Property: Ups and downs in the South

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The Independent Online
THE number of agents across the country reporting a rise in house prices has doubled in the past nine months. In the latest quarterly report from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, more than 17 per cent of agents say prices have gone up, compared with 8 per cent last August. In the South-east the figure is more than 27 per cent, half of whom report rises of more than 5 per cent.

However, the South-east also has a far higher number of agents reporting price falls than the national average. These are concentrated in flats and maisonettes, while the rises are chiefly in four-bedroom detached and country houses.

The figures underline the emergence of a two-tier property market. First-time buyers can afford to leapfrog the cheaper flats and buy a small house instead. Nearly a quarter of agents in the South-east report prices for conversions still falling.

WALKING past one of my local estate agents at 8.30am, I was impressed to see one man already at his desk. Unfortunately, the next thing I noticed was the sign in front of him. It said: 'Woodworm, Damp, Dry Rot'. It was actually the back of a calendar of the type you see in doctors' surgeries. I'm not suggesting he sit behind an ad for pain-relief tablets, but there must be a better supplier than this.

WHILE on home ground, I was delighted to receive my first unsolicited letter through the door from a genuine buyer looking for a property in my road. Nothing is more guaranteed to give home owners a warm glow of self-satisfaction.

The letter was polite and specific, saying that the lady and her boyfriend were looking for a two-bedroom flat. They were first-time buyers with a mortgage already arranged. If we were interested in selling, would we please ring.

I don't want to sell my house, but I rang to see if she had had any response. Yes, she said. Someone had rung to say they knew of a flat coming on to the market soon. She said she had been extremely nervous about the approach, but it had seemed the only way after four months of fruitless searching through the usual channels.