After several years of stagnation the housing market in Brighton and Hove is making a strong recovery. Latest figures reveal house prices have risen by nearly 50% in the last decade making the price tag of Brighton and Hove properties one of the highest in the country. Finn Scott-Delany reports.
Financial austerity and credit crunch which together depressed the property sector in recent years have given way to a buoyant market.
A Brighton and Hove City Council report has put housing just marginally below the 2007 peak.
And according to a more recent Nationwide survey, average prices have risen by 12% from Q4 2013 to £348,918 in Q4 2013 - which makes the city's housing market the fastest growing after Manchester and London
A three-bedroom house now costs £339,217, up from £319,448 a year ago, according to the city council's most recent quarterly report. It equates to a 47% rise in ten years in the city.
Renting a one-bedroom flat would cost £801 per month compared to £784 per month a year ago, an increase of more than 2%.
The costs pale in comparison to wider Sussex, where many city residents are relocating.
In East Sussex average prices are £237,685, a 6% annual rise and a 30% increase in the last 10 years.
In northern parts of West Sussex average prices are £286,330, while the coastal region of West Sussex is cheaper, with average prices at £253,636 - a 2% rise in the last year and 26% in the last ten years.
The turnaround and inevitable predictions of soaring prices have led to a rush to buy, with first-timers employing ingenuity and persistence.
Rich Keeling, 30, and Georgia Richards bought a cut-price home in Poets Corner in Hove and are doing it up.
Mr Keeling said buying had been one of the most stressful things they have ever done.
He said: “It's relentless. You are constantly downloading apps and checking websites because the good houses are few and far between and go so quickly.
“We viewed our place at 10am and we made an offer at midday - but had to wait all weekend for an answer because they were waiting to see if they got a better offer.
“Poets Corner is an up and coming area and ripe for development. Our house hasn't been touched for 40 years so it can be done up quite easily.
“Its suburban and quiet and good value for money for the area.”
Ceri Jones got a relative bargain with her two-bed flat in Hove in February 2013. She said: “It's been almost a year but I know the value has gone up by at last 5%.
“It was awful not being able to find anything decent for my budget and being disappointed all the time.
“The flat I settled on was the 39th I looked at. I feel really lucky and blessed to have got it.
“I knew prices were rising so there was a sense of urgency to get somewhere of my own before it went up even more.
“I'm really glad I've got on the housing ladder, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to afford something as nice and central.”
For estate agents their focus is on growth in the market rather than price rises.
But while relieved buyers are flocking back, they admit wealthy commuters are pushing up prices, to the disadvantage of Brightonians.
Phil Graves, of Graves Jenkins property consultancy, said low interest rates were making more money available for buyers. But he said the lack of supply was forcing up prices.
Mr Graves said: “The 'London influence' is still prevalent with prices rising in the capital out of proportion to the rest of the country.
“The South East, particularly Brighton and Hove, will benefit from the 'knock on' effect.”
He added: “The slow pace of the new build sector and the lack of significant residential development has created limited supply and with increased confidence and demand, prices have risen.
“Analysts have stated figures of between 4% and 6% in the South East of England for 2013 and more notably the last eleven months of continuous rises.
“The same analysts quote up to a further 8% rise for 2014, which may be bullish, but shows positive intent.”
Leigh Brand, of Spencer and Leigh estate agents in Patcham, said: “We've experienced a very buoyant year with a noticeable increase in demand from first-time buyers.
“We expect it to continue in a similar vein this year and I wouldn't be surprised to see 5% to 10% growth.
“Demand has massively outstripped supply and we're seeing a return to multiple people bidding for the same property, with some paying more than the asking price.
“The lack of supply is pushing up prices but we're in a unique situation where we're not able to build on the South Downs, so the best we can hope for is older buildings making way for multiple houses, similar to what we've seen in London Road.
“Even though rail fares have increased people are still better off buying in Brighton and commuting to London.”
Independent estate agent Jason Dean, of Brighton and Hove, added: “Coming back from the holidays it's apparent a huge amount of people have registered with us.
“But we haven't seen a lot of first-time buyers. There was a lot of initial interest about the government help-to-buy scheme but the buyers didn't really materialise.
“In the summer there was a big rush of people trying to get out because of the parking situation, but in terms of people moving out of town it hasn't been more popular than usual.”
Despite the positive outlook for the estate agents, Bill Randall, chairman of the Housing Committee at Brighton and Hove City Council said house prices were soaring beyond the pocket of many people on modest and middle incomes.
He said: “I fear we could be moving towards another housing bubble in London and the South East, where prices are unsustainable.”
Mr Randall suggested radical solutions were needed to control rents and build new homes.
He added: “Home ownership is on the wane and has dipped below 60 per cent in Brighton and Hove. I believe this decline will continue.
“Meanwhile, private renting grows and rents rise. We need rent controls linked to inflation along the lines of those used for social housing, we need to build more rented social housing at reasonable rents and end the sale of precious council homes.
“I believe the city's housing problems can be solved only with the help of our neighbours who have available land. Without a flow of housing affordable to all pockets the local and regional economy will suffer.”
Facts and figures at a glance
12% - how much Brighton and Hove house prices have risen in last year
47% k - how much B&H houses have risen in last ten years
£348,918 - average house price in B&H (Nationwide, Q4 2013)
£234,697 - average house price in B&H (Land Registry, Sep 2013)
£181,403 - 1-bed to buy (Land Registry, 2013)
£339,217 - 3-bed to buy (Land Registry, 2013)