Sam Dunn: 'We're moving to London. Should we rent or buy?'

House Doctor
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Question: We're a young couple moving to London and are desperate to know if we should rent for a while and see if the market falls any more, or go for it now and buy a two-bed flat straight away. We recently made a loss on a flat in Manchester and have been pretty scarred by it. Ally James, South Yorks

Answer: Where are house prices headed? It's a riddle without a solution, and anyone who claims they know is a fantasist.

This may seema harsh judgment but a constant cornucopia of house price indices, estate agent surveys, property consultant data – and even exotic housing market derivatives – can easily obscure the truth: there is no clear answer.

What you do have, though, is interpretation of this glut of data. And as it stands, many signs do currently indicate growth: six out of seven major UK house price indices all suggest rising property prices, largely down to a lack of properties propping up prices.

Most recently, Rightmove estate agent recorded a 0.9 per cent rise for September, while Nationwide posted a hefty 1.6 per cent rise for August.

However, the changes over 12 months all still suggest prices are considerably lower than at the same time last year.

Other UK housing statistics might look robust but appearances can be deceptive.

Last week, it emerged that the 38,095 mortgages approved by banks for house purchases held steady in August compared to figures forJuly, and were up by 81 per cent on the same month last year, according to the British Bankers' Association.

Mortgage finance for first-time buyers, essential to the long-term health of the housing market, also remains a dream for many.

Barely 90 home loan deals at a loan-to-value (LTV) of 90 per cent are available for first-timers today: last year, the figure stood at 349 and – in September 2007 – at an astonishing 674.

You can be forgiven for feeling all at sea and so renting adds up to be a sound move, says Katie Tucker at broker Mortgageforce.

"Six months renting in your preferred part of the city might give you a good idea of where the market stands," she says.

David Hollingworth at London & Country agrees and suggests you try living in different parts of London.

"Get your bearings whilst renting, so that you make the right choice of home. Ultimately, the decision to buy will come back to whether you have found the property that suits you."