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How Much is that House in the Window?

With the recent release from the UK's biggest mortgage lender, the Halifax, of its latest house price report for May 2005, showing that prices fell by 0.6% last month, and prices falling just 0.1% since the start of the year, the bank said that the market is broadly flat. Nationwide however released its survey last week, showing a 0.3% rise in May. Commenting on the figures for March, Nationwide confirmed that the 0.6% fall in property values was the steepest monthly fall they had seen for nearly 10 years, however, just a few days after the Nationwide released its survey, the Halifax reported a 0.5% rise in March prices. Mortgage comparison site Moneynet reported a slight increase in March, primarily for the high income homeowners. The diversity of house price surveys dilutes consumer recognition of trustworthy media; were should you look for accurate and up to date information?

Land registry reports
(http://www.landreg.gov.uk/propertyprice/interactive/)

All property sales from England and Wales are logged by the Land Registry, and so this report provides an extremely comprehensive source for residential property sales. The land registry reports can provide useful information for both for national and local comparisons. One drawback however is that the report is only compiled every three months, making the figures out of date even before they are released. For a small fee, a similar survey is available for properties within Scotland at the Registers of Scotland Executive Agency ( http://www.ros.gov.uk/index.html )

Government house price index

This is a recently launched government survey into the house price index, reported on a monthly basis. Using lending information from about 50 lenders, this includes a first-time buyers index, as well as former owner occupiers, regional, and UK indices. Unfortunately, like the Land Registry reports, there is at least a two month arrears in the statistics being released. While the government is trying to improve this survey, it is hampered by limits on the information provided by the lenders, and has been described to the BBC by a government spokesperson as "The slightly less than definitive index". The implementation of the National Property Database, which is currently under development, should help to provide better information about property types, and expansion on the information available for geographic areas such as commuter belts.

Mortgage lenders

Mortgage lending companies such as the Nationwide ( http://www.nationwide.co.uk/default.htm ) or Halifax ( http://www.halifax.co.uk/home/index.shtml ) provide regular surveys covering the entire UK rather than just England and Wales. These are usually available monthly, and are based on the final price agreed by their mortgage customers, thereby ignoring other lenders figures, and the 25% of cash transaction house sales. Useful in giving snapshots of the property market, although frequently different lenders figures contradict each others trends.

Price comparison sites

Comparison websites, such as Moneynet ( http://www.moneynet.co.uk/mortgage-re search/index.shtml ), provide an impartial analysis of mortgage deals, alongside an analysis of what people are buying and borrowing in terms of property. The information provided by these sites can become slightly distorted by speculative enquiries where purchases are never intended to be completed, and no track record is kept on actual house purchase amounts.

Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors ( http://www.rics.org/default )

A survey from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, based on responses from a small number of the institute's members in England and Wales, shows the surveyors' confidence in house market prices (rising or falling), rather than what is actually happening.

Property websites

Rightmove ( http://www.rightmove.co.uk/ ) use data collected from about 35% of the homes for sale on their website to compile the sample for their survey. As over half of all the UK's estate agent chains list their available properties on the Rightmove site, the sample size is sufficient to provide extensive representative information.

Overall the different measures can all provide potentially useful information for consumers, but there is currently no definitively accurate guide to the UK house price market. Different studies cover different areas of the housing market, and often provide contradictory results. Predicted future trends are always subject to possible inaccuracy, and therefore should not be relied upon for complete accuracy. Buyer and seller beware.

About Rachel and the mysterious Cashzilla
Rachel drinks Guinness and has the best hits of 1987 in her music collection. Rachel writes for the personal finance blog Cashzilla: http://www.cashzilla.co.uk

Cashzilla is a personalfinanosaurus, a special breed of dinosaur with a head and heart for finance. Cashzilla is an Aries. He has a flamboyant character and a tongue that could heat up any conversation. If Cashzilla was an A-Team character, he'd be Murdock.

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