Property: Rises point to a festive season

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The Independent Online
THE WORD most commonly used to describe the housing market this autumn is 'disappointing'. September and October are normally 'back to business' months after the August holiday lull. But this year the burst of activity that began in January and continued through until August has gradually petered out. Why?

The overwhelming cause has been a shortage of good quality houses at all levels of the market, as sellers prove reluctant to sell. Some are trapped by negative equity; some cannot bring themselves to sell their houses for less than they bought them; many are waiting to be convinced that prices are rising; a few are waiting for the Budget in a fortnight's time.

How can the deadlock be broken? Well, the Budget will take care of itself. Yolande Barnes of Savills Research holds the plausible view that the Budget will bring a fall in interest rates to counteract a rise in taxes - a neutral Budget for home owners. On the negative equity front, the Halifax Building Society is now operating a scheme that allows people to carry over a shortfall of up to pounds 25,000 on their present home and add it to a 100 per cent mortgage on a new home. If other societies follow suit, this could release many of the hundreds of thousands of people desperate to move.

Which leaves us with those people who want to see the value of their house rise before they move. The latest figures on prices confirm that in most regions they have stabilised and in some they are rising. The Adams Residential Property Index, which is based on solicitors' transactions, reported last week that the market had stabilised after the recession. Prices had risen in every region apart from Yorkshire when compared with the same period of 1992. London was up 6 per cent, Anglia 4 per cent and the other regions by marginal percentage points.

The Nationwide's monthly house price index showed a rise of 1.5 per cent in October compared with September. October also showed the first annual rise since the index began in 1990, with prices 1.7 per cent higher than in October 1992. The Halifax monthly index showed prices in October the same as in September.

All of this suggests that buyers and sellers and the professionals who service them could be in for a happy new year in January 1994. Except, of course, for those people who are waiting for their house to be worth what they paid for it in 1989. They are in for a long wait.

THE British urge to renovate dilapidated houses is so strong and so peculiar to us that no doubt some geneticist will soon find its source in our DNA. The trait has led to more than 200 inquiries in 10 days about Fair Oak Farm, near Mayfield in East Sussex, a property that the agents describe as 'almost untouched by time'.

The sale consists of a Grade II four-bedroom, 17th-century farmhouse requiring extensive modernisation, a range of traditional farm buildings and 12 acres of land. The asking price is pounds 200,000. If you are interested, you will have to be quick: Strutt & Parker (0273 475411) is inviting best offers by noon on Friday.

Bidders are unlikely to find any competition from foreign buyers, who are mystified by the English willingness to put up with inconvenience for the sake of character. Onya Lambert, of Hamptons in Guildford, reported a typical experience when taking an American client around a Surrey farmhouse. She pointed out the ancient beams in the sitting-room, which had been there since the 16th century. 'But, honey, why didn't anyone replace them?' her client asked.