House prices: Southend sees biggest rise, Halifax says
Southend experienced the biggest house price rise of any town or city during 2012, say one of the UK's biggest mortgage lenders the Halifax.
The Essex town saw prices rise by 15%, compared with a 1% average fall across the UK as a whole.
The Halifax said most towns with big house price increases were in the South East of England.
By contrast, the biggest house price drops were in Craigavon in Northern Ireland and Wishaw in Scotland.
"Nationally, conditions in the housing market have been largely unchanged over the past 12 months with little overall movement in either house prices or sales for the second consecutive year," said Martin Ellis, housing economist at the Halifax.
"This picture, however, conceals considerable local differences. A number of towns and cities have recorded significant changes in house prices over the past 12 months.
"Several towns within easy commuting distance of the capital feature in the list of top performers, whilst the majority of towns that have fared worst in house price terms are outside southern England, where economic conditions have generally been less favourable," he added.
The Halifax's figures are based only on its own lending.
The most complete record of property prices, compiled by the Land Registry for England & Wales, shows that prices in Southend rose by only 2.4% in the year to October.
Prices rose by 7% in London, and outside the capital the biggest increase was recorded in Brighton and Hove, at 4.7% in the past year, the Land Registry said.
Alan Kirkman, a director of Tudor estate agents in Southend, poured cold water on the Halifax's report of a 15% rise.
"I was very surprised. In our experience that hasn't been the case," he said.
"Southend and Essex are roughly similar, up about 1.25% or 1.5% year-on-year.
"The market in Southend is strong with a good balance between people looking and people selling, which is why prices haven't dramatically increased," he added.
Separately, the British Bankers' Association (BBA) reported that the number of new mortgages for house buyers approved by its members, but not yet lent, had risen again in November to 33,634.
The BBA said this was an indication that sales were returning to the levels of a year ago.
In fact so far this year in the UK, the number of completed house sales has been 6% higher than in 2011, according to recent figures from HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).
They showed sales of 91,000 in November, the largest monthly total since December 2009, nearly three years ago.
Last month's figure was 7,000 more than in October and also 10,000 more than in the same month in 2011.
Some industry experts, such as the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics), have suggested that activity may pick up further in 2013, helped by the government's Funding for Lending Scheme (FLS) which is channelling cheap funds to banks and building societies, so they can lend more money to businesses and households.
Mark Harris, of mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, said: "Record low interest rates have resulted in some of the cheapest mortgages we have ever seen so it is no surprise that lending volumes are slowing ticking up month by month."
"However, the biggest barrier to home ownership remains the deposit, as first-time buyers struggle to drum up the tens of thousands of pounds required to get on the housing ladder.
"Funding for Lending should make this easier next year. It is no overnight solution... yet early signs are encouraging," he added.