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House prices recovery is a rocky road

The average house price rose by more than £700 last month, and they will end the year significantly higher than at the start, defying all the doomsters, according to Nationwide this morning.

The price-boosters were quick to embrace the data as yet more evidence of Britain's fizzing property market. Galliford Try Homes said: "We are seeing a sustained recovery."

Meanwhile, the UK's biggest independent estate agency chain, Haart, says its own figures suggest prices in the capital were up 10% in November alone. That's an amazing increase – from £274,000 to £302,000 in just one month. And Haart reckons we're in for a "strong start" in 2010 as well.

Meanwhile, Rics, the surveyors trade association, says everything points to "further price increases into the new year."

Maybe they'll be right, and this year's falls will be a brief interlude in the ever upward march of property prices. But let's put a few things straight:

• Don't be conned by the way percentages work. When prices fall by 30% they need a 42.8% increase to return to their starting point. We are, thankfully, seeing only relatively small percentage price rises at the moment, and are still some way off the 2007 peak.

• This "recovery" is extraordinarily uneven. Some towns are still seeing price falls, while some types of property (eg one-bed flats) remain in low demand. House prices in the north remain 15% below their peak (even after the recent "recovery") and are selling at prices last seen in early 2004. In Northern Ireland, prices need to rise by 65% to retrace their peak two years ago.

• Savills, which has one of the better records in forecasting house prices, is predicting a 6.6% fall in 2010. Jones Lang LaSalle reckons prices will be down 7%.

• Asking prices are already falling, according to the major property websites. FindaProperty.com said a fortnight ago that prices fell 0.5% month-on-month and warned of a coming 'double dip' in the property market.

At some point – maybe it will be another two years away – we will wake up to find that interest rates are back at "normal" levels. Unemployment will remain high, rental demand low and pay rises subdued, and the banks will still want hefty deposits. This is no basis for a sustained recovery, whatever the property boosters say.

What's it like in your area? Do you see evidence of a boom, or is your local property market heading south?

-source guardian´╗┐