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Scottish resilience in play as house prices fall

EDINBURGH (Reuters) - Scotland’s housing market is cooling like elsewhere in Britain, but with the nation’s most affordable mortgages experts think it may escape the worst of the property downturn as it did in the 1990s.

"For sale" signs are nailed to trees outside flats in Manchester, January 29, 2008. REUTERS/Phil Noble

While the average house price in Britain fell 1 percent in the first quarter of 2008 compared to the previous three months, Scottish house prices registered a 0.2 percent rise, according to the Halifax house price index.

“Scotland’s housing market is in the strongest position in the UK and will be more resilient, mainly because of affordability,” said Fionnuala Earley, chief economist at the Nationwide building society.

Professor Steve Wilcox, author of the UK Housing Review, said the profile of the Scottish economy and labour market in the 1990s differed substantially from the rest of Britain. This shielded it from the worst of the housing crash that began in the late 1980s and hit the Southeast the hardest.

But now, Wilcox said, the two economies and the housing markets were more in tune than before.

“The dynamics for Scotland are very much the same as in the rest of the UK: sharp rises in house prices and mortgage costs, as well as an increase in private renting,” Wilcox said.

Nevertheless, he said there were still factors that could cushion the downturn.

One is the fact that house prices in Scotland have not risen as steeply as in other parts of Britain. Over the last decade, house prices in Scotland have risen 146 percent, versus a 191 percent rise in Greater London, according to the Halifax house price index.

AFFORDABILITY

But the main factor that could soften the impact of the credit crunch on the Scottish housing market is the affordability of housing in Scotland.

Figures from the Council of Mortgage Lenders show the average house price in Scotland is 4.6 times the region’s average salary. That is lower than the price-to-income ratio in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The UK-wide average is 5.3.

Greater affordability in Scotland means first-time buyers, typically the hardest hit as lenders cut back on mortgage offers and increase deposit requirements, are likely to find it easier to still get mortgages than elsewhere, said Sheemah Shah at Capital Economics.

“The affordability factor is one of the key reasons why house prices in Scotland will not fall as steeply as elsewhere,” she said.

Capital Economics is forecasting a 5 percent fall in Scottish house prices this year, versus a nation-wide drop of 8 percent. In 2009, the consultancy expects house prices in Scotland to drop by 7 percent against a 10 percent drop in the whole of Britain.

“The affordability in Scotland doesn’t mean there will be no drop in house prices,” Shah said.

“There’s still the credit crunch, and Scotland can’t escape that.”

Reporting by Raissa Kasolowsky; Editing by Malcolm Whittaker

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