Property: Mr Lamont buys 18,000 homes

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The Independent Online
ANYONE with a home to sell must be relieved that housing associations have chipped away the supply of unsold housing by soaking up more then 18,000 properties in England.

They were given pounds 577m to spend in the Chancellor's Autumn Statement and managed to buy 2,000 more homes than expected. The Family Housing Association bought 1,000 in London alone by last month's deadline, says Mike Langstaff, its chief executive. Three-quarters will go to the homeless or those on council waiting lists.

Relief will be tinged with disappointment, however. Ministers hoped for a major clearout of repossessions, but it is estimated that fewer than 1,500 were acquired. That compares with some 70,000 likely to hit the market this year. New homes made up about half the sales, including 560 taken by Mr Langstaff.

'It was inevitable we would grab stuff builders could not sell,' says another association chief. 'They were at bargain prices, need no renovation and are usually clustered, so they cost less to manage.' But around 8,000 individuals across the country will breathe more easily after being relieved of their burden.

ONCE upon a time I was inundated with advice on exorcisms after writing about a house made unsaleable by a poltergeist. Is there anyone who can do a similar job for Jacqueline Mai and prove the magic has not gone out of property?

Ms Mai has tried all the DIY potions - the fresh-ground coffee and newly-baked bread aromas meant to cast a spell over buyers. She even has a 'familiar' in the shape of a cat who rushes ahead of visitors posing in each room to add cosy domesticity. But no luck. Her Nottinghamshire home refuses to move.

'Do you think you could invite recipes for potions or chants that we growing band of house sellers could try?' she writes. 'I am sinking into despair.'

IS IT possible that London's Docklands, that great pit of despair, is running out of housing for sale? Apparently so. The number of homes on the market has fallen by two-thirds in the last year and, for the first time since the crash, buyers are grabbing property before it is even built, says Yolande Barnes at Savills Research. There have even been incidents of gazumping in Wapping, according to one agent quoted in the lively magazine Docklands Digest.

But it is not a wave of buying that has denuded the area. Developers unable or unwilling to cut prices are converting to renting. Others have sold to housing associations, who are filling most of the homes with people from council waiting lists.

This has produced squeals from earlier buyers who feel their area is losing status. Prospective buyers determined to lock themselves into an owner-occupier enclave should ask their builders for an assurance that this will not happen to them. Under the Property Misdescriptions Act, they could now sue if they are given wrong information.

I WAS not sure whether to laugh or cry when my Council Tax demand dropped through the door last week. Thousands of homeowners could face a similar dilemma. I am pounds 115 better off than expected - which is very nice - but the gain comes with a dose of pain. My flat has been judged a member of Band D, which makes it worth a whole lot less than I thought. The question is, do I appeal and sacrifice my bonus or sit tight and hope I will be able to get a better price when I eventually come to sell?

'Keep the money,' advises one local agent. 'Your banding will not make much difference. Remember that it was set according to a value estimated in 1991, and things have changed a lot since then. They will keep changing, and the price when you sell will depend on local market factors rather than the rating level.'

Not every owner agrees. The Government expects around a million appeals before the deadline in November, adding to 200,000 changes already made. Many are trying to cut their bills. The Birmingham Midshires building society has been tapping this market with an inspection to check your valuation, for which it charges pounds 40. It has seen only a handful so far but has judged around half to be too high.

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