Property: On the up and up, up North

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The Independent Online
A GNARLED old professional once succumbed to my sneaky generosity with fine claret and let slip the secret of making property pay. 'Luck, old boy, sheer bloody luck. You just have to be in the right place at the right time.' After wading through the recent tide of statistics on house prices, I understand exactly what he meant.

London looked the right place in the Eighties: values soared so fast that everyone felt lucky. They were wrong. The average home is now worth 60 per cent more than in 1985, but this palls beside an increase of about 110 per cent in Manchester and Liverpool. People in the South buying at the height of the boom have also fared worse than their northern counterparts. Prices across the South are down 23 per cent since 1989, in contrast to a rise of 4 per cent in the North- west.

This narrowing of the North- South divide has not yet finished. Prices across the North-west will increase by 7 per cent next year while London will manage just over 6 per cent, according to a study by David Kern, chief economist for NatWest. By 1995, prices will have risen in 10 years by 140 per cent in Yorkshire and Humberside, and by almost 130 per cent in the West Midlands, compared with less than 75 per cent in London and 87 per cent in the rest of the South-east.

East Anglia now appears the place to be, as prices there will go up by 9 per cent next year, says Mr Kern. But they still have a long way to go to recover from double-figure falls during the slump. The East Midlands and South-west, where owners can expect rises of more than 8 per cent next year, face similar problems after being hit hard since 1989. Yorkshire prices, on the other hand, will rise the same amount after dipping only 1 per cent since the boom.

TIMES are tough when your local butcher starts selling potatoes, baked beans and cheese. Mine is even stacking bags of coke next to the cold-cuts. I have yet to see a butcher's shop with pictures of houses in the window - but it may not be long.

My flabber was well and truly gasted by the number of people who wrote to say that they had leapt at my suggestion about acting as their own estate agents. Pooh and Toby Prior, who are selling their home in Melton Constable, Norfolk, have an extra tip, however: spread the message widely. Writes Pooh: 'I have found Mr Rutland, my local butcher, of inestimable assistance.'

If I had pounds 445,000 lying around, I might be severely tempted, if only because of the home's romantic pedigree: Lady's Cottage and its 70 acres of woodland are rumoured to be the model for the setting of steamy goings-on in D H Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover. But the name reputedly comes from a 'Sunday lady' kept by a Lord Hastings who owned the surrounding estate in the early 1700s. Potential buyers should contact the Priors on 0263 860980.

IT IS remarkable how quickly a jaw-breaking technical term such as 'negative equity' became part of everyday conversation. I suppose it sounds so much better than 'in debt' or 'in over my head'. Don't expect to hear it in a Scottish accent, however. The Woolwich Building Society says there is no such thing north of the border.

A general uplift in prices across the UK released more than 350,000 owners whose homes had been worth less than the mortgage. But the situation was already so buoyant in Scotland that there were only 12,000 there in the first place.

Prices in Edinburgh were 3 per cent higher in the first three months of 1993 than the same period last year, says the city's Solicitors Property Centre. But the revival is still patchy. A two-bedroom flat in Marchmont/Bruntsfield soared 10 per cent in value while homes outside the city have fallen. Glasgow is the same, according to Colvil Johnston of Slater Hogg & Howison. Prices there are only marginally ahead of last year, yet one house in Kirkintilloch offered for pounds 95,000 eventually sold for pounds 130,000.

While Scotland is clear of the negative equity trap, there are still more than 1.4 million such owners in England and Wales, three-quarters of them first-time buyers, says the Woolwich. London still has more than 200,000 owners waiting for price rises to wipe out their debts, and a further 400,000 are clustered around the South-east.

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