Property: Yes, things are looking up (a bit): Anne Spackman compares recent house sales around the country and finds few spectacular price rises, but not many bad falls either

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The Independent Online
IN TERMS of house prices, this has been the year of the fragmented market.

While some lucky owners have seen the value of their house rise by 20 per cent, a handful have suffered a fall of a few percentage points. We have taken six examples of different homes in different areas to illustrate how value has changed over the past year. In some cases, the same home has changed hands twice; in others, we compare a recent sale with that of a similar house 12 months ago.

In general, two factors are common to the changes in property values in 1994: the first, that the early months saw an encouraging burst of activity; the second, that from July to September sales dropped seriously and, in some areas, prices fell. So far, October looks better than September.

Optimists outnumbered pessimists at the start of the year. Now people are increasingly resigning themselves to a future of slow growth and small price rises.

Period house in outer London Elborough Street, Southfields. Sold in October 1994 by Kinleigh for pounds 159,500. Valued by same company last autumn at pounds 140,000- pounds 145,000. Increase of 12 per cent.

The family house has been the strongest sector of the market outside central London, and demand in leafy areas has far outstripped supply. Most popular areas have seen price increases of about 10 per cent in the past 12 months, but increases have slowed down, and competition is far less fierce than in the spring.

Lisa MacKenzie, manager of Kinleigh in Southfields, said: 'The market has certainly softened up in the past few months. But there are still not enough houses coming on to meet demand. There are plenty of flats around, but the demand for them isn't there.'

Modern estate house, the North-west Croyde Close, Harwood, Bolton. House sold by Halifax Property Services in October 1994 for pounds 72,000. Similar property, in a slightly poorer condition, sold in September 1993 for pounds 69,000. Estimated price rise for this property 0 per cent.

The North-west has most consistently shown up in surveys as an area where prices are still falling. Stephen Wolfenden, north-west regional executive for the Halifax, said prices for most houses were stable, but he had identified distinctive local trends.

Sales are 50 per cent up in the Lake District on this time last year, principally due to a resurgence of second- home buyers. Elsewhere - in Manchester, for example - prices of cheap flats and terraces are slipping as first-time buyers move into better homes. In addition, builders are offering brand new houses for 5 per cent less than those in the second-hand market.

The Halifax saw a sharp fall in activity in the region over the summer, culminating in its worst figures for the year in September. October, however, is looking better.

Two-bedroom garden flat, London Hammersmith Grove, Hammersmith. Sold by Winkworth in August 1994 for pounds 94,950. Sold in April 1993 for pounds 80,000. Rise of 18.6 per cent over 15 months. Rise of 15 per cent for the year.

Edward Heaton, manager of Winkworth in Hammersmith, said family houses and two-bedroom garden flats had been by far the most sought-after homes in London over the past year. Two-bedroom flats with a garden, in which the second bedroom is often used as a study, were popular with professional people, and were selling fast. 'The gap between the best flats and houses and the small flats has widened,' Mr Heaton said. 'Good properties have gone up by at least 10 per cent this year.'

Country cottage in Norfolk Wiveton, near Blakeney. Sold in October 1994 by Bidwells in Norwich for pounds 116,000. Similar cottage, with better accommodation but worse position, sold for pounds 115,000 last autumn. Estimated price rise for this property 0 per cent.

Prices for country cottages in East Anglia have stood still. Mr Hayward said that houses were selling more quickly, but buyers were not willing to pay more. The only exception was in the 'old rectory' market, the most popular period houses; generally these are bought by families from outside the region, who are willing to compete for the right house, so pushing up cottage prices slightly.

Country house in Gloucestershire Copse Hill Court, Upper Slaughter. Sold in September 1994 by Knight Frank & Rutley for pounds 575,000; sold in April 1994 for the same figure. Rise of 0 per cent.

Copse Hill Court is an unusual property created out of a listed coach-house and stables. Just after buying it in April, the new owners inherited another house, and Copse Hill Court was sold again in September for the same price.

Patrick Ramsay, the company's head of country houses, said he would expect houses to sell for the same or less now than in the spring. The market had risen 5-10 per cent between autumn 1993 and spring 1994, but had since slipped back, leaving prices roughly the same year on year. 'The only exceptions are the fireworks you have with something very pretty,' he said.

'There is not the slightest chance of steeply rising prices in the next few years.'

He believes the idea that the country market mirrors the London market nine months later is a fallacy. 'The central London market is underpinned by the lettings sector. In the country, that does not apply.'

Terrace house in Redruth, Cornwall Sold for pounds 41,500 by Black Horse Agencies in October 1994. Similar houses were selling for pounds 45,000- pounds 46,000 in autumn 1993.

Estimated price fall for this property 8 per cent.

In Cornwall, country cottages and houses often pick up buyers from outside the area, but terraces, semis and bungalows rely on local people trading up.

Job losses in the mines and local companies mean those people simply are not there. 'Prices are having to come down at least 5 per cent for houses to sell,' said Bill Bannister of Black Horse Agencies. By contrast, properties in pretty tourist spots such as the Helford estuary were selling quickly for good prices. Knight Frank & Rutley sold a spectacular property on the estuary within two weeks for well over its pounds 1m guide price.

Anne Spackman was highly commended in the national newspaper category of the Laing Homes media awards last week.

(Photographs omitted)