Liquid error: wrong number of arguments (2 for 1) The Sunday Times: Winners & Losers 2015 | Marsh & Parsons Sales and Lettings Estate Agents London

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The Sunday Times: Winners & Losers 2015

Sun 08 Feb 2015

With the election looming, the high-end market has cooled, but stamp-duty changes have kept mid-range sales healthy and some areas are streets ahead.

Homeowners in some parts of Britain have seen property values soar by more than 6% in just six months but there are signs that the market is slowing as pre-election jitters set in.

Nationally, prices rose by 2% between December and January - the biggest January month increase since 2009, led by a rise in mortgage approvals and the reform of stamp duty, according to Halifax, Britain's biggest mortgage lender. Yet research for The Sunday Times from the property website Zoopla shows a patchwork of price movements as the national picture dissolves into smaller individual markets. Many demonstrate strong growth, while other areas nearby show significant falls.

The hottest area in Kenilworth in Warwickshire, where the average price has increased from 329,398 at the end of July to 350,377 today - a rise of 6.37%, or 20,979. It is closely followed by Barnoldswick, in Lancashire, and Thetford, in Norfolk, with increases of 6.23% and 6.22% respectively.

Areas from Tiverton, in Devon, to Lichfield, in Staffordshire, along with South Croydon and Morden, both in Greater London, were also among the 10 best performers. "Most price growth is typically in the first half of the year, but many areas have seen values climb further since last summer," says Lawrence Hall, Zoopla's head of communications.

Joseph Mensah, 80, has first-hand experience of how hot the market is in Morden, southwest London. He has just sold his two bedroom semi-detached home through the online estate agency eMoov for 3,000 over the 170,000 asking price. "I put it on the market on the Monday and had eight viewings by the Saturday." says the retired BT telephone operator. "I was advised it might sell well, but I was overwhelmed by the interest, It was crazy."

At the cold end of the Zoopla analysis come two locations in Yorkshire. In Rotherham, average values fell by a hefty 6.65%, from a typical 139,665 last summer to just 130,372 today - a drop of 9,293. Whitby, on the North Yorkshire coast, was close behind, with a 6.44% decline to an average 209,107.

If you're tempted to regard these figures as just another indiciation of the north/south divide, however, think again. The analysis shows that many locations across London and the southeast of Engalnd have performed particularly badly in recent months.

Stanmore, on the fringes of North-west London, was the third worst-performing location in England in the past six months, with a fall in asking prices of 6.21%, while Saffron Walden, in Essex, dropped by 4.81%. Average values in the London suburbs of upper Norwood, Kennignton and Greenwich have all fallen by more than 3.5% since the summer.

Of 111 Greater London postcodes analysed by Zoopla, only 39 showed rises over the past six months - and even then, the highest growth was only 2.23%, in South Woodford. Areas of prime central London, including Chelsea, Knightsbridge Notting Hill and Kensington, showed falled of up to 2%.

"The capital has been overtaken by stronger price increases that are taking place even beyond the southeast," Halls says. "Some of the best performers are areas where properties are more affordable and demand has been stoked by the stamp-duty revamp, schemes such as Help-to-Buy and low mortgage rates."

Even in the hottest locations most of the increases came during late summer and autumn. Since then, price rises have been muted. In areas where values fell over the six-month period, the steepest declines have occurred since November - although the full effects of stamp-duty reform may not yet have filtered through.

There's increasing pessimism across most regions, too, according to the latest sentiment survey amongst buyers and sellers, conducted by Knight Frank estate agency and the data firm Markit - a useful indicator of the direction of the market. Grainne Gilmore, Knight Frank's head of UK residential research, says the growing gloom of buyers and sellers in London and southeast England is a particular worry: "These areas have been the engines of high house-price growth over the past year. Even the prospect of record low interest rates being in place for longer than anticipated has not been enough to lift expectations for house-price rises."

This slowdown means the average house price across England and Wales as a whole is still just 177,766, compared with a high of 181,138 in November 2007, acocrding to the Land Registry's latest figures, released last week.

This random patchwork of price performance is also reflected in contrasting forecasts from the estate agents. "More recently, prices have back-pedelled, but this slight hiatus is merely returning growth to more solid and stable ground." says Peter Rollings, chief executive of the London estate agency Marsh & Parsons.

"Sellers are still achieving 96% of the asking price."

Others are not so confident. "If the market continues to cool, having done so since August, according to the Office for National Statistics, it will inevitably lead to a fall in prices," warns Russell Quirk, chief executive of eMoov.

The key questions is: will this uncertainty end after polling day, when issues such as the mansion tax, rental-market reform and broader economic policy are finally clearer?

Capital Economics, a consultancy not known for optimistic forecasts about the housing market, says yes - and is even quite bullish about the market after May 7.

It's latest survey shows the martgage approvals are rising and that the recent stamp-duty reforms will, by late spring, lead to more sales and higher values.

"We think prices could rise by 6.5% over the courses of 2015 - more than the consensus forecast of a 4%rise," says Samuel Tombs, senior UK economist at the consultancy.

Tombs is not alone in suggesting that the market could geet stronger later this year. "In the three months leading up to a general election, transaction are 20% below the long-run average," says Johnny Morris, head of research at Hamptons International estate agency. "In the three months after an election sales average 13% above typical levels."

In other words, roll on May 8 - and not just because we're fed up with hearing from politicians.

Graham Norwood

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