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House prices steady in ‘fragile’ market

Monday, July 27th, 2009

The average price of a house in England and Wales remained steady for the third month in a row in July but recovery could still be some way off, according to a survey out today.

In its monthly national housing survey, Hometrack, the property intelligence group, said that while there has been no growth in headline prices over the past three months, the number of sellers achieving their asking price has continued to grow. It rose to 91.5% in July from a low of 88.3% in January.

Average house prices have fallen 7.7% over the past 12 months. The cheapest area in which to buy is the north-east, where the average price is £100,600. The most expensive area is Greater London, where properties cost £274,500 on average.

Richard Donnell, director of research at Hometrack, said: "A lack of mortgage finance, low buyer confidence and fears of unemployment are being offset by increased demand, a pick-up in sales and a scarcity of housing for sale."

However, he said that even though the improvement in market activity might well be real, it was "off a very low base. The housing market remains in a fragile state." It could easily be undermined, he added, by an increase in the supply of homes for sale.

Hometrack found that agents and surveyors reported that house prices increased across 10% of postcodes in July, mainly in southern England. In the north of the country, agents reported "difficult" market conditions characterised by more stock but weak demand.

The group also found that it took longer to sell a house in the north – an average of more than 10 weeks, compared with 5.8 in London.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2009 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

Ex-John Lewis chief to head Crown Estate

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

The Crown Estate has appointed Sir Stuart Hampson as its chairman, making the former John Lewis Partnership boss one of the most powerful men in UK property.

His appointment comes at a delicate time for the Crown Estate whose huge collection of property assets in the year to March collapsed in value by 18% to £6bn, the first time the estate had lost value since 1993.

Despite the most challenging property markets for a generation, the Crown still managed to return £226.5m to the Treasury. Revenue from its sprawling portfolio of offices, shops, agricultural land and offshore marine assets has exploded from £187m in 1999 to £304m this year. Surpluses have increased from £132m to £226.5m during the same period.

Hampson's urgent task will be to ensure the Crown Estate holds its value as tenants increasingly go out of business. Property insiders believe a wave of tenant defaults could see rental income dry up across Britain, which would put the Crown Estate, like other big landowners, in jeopardy.

Hampson, 62, is well regarded in business circles, having overseen a resurgence in the John Lewis department store and Waitrose supermarket business, where he was chairman for 14 years. He left the firm in 2007 after the announcement of huge bonuses for the store's entire workforce.

Hampson is also a former senior civil servant and has a wealth of experience in farming and urban renewal. He recently stepped down as a non-executive at ITV and is a government adviser most recently helping the NHS on leadership issues.

A former leading member of London First, the business lobby group, he will be all too familiar with the challenges facing the Crown in reviving Regent Street, which it owns and where it has spent tens of millions refurbishing buildings behind their listed facades. With 14.8m sq ft of commercial property, the Crown also owns land and buildings in Kensington and around Regents Park as well as 2,000 residential properties and 146,000 hectares of agricultural land and forests.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2009 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds