Property: March house prices rise by 1 per cent

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ON CUE with the arrival of spring, and the surge in interest that the season traditionally generates, the Nationwide building society reports a 1 per cent rise in house prices for March. This coincides with reports by estate agents around the country of increased activity and shows that, following a similar rise in January and a 1.4 per cent fall in February, the big slide has practically stopped.

GAZUMPING would seem a sure sign that property is recovering, but maybe buyers are too streetwise nowadays to be drawn in. A typical flat in Chiswick, west London, recently attracted two offers at pounds 4,000 below the pounds 90,000 asking price. Neither potential buyer would go higher, so Rob Whistlecroft of agents Winkworth suggested they toss a coin. Now the winner has a clear run.

The alternative would have been a contract race, but canny bidders realise that this technique also leaves the loser nursing wasted bills. Perhaps a double-headed coin will become part of the home- buyer's kit, as there are now plenty of London homes receiving multiple offers.

This surge in demand is not yet reflected in market confidence because even the most competitive bidders rarely go above the asking price.

IF I WERE a conspiracy theorist, last week's fanfare about a 'Gateway to Europe' east of London would have looked like an attempt to bury the simultaneous go-ahead for almost 60,000 extra homes a year across the South-east for the next 20 years. This at a time when many conservation groups say too many houses are being planned in the region. Thank goodness I trust our political masters not to pull such strokes.

The fact that the East Thames Corridor is merely a nebulous masterplan for a heavily polluted area with practically no chance of relieving pressure on the green belt is merely coincidental.

Both builders and conservationists forecast housing doom before the end of the century. The builders say today's buyer's market will be forgotten as shortages create another price explosion. They want more homes allowed in areas such as Hampshire and Berkshire, where local councils are already being forced to raise targets.

Some housing researchers go further, claiming the Government has underestimated demand in the present decade by around a million homes.

At the same time the Council for the Protection of Rural England warns that irreparable damage will be done to green sites by continuing the current rate of construction.

ANYONE trying to sell a holiday or retirement home is facing an uphill task without builders dumping cut-price competition on to the market. Almost 100 flats are being offered on the Algarve at reserves almost 50 per cent below asking prices.

Trafalgar House was so impressed by the way Kennedy- Wilson, the US auctioneer, has got rid of long-empty homes in the UK that it has handed over its Vilar do Golf complex near Faro for a sale in May. A series of seminars on how to buy the flats starts tomorrow and will continue for the rest of this month.

Potential buyers must register and take a pounds 10,000 deposit to the auction, which is being held in Portugal. Minimum selling prices range from pounds 50,000 to pounds 100,000, compared with last asking prices of pounds 90,000 to pounds 176,000. (Details: 0800 886633)

FOLLOWING our focus on the danger to historic gardens last week, I was delighted to hear that part of the grounds of Oatlands Manor in Weybridge, Surrey, designed by Inigo Jones, will be restored by Barratt as part of a housing development. One of the converted lodges carries a pounds 110,000 price tag, and also the treat of one slap-up meal a year as a fee for hanging up a direction sign for the hotel now in the manor house.