land, the number of builders applying to start new projects was up 16 per cent during the second quarter of 1994, compared with the same period last year.

Again, there were marked regional variations. The North, West Midlands, South-west, Yorkshire and Scotland had the biggest increases in activity, although, again, figures for the North-west were poor. The smaller increases in East Anglia, East Midlands and the South- east reflect the fact that the recovery was already under way there by June 1993.

The National House Building Council cited high levels of affordability as justification for its optimism. The factor most frequently cited as the cause of pessimism among agents was potential buyers' nervousness about job security. Accurately predicting how buyers and sellers are going to behave will only be possible when both those factors are incorporated in one index.

WHILE surveys paint a depressing picture of the housing market in the North-west, there are some pockets of serious confidence. Crosby Homes, part of the Berkeley Homes group, is building two small, exclusive developments of houses, whose design, the group says, is inspired by Sir Edwin Lutyens. Features to be emulated from the turn-of- the-century architect of grand country houses include deep pitched roofs, long windows and panelled libraries. The houses will have four reception rooms, five bedrooms and three bathrooms and cost more than pounds 360,000. Crosby Homes is building them in Bramhall and Prestbury, part of the Manchester stockbroker belt.

In the southern stockbroker belt of Surrey, John D Wood is selling the real thing. The Dutch House, near Dorking, was built by Lutyens in 1897 for W Cattley Esq. An inscription in the reception hall, 'O Liberty Thou Choicest Treasure', dates from its second owners, who were involved in the suffrage movement.

The cream-washed house has four reception rooms, four first- floor bedrooms and two bathrooms and three further bedrooms on the second floor. It is listed Grade II. John D Wood is asking pounds 400,000, the same price as one of the houses on Crosby's Bramhall development.