New life on home front

FOUNDATIONS for the recovery of East Anglia's housing market are being laid, according to experts who are cautiously hoping the “torrid” downturn might be coming to an end.

FOUNDATIONS for the recovery of East Anglia's housing market are being laid, according to experts who are cautiously hoping the “torrid” downturn might be coming to an end.

The positive trend began tentatively at the start of the year but has continued and strengthened, with latest data from Haart estate agents revealing that sales in Norfolk and Suffolk are up by 38.2pc in the last five months and Cambridge by 32.6pc.

Developers and house builders are also reporting buoyancy returning to the beleaguered market with Lowestoft-based Persimmon Homes Anglia, which had scaled down its operations, now back up to speed on plots contracted and sold.

But while the number of sales might be going up, there was a warning that house prices will most likely continue to fall.

The Haart figures, which also show the number of applicants in the region are rising (Norfolk and Suffolk 69.9pc up and Cambridgeshire 62.4pc), reveal south west London has seen the highest jump in sales, with an increase of 87.3pc.

Russell Jervis, managing director of Haart estate agents, said: “Although the bottom of the market has not yet been reached as house prices in many areas are still following a downward trend, Haart's real time data is currently presenting a relatively buoyant picture in terms of market activity and offers received.

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“The first two months of 2009 have seen both applicant and sales numbers increase substantially across the country, with average rises of 81.1pc and 43.3pc respectively. This trend is no doubt the result of buyers across the board taking advantage of the lowest house prices since 2004 as well as mortgage interest rates at record lows.”

It is a view supported by local agents, with many predicting the market will have stabilised by the end of the year. Simon Arnes, divisional managing director for William H Brown, said: “We have seen an improvement since January and this has continued; people who have money are moving because they think there's no point leaving cash in the bank and we are also seeing a definite desire by first time buyers to get back in the market. If banks started lending again, we might see even more good news.”

David Potter, of Potter and Co, in Norwich, said: “After a torrid year it is encouraging that transactions will increase, but it is unlikely that prices will dramatically increase. We predict that prices will have stabilised by the end of the year, and transactions will have increased.

“There is certainly a re-emergence of first time buyers, and those in rented who now wish to return to the market. Most of the first timers are looking at about �100,000, and there are some houses about around that price.

“The biggest stumbling block at present is the amount of deposit that first timers have to find. Should the banks relax their lending criteria to offer 95pc mortgages there would be a definite pick up in transactions. Interest rates are reducing and soon repayments on a �100,000 mortgage will be cheaper than renting.

“As the bottom end of the market recovers then there will be a knock on effect as people move up the market and release others to buy.”

Chris Sapey, of Sapey and Co, in Norwich, said: “We have definitely seen an increase in activity in the residential sales market since the beginning of January. In the case of one property we even agreed a sale within two days of it coming onto the market.”

Lowestoft-based Persimmon Homes Anglia, which includes sites in Harleston, Long Stratton and Norwich, reported a notable increase in the number of sales during the last two months of the 2008 in comparison to the same period for 2007, which has continued into the New Year.

Jon Gibbs, sales director, said: “Year on year we sold over 15 more homes in the last eight weeks of 2008 in comparison to November and December of 2007.”

Bennett Homes has also seen a positive start to 2009, with the number of enquiries doubling at its six East Anglian sites from January to March, compared to the last quarter of 2008.

Edward Parker, managing director, said: “We are definitely seeing a noticeable increase in buyers' confidence. Last year it was mainly investors who were active in the property market, but we are now seeing owner/occupiers starting to come back. Once cautious about the economic climate, they are beginning to feel more optimistic about their prospects.”

The company has sites at Downham Market, Northrepps, Kenninghall, Wimbotsham, Snettisham and Taverham.