The buying game

The house market is looking buoyant, says Penny Jackson
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The Independent Online
There is good news for those people wondering why all the activity in the property market stops short of their front door. Houses are selling faster than at any time in the past year, say Black Horse Agencies. Confidence in the market has meant buyers are acting more decisively, and first-time buyers are coming on to the market as they see prices rising. One in four homes sells in six weeks or less, according to Black Horse Agencies' Home Report, published this week. It takes an average of 16 weeks for a property to find a buyer, an improvement of five weeks since June.

The report looks at the trends, region by region, of the residential property market. It does, however, exclude most of London, as well as Scotland and Wales where Black Horse has no branches. The survey looks into such areas as the number of viewers per property, how close the sale price is to the asking price, breakdown of buyers, how much first-time buyers pay, and the speed of sale from first instruction to an agreed price. There is a connection between categories. The fastest selling areas will be most likely to see sellers getting all (or a figure closest to) the asking price.

In the South-east, which accounts for most of the top 10 "hot spots", properties sell at 95 per cent of the asking price. Meanwhile, in the slower North-west, with its average 23-week sale, homes sell at 91 per cent of the full price.

A year ago, as a national average, a pounds 100,000 property would have sold for pounds 92,000, while today it would be sold for pounds 94,000. Black Horse sees this increase as the strongest indicator yet that prices are stable. But prices have to be pitched sensibly, says Alan Gottschalk, East Midlands regional director. Anyone selling a home with an obvious drawback may well have to lower their sights. "In Chelmsford, for example, we have two identical flats for sale. One sold quickly, the other is difficult because it backs on to a noisy road." And he said that in Coventry a family house with an extension was proving much harder to sell than its smaller counterpart in the same street, because people are put off by the poor state of the house next door. "Buyers are still cautious. They know what they should be paying."

So how is the market working in practice in one of the Black Horse hot spots? David Freeman lives in Hedge End, near Southampton, a fast-selling area with new developments. He has just put his one-bedroom, Bovis home on the market, and a sale was agreed within a day. In turn, he found a house he liked in 12 hours. In less than a week he had bought and sold. "I put my house on at pounds 42,950, undercutting others by a thousand, and sold it for pounds 41,000. But it is only recently that property has started to sell well here."

Caroline Helps, also from Hedge End, is well aware of a sudden upturn. She and her husband put their three-bedroom semi, built seven years ago, on the market in May. Nothing happened until the beginning of this month when it was taken on by Black Horse. "We sold it almost the next day. We put it on at pounds 66,250 and accepted pounds 65,000, which is what we wanted."

An acute shortage of good property is the chief complaint of agents across the country, and a breakdown of buyers in the home report goes some way towards explaining this. In the survey, 65 per cent of all purchasers have nothing to sell. The majority are first-time buyers, about a tenth are stepping back into the market after renting or staying with family and friends and a small number are buying for investment.

First-time buyers now tend to skip a rung of the property ladder. Easy mortgage terms and a market which has not returned to 1988 levels, means they are going straight for a house.

In Plymouth, one of the 10 hot spots, developers are even converting flats back into single houses. "Flats sell at auction for under pounds 10,000. Nearly everyone can afford a small terrace house here," says Edward Heaton of Stratton Creber. "We have never had such a good year as this. We are even selling what I call the old dogs. But we are desperately low on stocks."

Scotland

"Prices are increasing in the pounds 150,000-plus market. Lots of interest from first-time buyers has helped the middle market" - Donald MacLellan, General Accident Property Services. Hot spots are Fife, Edinburgh and Lothian areas.

Wales

Jan Lloyd, area manager of Crown and Company in Cardiff, says the market is bouyant and that anything good sells quickly, but she adds that there is not enough to meet the demand: "For the first time in years, property over pounds 150,000 is selling rapidly."

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