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House prices rising but expert warns against complacency

PROPERTY values in Scotland have risen by their biggest margin in more than six years, according to a new report.

The average house price for the first quarter of 2014 increased by 7.6% against last year, the statistics from the Nationwide Building Society showed.

Although it fails to surpass its pre-recession figures, the last three months represent the strongest quarter since the end of 2007.

London continues to out-pace the rest of the UK with an increase of 18.2% for the first three months of this year.

Alasdair Humphery, chairman of the Scottish Property Federation (SPF), said the data showed that the property market was responding well to the government's Help to Buy scheme.

He added: "We do need to make sure that the growth is sustainable though - rapid growth data might also confirm under-supply and so all agencies need to engage to ensure that we are building enough to service the long under-supplied housing market.

"We are particularly keen to encourage the growth of a purpose-built private rented sector too as it has great potential to make an impact on this shortfall."

In terms of regional growth, Aberdeen is again the area with the highest increase in Scotland. Its rise, thought to be at 12%, puts it ahead of some of the biggest cities in the UK, such as Leeds and Birmingham.

Renfrewshire and Inverclyde, meanwhile, recorded a 10% increase, while Glasgow saw a rise of 9%. At the other end of the scale, South Lanarkshire props up the table with 2%.

Yet for all its gains, the property value in London continues to dwarf results in Scotland. In Westminster, the most expensive borough, the average house price is more than six times the Scottish average.

While the report signals a welcome period of growth, many real estate agents insist the market has yet to fully recover from the recession.

Bill Cullens, chief executive of Clyde Property, said: "It seems as though market confidence has returned a little bit.

"Some people are taking advantage of low interest rates and government schemes, while first-time buyers are buying bigger and more expensive homes.

"Cities are doing better because people living there are doing away with the car in order to put money into their mortgage. But I don't think it's a good idea to give the impression that everything is rosy, because it is just not the case.

"Some areas of the country are simply not doing as well, with Argyll and parts of Lanarkshire still struggling. The report is evidence that the market is slowly returning to normal."

Faisal Choudhry, Savills' associate director for Scottish residential research, warned of complacency. He said: "These reports really should come with a health warning because there is just no certainty in them. They can be a useful guide, but they don't account for every single household an so can't represent the whole market.

"For instance, areas such as Renfrewshire and Inverclyde can take in a wide range of properties. In this group you have Giffnock and Clarkston which have some of the dearest homes in the country, as well as Port Glasgow which has some of the lowest value homes.

"So while it is welcome that house prices are thought to be rising, we have to take the news with some caution.

"Talking up prices can unduly influence sellers and many of them will put their asking price up. My fear is that this will put us right back where we were, with a massive gap between the seller's price and the buyer's budget.

"That gap has slowly closed recently, and we should be looking to increase the number of sales."

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