Property: Down-valuations are killing recovery

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AGENTS are jumping to the defence of sellers accused of threatening the fragile housing recovery by pulling property off the market in anticipation of rising prices. Lenders are the real villains, according to the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA). Owners are often keen to sell but building society valuers refuse to accept the price agreed with a buyer. More than half the association's members polled in May say down-valuations have killed deals or dragged them into long renegotiations.

Another problem beyond owners' control is that their homes are worth less than they paid for them in the boom, says the NAEA president, David Goldsworthy. Yet, this double-whammy did not prevent sales rising by more than 18 per cent in May compared with the same month last year.

However, sales are not the only indicator of recovery, and new mortgage figures indicate that the present one is still going in fits and starts. New loans fell by 12 per cent last month after three successive increases, according to the Council of Mortgage Lenders. Builders are also nervous about a fall-off in sales over the past few weeks.

Most insiders now expect a quiet summer and hope buyers and sellers will be back in force during the autumn. But this stuttering progress has not dimmed one leading forecaster's conviction that prices could rise by 10 per cent in central London by next summer and filter out to the rest of the country by the end of 1994. Yolande Barnes says in the latest Savills Residential Research Bulletin that this could even lead to a boom if people try to beat such rises and panic buying sets in.

THE RECESSION has bypassed a major group of property owners, one that seems to have flourished in the past few years. Around 15,000 people built their own homes in the 12 months to April - a 6 per cent increase on the previous year. This is equivalent to the combined output of the nation's top two commercial builders, Tarmac and Wimpey, generating annual business worth pounds 650m, yet it gets hardly a mention amid the gloomy aftermath of the slump.

Ease in finding land and skilled workers has outweighed financial problems, according to Murray Armor, the guru of self-builders, who ferreted out these figures from obscure government sources. Individual owner-builders get cast in the same mould as self-build groups who roll up their sleeves to lay bricks and mortar. Such groups have been hit by rising costs and managed to complete only around 200 homes last year, so it appears at first sight that all activity has dried up. Yet most self-builders are ordinary buyers who reject the bland offerings of major builders, choosing to find a site and employ professionals to construct the homes they want.

Up to a quarter of all homes could be built this way within a few years as people become more demanding, Mr Armor thinks. That is still far short of Canada, where 40 per cent of owners build their homes, but shows how attitudes have changed since he launched Building Your Own Home, the self-builder's bible, in 1978. Then, only 2,000 homes were built by individuals, yet advance demand for this year's edition is so strong that 20,000 copies have been printed.

It is available from Ryton Books, 29 Ryton Street, Worksop S80 2AY, price pounds 18. (Credit card line 0909 591652). It's a good read even for non-builders, but be warned: you may never be happy with buying an off-the-shelf home again.

'SELLING property is not difficult.' Don't all write in to me - the assertion isn't mine but that of Andy Arthur, a gentleman whose weighty postal advice on the subject recently crippled our postman.

As you might guess, Andy is no estate agent. But no matter: the giant parcel he sent me boasts that anyone can do the job. Shove the enclosed For Sale board in your garden, read the leaflets and save close to pounds 1,500 in agents' fees on an average home.

He claims it has already worked for an pounds 84,000 Abingdon house after pulling in 10 potential buyers in eight weeks. All you need is a bit of basic knowledge, an accurate price and Robert is your father's brother.

Erm . . . I hate to say this, Andy, but setting an accurate price even with the help of a valuer is close to impossible nowadays. Still, anyone fed up with their agent might find the kit worth a pounds 50 gamble. It will be in the shops soon, or write to The Home Sale Pack Company, TAEG Studios, PO Box 17, Watlington, Oxon OX9 5AH. But warn your postman first.