House prices show sings of falling

ESTATE agents in Suffolk played down fears of a major downturn in house prices after new figures revealed property values are dropping.House prices in East Anglia have fallen by 2.

ESTATE agents in Suffolk played down fears of a major downturn in house prices after new figures revealed property values are dropping.

House prices in East Anglia have fallen by 2.1% in the last four weeks – the biggest drop anywhere in the country – according to property website Rightmove.

But the region's property experts argued prices were holding up and predicted further rises, although not as dramatic as in the past two years.

Rightmove reported house prices rising at just 0.5% in England and Wales in the four weeks to April 14.

The increase, which puts the average price of a house at £161,370, follows a rise of 1.2% the previous month and a 2% jump in February.

But East Anglia, where prices had risen slightly over the past couple of months, was one of only two regions where property values fell.

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Brian Thorn, spokesman for Rightmove, said the downturn should not be taken as a sign the housing market in the region had turned.

"There is a certain volatility in the data sample between one month and the next. I suspect this might be one of those corrections because the previous couple of months have been quite strong," he said.

"We will probably see an increase in prices next month and it will even itself out with prices drifting up slowly."

He added that greater supply and a drop in demand for houses should make for a more "even-keeled" market this year, with lower levels of house inflation than last year.

The region's estate agents also reported no evidence of a major drop in house prices, although most agreed the market had become "cautious".

Guy Jenkinson, of Bidwells in Ipswich, said: "There is a lot of negative feeling in the marketplace, but it is not as bad as people are making out.

"The market is not as hot and buoyant as it was last year and the year before, but it is certainly not in a negative situation. There are no major drops in any sector."

Paul Taylor, a partner with Taylor Engall in Bury St Edmunds, said houses prices were definitely still on the up in the west of the county.

"We are dealing with a very localised marketplace and in this area prices are still very much on the upward trend," he said.

"There is not a lot selling at the top end of the marketplace but we have noticed a lot of investment buyers – which made up 30% of our sales in March – and that is a good sign.

"We are still relatively cheap compared to places like Cambridge, so there is room for improvement."

Kathryn Halford, property negotiator with Flick & Son in Southwold, added: "Prices are still holding up and they haven't dropped for a long time.

"The market is cautious and people can't be quite so ambitious, but I still expect there to be a slight increase in prices this year."

The slowdown during April reduced the annual rate of house price inflation to 17.8% from 22.5% the previous month, reinforcing the view that the market was slowing gradually rather than heading for a crash.

Rightmove, which measured the asking price of houses put on the market during the four weeks to April 14, said sellers were now taking a more realistic view of how much their property was worth.

During the past four weeks activity in the market rose to levels last seen in the middle of 2002, possibly as a result of the Budget and events in Iraq removing some of the uncertainty that had dogged the market recently, it added

The strongest monthly increases were seen in Wales, where prices soared by 3.3%, followed by the South West and North West both at 1.3%.

Prices in London, which fell by 2.6% last month, rose by 0.5% in the four weeks to the middle of April.

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