Scotland begins to feel the chill of housing slump

SCOTLAND will not escape the housing-market slump, with prices falling within six months, a leading economist has warned. Property values will decline amid the current lending crunch, Professor David Bell said, despite figures yesterday which showed prices north of the Border are at present the fastest-growing in Britain.

A snapshot survey by The Scotsman yesterday also showed that although some sellers were already feeling the pinch in Scotland, opting for fixed-price sales or lower starting prices, many said they were still confident of a good deal. Even as the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, held talks with bankers in Downing Street, estate agents north of the Border insisted they were "quietly confident".

They even claimed that Scotland, and Edinburgh in particular, could benefit from the downturn in the south of England, as Scots working in London might be lured home by cheaper prices. Such a phenomenon was seen in the recession of the early 1990s.

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They spoke out as government figures showed prices across Britain fell by 1.6 per cent in February, with annual growth slowing to its lowest level for 19 months. But Scotland saw gains of 9.7 per cent during the same month.

Research from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) showed that, although a record number of surveyors reported falls in property values in March, Scotland had been sheltered from the storm.

However, Prof Bell, a leading economic adviser based at Stirling University, said it was only a matter of time before the slowdown "rippled out" from London, although values were unlikely to fall far.

He said: "I think we are looking for a period of (something] between stability and mild decline (in value]. I suspect it will be towards the decline, but not something that's going to dramatically affect the value of people's houses that they have built up over the years.

"If there is a decline, it would not be a very marked decline. We might get a decline from June to July, but we are not looking at a substantial decline in value over, say, what the prices were a year ago."

He went on: "I would be very surprised if Scottish house prices were still rising three months from now."

He said the country was not exempt from the lending problems which had affected the rest of the country, as buyers have to borrow from the same banks offering the same deals.

Yesterday's reports from the RICS and Westminster government showed growth had reached a new low, and commentators laid the blame squarely at the door of the credit crunch.

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A record 78.5 per cent of surveyors reported a drop in the value of property during March, overtaking figures set during the 1990s house-price crash.

Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrats' Treasury spokesman, said: "It is clear we are now seeing a major and long-overdue correction in the housing market. However, there is a real danger that, with rising personal debt and high inflation, this correction may become a crash. The government must act to ensure we do not end up with mass repossessions."

Yesterday's figures were the latest in a string of downbeat economic reports. The Halifax has said property prices fell by 2.5 per cent in March – the biggest monthly drop since September 2002.

The housing market has been under increasing pressure in recent months due to a combination of problems in the mortgage market and affordability worries after previous strong growth.

The credit crunch has caused mortgage lenders to increase rates and demand ever higher deposits. There is little sign that last week's interest-rate cut has done much to ease the problems, with only a handful of lenders passing on the quarter-point reduction to borrowers on their standard variable rate.

Year-on-year growth was recorded at a sluggish 1.1 per cent – meaning that prices were falling in real terms on an annual basis.

The Edinburgh Solicitors Property Centre said there was evidence that the slowdown had hit the capital, with annual house-price inflation falling to its lowest level since the crash of 1993 and properties typically taking nine weeks to sell.

Peter Lyell, a director of estate agent Savills, said of Scotland's experience in the 1990s slowdown: "We saw a bit of a resurgence because, if you have a professional couple down south who have done very well for years and that dries up, they think perhaps it's time to go home. It did happen. Edinburgh prices still look low compared with London's. It would not surprise me if we saw a few people do it this time. That's my hope."

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He also said he did not believe there had been a decrease in property values at the top end of the market so far this year. However, he added: "The next three months will tell us exactly what the market is doing.

"This is the time when people will normally put their house on the market and this will be quite telling."

What's happening in the market





Offers over 285,000

Julia McKay and her husband, Walter, are selling up to start a property business overseas.

She said: "We had solid bookings for viewing for the first couple of weeks. Thereafter, it tailed away to nothing.

"I don't know if people are sitting tight or what, but the ones who came earlier on were very keen so that solved our problems and we have three noted interests. We are hopeful of securing a sale tomorrow."


India Street


Offers over 370,000

Russell and Nicki Bain are selling their two-bedroom flat and are have confidence in the market. Mr Bain runs the moving firm Clockwork Removals & Storage and has seen bookings increase year on year.

He said: "I understand what's happening at the moment, but I'm quite confident. The market has certainly grown a lot in the last three years, since we last bought.

"It might be levelling out at the moment – I think that's probably what we are seeing – but I don't necessarily think it's dropping."



Windsole, Auchterarder

Offers over 385,000

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Neil Docherty has been living with his wife and three daughters in the new-build property in Auchterarder for four years.

The transport firm owner has found a new plot where he want to build a larger home. His property went on the market four weeks ago and had 12 viewings in the first fortnight. He said: "We had quite a lot of views the first week and a half, but it's tailed off. I don't know why but I think we are at a slow point, or the mortgages are too high. It's when I have to pay the bill for the new one I have to worry."


Glendale House

Strachur, Cairdow, Argyll

Offers over 480,000

Iain and Sheila Mackenzie's home on the banks of Loch Fyne was built in 1860 and has been a doctor's house and a small hotel. They have been there for six and a half years.

He said: "We have now got a grandaughter and they live in Clydebank and my wife wants to move closer. I definitely think it's a buyers' market. Depending on your circumstances, there's a lot of choice out there."

The couple were "quite surprised and extremely impressed" by the interest they had received.


14B Churchhill

Morningside, Edinburgh

Offers over 465,000

Gillian Kidd and her partner, Henry Whalen, are selling their property because he has secured a new job in Glasgow. They have been living in their stone villa for only ten months, and it had just been refurbished to how they wanted it when the unmissable job came up.

They put out a "for sale" sign earlier in the week, before the property was even listed, and have already had three requests for viewings. Miss Kidd said: "It's fantastic. It's a big lift to hear we have so much interest just on that basis. I think that's just the location."


Port Laing Wynd

North Queensferry

Offers over 895,000

Allan and Isobel McGhee are selling their property, which sits in extensive grounds.

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He said: "We put it on the market a month ago and have been initially surprised at the amount of interest we were getting, but latterly delighted at the level.

"We had about eight or nine interested parties, with five formally noting interest, so from my point of view, the market is buoyant. I think as you move up the market, people are buying because they want a house, not just an investment."


Jubilee Court

Aboyne, Aberdeenshire

Fixed price: 152,000

The Rev Kate Gibson wants to return home to the US and she put her flat

on the market in late February, at offers over 125,000.

After initial interest, two potential purchasers were unable to go ahead with a deal and in late March, the price was fixed at 155,000. Another offer at that level was accepted – but then the potential purchaser had to pull out after their financing fell apart. It is now fixed at 152,000. She said: "It's very difficult because people are being influenced by what's happening elsewhere."


Botanic Views

Inverleith Place, Edinburgh

From 499,000-1.4 million

Life PD Homes, which renovates historic properties, opened its marketing suite for Botanic Views less than three months ago. It has had more than 200 potential buyers registering interest. Apartments are priced from 559,000 to 1.4 million and mews properties from 499,000.

So far, two mews cottages have been reserved and two three-bedroom apartments have been sold.

Viv Sutherland, director, said: "The property market is still thriving in the city."

PM 'ready to be unpopular to save economy'


GORDON Brown yesterday insisted he was ready to be "unpopular" in order to steer Britain away from economic disaster after an unprecedented Downing Street summit with banks struggling through the credit crunch.

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The Prime Minister accepted that families were facing tough conditions, but stressed the long-term interests of the country had to come first.

He said: "I'm not complacent and I will always be vigilant. I wake up thinking what can we do to help homeowners, to help those people who have got small businesses, people looking for jobs, people wanting opportunities so they can have better jobs for the future."

But he added: "People would not thank me for taking the wrong long-term decisions. The right long-term decisions are to keep inflation low and keep interest rates low."

Mr Brown's defiant comments came after he held talks in No 10 with bosses from Lloyds, Barclays, HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland and Nationwide over how to minimise fall-out from the global credit crunch.

Downing Street officials said they discussed the "next steps" in securing the financial system amid evidence that property prices were slumping sharply and borrowing costs rising.

Mr Brown, who has described stabilising the economy as his "sole focus", is believed to have urged the City leaders to ease the strain on householders by passing on last week's quarter-point interest rate cut. Among those yet to do so is the nationalised bank, Northern Rock.

The government is also under pressure to help people deal with rising prices for key commodities – such as food and fuel.

There was slightly better news for Mr Brown yesterday when inflation figures showed that the official rate held steady at 2.5 per cent last month, rather than rising as many had expected.

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However, David Cameron, the Tory leader, launched a searing attack on the Prime Minister for being "arrogant" and "out of touch" with ordinary people's difficulties. He said the government had wasted money "on a gargantuan scale" in the past decade on issues such as the creation of regional assemblies, when it should have been preparing for leaner times.

Meanwhile, the Bank of England pumped an extra 15 billion into the financial markets in a bid to improve liquidity.

The economic gloom, poor opinion poll ratings and likely Labour rebellions over plans for the 42-day detention without charge of terror suspects and the abolition of the 10p tax rate have led to speculation over Mr Brown's position. But, asked about his future, the Prime Minister insisted: "I'm starting a job I mean to continue."