First-time buyers close price gap


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The recent wave of first-time buyers into Britain's property market is helping to close the house price gap between urban and rural properties, a study has suggested.

But people buying a home in a rural retreat still pay nearly £24,000 more typically than those purchasing a property in a city, Halifax found.

In the past four years, the gap has been narrowing, with the average price of a home in an urban area rising at five times the rate of one in the countryside, at 10% compared with just 2%.

Halifax said this could reflect a recent increase in first-time buyers coming into the market to snap up properties. First-time buyers account for two-fifths (40%) of house purchases using a mortgage in rural areas, but in towns and cities they make up more than half (52%) of such transactions.
The Government has introduced a string of schemes to improve mortgage access. A mortgage price war was sparked after its Funding for Lending scheme was introduced last year and from this month people with deposits as low as 5% have been able to apply for state-backed mortgages under the Government's flagship Help to Buy scheme.

Lenders have been handing out more mortgages in recent months to first-time buyers than in any other period since the credit crunch started.

Halifax found that a house in a rural area costs £206,423 on average, which is 13% more than the typical cost of a property in an urban area at £182,710.

While a "rural premium" exists in every region across Britain, it ranges from £86,218 in the South East to £11,570 in the North East.

In percentage terms, people living in the West Midlands pay the biggest premium to live in a rural area, at 59%, while those living in the North East pay the least at 9%.

The average house price in the countryside is equivalent to 6.3 times gross annual average earnings, while in urban areas it is lower and therefore potentially more affordable, at 4.9.

Halifax found only five rural areas in Britain where house prices cost less than four times local annual earnings typically, which is the long-term average.

Copeland in Cumbria was named as the most affordable rural area, where the house price-to-earnings ratio was 2.7. This was followed by the Scottish regions of Stirling, where the ratio is 3.4, East Ayrshire where it is 3.5 and the Western Isles, with a ratio of 3.7. Pendle in Lancashire completed the list, with a ratio of 3.9.

At the other end of the scale, the Cotswolds were the least affordable area in rural Britain, with average house prices standing at £318,128 which is 9.4 times the local average income.

First-time buyers account for less than one quarter (23%) of house purchases in the Cotswolds, according to Halifax, marking the smallest proportion in Britain, while Copeland was found to have the biggest percentage share of people taking their first step on the ladder, at 58%.

Martin Ellis, housing economist at Halifax, said: "There is a significant premium on property in the countryside across Great Britain.

"Country living remains a widespread aspiration, but relatively high prices put rural homes out of the reach for many. Potential first-time buyers are particularly affected by high property prices, and consequently they account for a smaller proportion of homebuyers in the countryside than in urban areas."

Halifax used official figures and its own house price database to make its findings.

Here are average house prices by region, with the typical price of a rural property in 2013 followed by that of an urban property, and the percentage difference or "premium" in monetary and percentage terms:

:: North East, £137,010, £125,440, £11,570, 9%

:: North West, £ 200,997, £131,938, £69,059, 52%

:: Yorkshire and The Humber, £ 175,466, £127,452, £48,014, 38%

:: East Midlands, £ 179,692, £134,412, £45,280, 34%

:: West Midlands, £ 231,996, £145,801, £86,196, 59%

:: East of England, £ 235,876, £204,863, £31,013, 15%

:: South East, £318,185, £231,968, £86,218, 37%

:: South West, £232,630, £183,048, £49,583, 27%

:: Scotland, £ 160,374, £137,352, £23,022, 17%

:: Wales, £ 154,270, £131,184, £23,086, 18%

:: London (urban only), £ 316,293 n/a

:: Britain, £ 206,423, £182,710, £23,712, 13%

Here are the 10 most affordable rural local authority districts according to Halifax's findings, with the average house price and the house price to annual local earnings ratio:

1. Copeland, North West, £ 100,791, 2.7

2. Stirling, Scotland, £ 149,838, 3.4

3. East Ayrshire, Scotland, £ 100,382, 3.5

4. Western Isles, Scotland, £ 102,592, 3.7

5. Pendle, North West, £ 101,296, 3.9

6. North Lincolnshire, Yorkshire and the Humber, £ 125,276, 4.0

7. Shetland Islands, Scotland, £ 140,610, 4.3

8. West Lindsey, East Midlands, £ 135,343, 4.4

9. Selby, Yorkshire and the Humber, £ 158,055, 4.4

10. Allerdale, North West, £ 133,364, 4.4

Here are the 10 least affordable rural local authority districts according to Halifax's findings, with the average house price and the house price to annual local earnings ratio:

1. Cotswolds, West Midlands, £ 318,128, 9.4

2. Torridge, South West, £201,076, 8.2

3. North Dorset, South West £215,906, 8.0

4. Chiltern, South East, £407,012, 7.6

5. East Devon, South West, £213,677, 7.5

6. Vale of White Horse, South East, £288,522, 7.4

7. Teignbridge, South West, £202,566, 7.4

8. North Devon, South West, £194,000, 7.4

9. East Dorset, South West, £281,760, 7.3

10. East Hampshire, South East, £291,990, 7.3

© 2013 Press Association