Property: House sellers do it when it suits them

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THOSE agents who felt the property market was under starter's orders ready for the autumn rush have, for the most part, been disappointed. It seems buyers and sellers no longer hold with the idea of house-hunting seasons: they move when it suits them.

Or they don't move at all. The latest report from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) shows a growing exasperation with the general public for refusing to put their houses up for sale.

The shortage of new instructions provoked this extraordinary comment from Andrew Lovelock Miller of Linay & Shipp in Orpington, Kent. 'Buyers and sellers should grasp the nettle and help revive the market,' he said.

The only areas that did see something of a September upturn were those influenced by the start of the academic year, such as Jesmond in Newcastle where there is a big student population.

However, reports of an unusually strong August came from agents in many parts of the country, including Scarborough, Worcester, York and Birmingham. Bryan Elphick, who runs an agency in Ashstead, Surrey, reported his best quarter for sales in five years.

But in Crawley, West Sussex, Adrian Duke of Churchman Duke, was experiencing the opposite. 'The summer recess started earlier this year and the market during the last quarter has been lethargic,' he said.

The contrast is indicative of the present fragmented market. Peter Miller of the RICS concluded in this month's survey: 'The concept that the country has a single housing market no longer appears to be true. Regions, sub-regions and towns have their own micro- markets, driven by local economic factors.'

THIS week Barnard Marcus is holding its first big regional auction at Manchester United Football Club. The two-day sale, on Monday and Tuesday, is dominated by repossessions.

Prices start at pounds 4,000 for a derelict two-bedroom terrace house in Middleport, Stoke- on-Trent. Eight properties have no guide price at all.

The vast majority of the 170 lots are small terraces in the North-west priced at between pounds 15,000 and pounds 30,000. A few larger properties are included, such as a four-bedroom, two- bathroom modern estate house in Widnes and a bungalow in Bolton-le-Sands in Lancashire, both with a guide price of pounds 58,000 (Barnard Marcus 081-741 9990).

THE more traditional side of the auction business will be in evidence on 27 October, when Strutt & Parker sells off parts of the Halse estate near Taunton in Somerset, at a sale in the Halse village hall.

The most attractive lot in the sale, which includes cottages, outbuildings and two cider orchards, is the 16th-century Blake's Farmhouse. The whitewashed stone and cob farmhouse, under a thatched roof, is listed Grade II. It has two reception rooms, a large kitchen, four bedrooms and about three acres of gardens and paddock.

The conditions of sale require the farmhouse's purchaser to erect and maintain one stile and a timber fence with pig netting and two strands of barbed wire. The guide price is pounds 170,000 (Strutt & Parker 0392 215631).