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Rightmove: Widest ever price gulf between the north and south

Miles Shipside, director of Rightmove comments: “Wider access to mortgages and rising asking prices are early signs of increasing demand, giving home owners some grounds for hope of a market recovery. However, the reality is that there is further evidence of the two-tier twist which is dogging the return to more widespread liquidity in the housing market. While those in the affluent south may have cause to celebrate their prices being well up on this time last year, prices in the north continue to go backwards, leaving the widest price gap ever. For the average asking price of a property in the south you could now buy two average properties in the north and still have enough change left to buy new carpets and curtains.”

While there was a 2.8% national average increase in new sellers’ asking prices compared to last month, the driver of the rise was the 4.7% uplift in the southern regions (London, South East, South West and East Anglia). The northern regions (Wales, West Midlands, East Midlands, Yorkshire & Humberside, North West and North) actually recorded a 0.7% month-on-month fall. The south’s ability to perform better despite the continuing global financial crisis and resultant credit squeeze is further highlighted by property coming to the market at all-time price highs in both the London and South East regions. London’s £450,210 is 2.6% higher than the previous record set in June this year, while the £317,055 seen in the South East is 0.2% up on the previous high in May 2008.

Shipside comments: “Existing home-owners in the highest priced regions are seeing the value of their bricks and mortar increase even further, though it is at the expense of buyers who are faced with the highest ever asking prices. Those trading up will benefit from already being on the housing ladder, though the gap to trade up to the next rung is a bigger financial leap when prices rise like this and desirable homes are in short supply. Those who are not property owners, such as first-time buyers or those taking an ownership break in the rented sector, will either have to spend more or compromise on what they can afford”.

Compared to the beginning of the credit crunch four years ago, prices of properties coming to market have risen by 5.4% in the south but fallen by 9.6% in the north. In the last year, sellers coming to the market in the north have on average reduced their asking prices by 2.6%, while those in the south have felt able to put them up by 3.9%. Price decreases usually result when negative sentiment, influenced by uncertainty around employment and tightening of finances, rises. Of the seven UK regions with the highest unemployment levels six are in the north, so employment concerns, especially in the public sector, will be exerting downwards pressure on prices and activity in many northern areas. This will be exacerbated by lenders favouring buyers with higher deposits, where the less affluent north also fares poorly.

Shipside adds: “There is quite a simple formula to generate activity in the housing market, and access to finance through the ability to raise a substantial deposit and a secure job to fund repayments are the key variables. If prices are perceived to be rising then buyers are afraid that their dream home could move out of their reach unless they act quickly. These drivers of higher volumes of transactions and more buoyant conditions are more prevalent in the south”.

At 52,410 the Bank of England’s mortgage approval figures for August (seasonally adjusted) are at their highest level since the end of 2009. While still half the average number seen from 2000 to 2006, it is worth noting that they are nearly twice the 26,333 seen during the trough in April 2008. With base rates at record lows and more competition among lenders for higher deposit borrowers, those with sufficient equity have more opportunity to trade up, especially if there is the incentive of rising prices. With mortgage approvals recovering to levels similar to two years ago, it seems that owners in London are enjoying the biggest growth in equity and should be feeling positive about trading up. However, there are signs that the distance to the next rung of the ladder may be getting too high for some in the capital as the number of new sellers coming to market is 13.9% down compared to this time last year.

Shipside concludes: “Low rate mortgage deals will only benefit those with the requisite high deposits, and at the moment the best equity growth has been seen in the London market. With record prices in the capital, some will be priced out of the best areas and will either have to stay put or look for value further afield. lf they are looking to move to the north of the country, the growing price gap will let them buy a lot more house for their money”.

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