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‘Village for sale’ as UK housing market hots up

Tuesday, 12 Nov 2013 | 8:37 AM ET
The boathouse at Bantham, U.K.
Nigel Hicks | Britain On View | Getty Images
The boathouse at Bantham, U.K.

Reports that a seaside village has been put up for sale in England have focused yet more attention on the turnaround in the country's property market amid growing concerns of a housing crisis.

Bantham in the south-west county of Devon – which comes complete with an unspoilt beach, picturesque thatched cottages and a village shop – is being put up for sale for around £10 million ($16 million), according to media reports.

The village, which is owned by the private company Evans Estates, has been in the same family for several generations.

"Their ethos has always been to allow Bantham to remain a place of outstanding beauty, with the village's old thatched cottages portraying an image of unchanging charm and the beach and its surrounds staying as wild and natural as can be," Evans Estates' website stated. The company declined to comment.

Reports of its sale come as a slew of data released on Tuesday confirm that the turnaround in Britain's housing market has continued into October.

Property prices in Britain are continuing to rise as government-led schemes designed to kick-start the housing market push up demand.

(Read more: UK may hit foreign property owners with new tax to bursthousing bubble)

Nicholas Barnes, head of research at residential property consultancy and estate agents Chesterton Humberts said there had been a "huge pick-up in activity" in 2013.

"This time last year no one was predicting we would be where we are today and it's due to a combination of factors," he told CNBC.

"Government schemes are kicking in, there has been better news on the underlying economy. People also feel more secure in their jobs, and this is leading to more consumer confidence. It's a snowball effect."

This, combined with wide-spread reports of rising house prices, meant that new vendors were putting their properties on the market – "just to see what they could get" – which was helping to push up prices, he said.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) published Tuesday revealed that although U.K. house prices were flat month-on-month, over the year to September they had increased by 3.8 percent - up from a 3.7 percent rise in the 12 months to August 2013.

(Read more: Bubble trouble? Experts clash over UK housing)

House price growth remained stable across most of the U.K., the ONS said, but stressed that prices in London were increasing significantly faster than the country's average, growing by 9.4 percent on an annual basis.

House building could get 'out of control': Pro
Peter Chatwell, rates strategist at Credit Agricole, said he is "concerned" about the U.K. housing market as there is too much housing at an early phase of the economic cycle.

Separate data released by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) Tuesday showed that house prices had hit their highest level in 11 years.

The government's "Help to Buy" and "Funding for Lending" scheme have been blamed by some for helping to fuel a dangerous rise in house prices, and in September RICS called for the Bank of England to take action to cap future house price rises.

Under the "Help to Buy" scheme, the British government guarantees part of a home-buyer's mortgage on properties worth up to £600,000 ($918,000).

'Growing housing crisis'

But Howard Archer, chief U.K. and European economist at HIS Global Insight, said that there was another factor boosting house prices: "A shortage of new properties for sale compared to demand could be an increasingly significant factor pushing up prices."

Indeed, research by estate agency Savills also published Tuesday revealed that London especially is in the midst of a "growing housing crisis" and needs to build 50,000 new homes a year to address the issue.

(Read More: UK housing shares surge on Goldman's conviction)

In its report, Savills argued that the population of Britain's capital is set to grow by one million people by 2021, and the majority of London households earn less than £50,000 a year. As such, the bulk of new homes should be aimed at the lower end of the market, costing up to £280,000. According to the ONS, however, the average house price in London was £434,000 in September – significantly higher than the England average of £255,000.

As such, it is London that has been driving the average U.K. house price rises. But Archer stressed that despite the capital's lead, Tuesday's housing market data would likely do little to ease concerns about a new housing market bubble.

Dangerous debt levels?

Barnes agreed that – excluding London - U.K. property prices were "not in bubble territory yet." Outside of London and the South East, U.K. house prices increased by 1.4 percent in the 12 months to September 2013, according to the ONS.

But he added: "Where I see the real risk is not so much in prices themselves, but in household debt."

In a further sign of booming housing market activity, the Council of Mortgage Lenders said Tuesday that lending in the third quarter of 2013 was at its highest quarterly level since 2007, with mortgage advances up over 20 percent year-on-year in September.

"The U.K. has significant levels of household debt - most of which is based on mortgages. All you need is a short, sharp shock in terms of interest rates and a lot of households would be thrown into dangerous territory," Barnes warned.

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