Leaders: Nothing uniform about housing market

Picture: PA

Picture: PA

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WE HAVE no lack of banks, building societies, estate agents and property websites opining on property market trends.

But never before has talk about “average” house price movements been more misleading in Scotland. What we do know is that there are wide variations according to geographic area and property type; that Scotland’s property market is behaving differently from the rest of the UK and that the traditional pattern may not be counted on as a reliable guide to future market behaviour.

After the introduction of the Land & Buildings Transaction Tax (L&BTT) and with the Holyrood election looming next year bringing the possibility of increases in higher rate personal taxes, Scotland’s housing market has been subject to influences that affect different properties in different areas.

The first quarter saw a sharp spike in property transactions as buyers at the higher end of the market sought to complete purchases ahead of the introduction of L&BTT in April. This significantly raised taxes on the purchase of properties prices at £325,000 and over.

Both activity – and prices – have since fallen back. The Edinburgh Solicitors’ Property Centre (ESPC) reveals average property prices in east central Scotland fell by a half percentage between April and June compared with the same period last year – in sharp contrast to the 18 per cent year-on-year rise in its April report. There is also a 5.6 per cent fall in properties coming up for sale.

But this is by no means true of all properties and all areas. The first-time buyer market continues to be buoyant in the capital, with prices for one bedroom flats rising by 11.1 per cent compared with the same period last year. Dunfermline is still proving to be a strong area, with the average price continuing to increase by 12.6 per cent.

Prices have not been as resilient in Aberdeen in the wake of the slump in North Sea oil activity. And the premium market in rural areas continues to be ­sluggish.

In due course, the market should stabilise as the L&BTT effect becomes less pronounced. Prices overall should he helped by rising employment and further rises in average earnings, up 3.2 per cent including bonuses in the latest annual figures.

But set against this is the prospect of rising interest rates with signals in the past week from the Bank of England of an upward move around the turn of the year. And the property market may also be affected by the outcome of the Holyrood elections next May, with the prospect of higher taxes in due course. Overseas buyers at the top end of the market may also hold off until there is more clarity over the effects of the Land Reform Bill. This is no longer a uniform market in Scotland, but one reflecting a wide variety of specific influences.

Nazi footage an issue of privacy

COMMENTARY triggered by private film footage showing Princess Elizabeth, aged seven, and Princess Margaret on a lawn giving Nazi salutes surely tells us rather more about attitudes today than those ostensibly on display 80 years ago.

The predilections of Edward VIII are well known. But no-one imagines that this gesture in any way represented the sympathies of the young Royals. From what we came to know about the exemplary behaviour of the royal family during the war no such comparison is possible. These were children goofing up in front of a camera. Today the camera gesture likely to be adopted by children would be that of Usain Bolt. That would not make them contenders for the Olympics.

Rather, what has given publication of this private video resonance is that it touches on current concerns over privacy in the wake of the phone hacking scandals and in particular concern that freedom of information legislation has gone too far. Are not political papers available for publication after 30 years? But unlike politicians, the young royals were in no position of authority.

However, these are markedly less deferential times – and an altogether different world from the 1930s when it was inconceivable such pictures would be published. How this private family film became public has still to be answered. But with it can be fairly argued that the privacy of the royal family has not been breached in any meaningful way. And it would be wrong to use this as some pretext for rolling back the advances in disclosure and transparency that overall have been to the good.

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