One hesitates to talk about a boom, since such a statement is the classic hostage to fortune, but it is fair to say that the housing market in Inverness and its surrounding towns is as buoyant as it has been for many a long year.
Close to this time last year it was increasingly clear that a tipping point was approaching, after which sellers would be in their strongest position since any time since 2008.
While it would stretch a point to say that we are now in a raging seller’s market, many of the signs are pointing in that direction.
For instance, a number of properties are now, going to a closing dates, a scenario we have not witnessed since the sunlit days before the recession. This is a sure indication of two things: that there is not enough property on the market and that serious demand is out there.
The confidence in the market is palpable. The Highland Solicitors’ Property Centre revealed recently that it has sold 40% more properties in January of this year (2017) than it did in the same period last year.
Another indicator of the accelerating pace of the market is in Home Reports. These have a 12-week shelf life from a Lenders point of view and if a home is not sold within that period, the report has to be re-commissioned and updated.
Until recently, that was a substantial part of our business, indicating the length of time that houses were taking to sell once the decision had been made to place them on the market. That work is evaporating, suggesting that most houses are moving within three months.
Another marker which stacks up on the boom side of the scales is that out-of-town volume builders have now rediscovered their appetite and are moving back into new-build in the Inverness area.
This sector has been sustained over the years by local construction firms such as Tulloch and Robertson who have, as it were, kept the faith. Tulloch has just announced a development at Ness Side of 800 homes, 25% of which are aimed at local buyers.
UK giant Barratt now has a development of 315 homes at Ness Castle, again on the south side of the city and Kirkwood Homes of Inverurie has a development at Slackbuie and another, smaller, one at Essich.
It is worth noting that, at Essich, all 15 high-end, strongly priced houses sold off-plan, before a sod was ever turned. That, in itself, indicates a real hunger for quality properties.
Much of the activity on the south side has been catalysed by the soon-to-be-completed £55 million Inverness West Link road joining the A82 to the west with the west most end of the Southern Ditributor Road at. Part of the £315 million Inverness City Region deal, the scheme is opening up land along its length.
In the city itself, prices are rising at a satisfying rate after years of little growth. A one-bedroom city centre flat is now commanding up to £100,000, showing a healthy increase over the last 2 year period.
A three-bedroom mass market semi is now likely to sell for in the region of £200,000 to £220,000, significantly up from £175,000 to £180,000 from two year ago. I cannot help but reflect that my first house when I moved to Inverness in 1996 – a three-bedroom detached property – set me back just £71,000.
What makes the healthy situation in Inverness and its hinterland more remarkable is that there has been so much general uncertainty over the past year, what with Brexit, the continuing rumbling about Indyref2, the North Sea’s troubles and the impact of property transaction taxes.
But the fact is that this area tends to fly under the radar as far as wider national issues are concerned. Inverness people have an admirable tendency just to get on with it and deal with whatever is in front of them.
Certainly, the first Scottish independence referendum caused significant local concerns and Brexit, when it happened, gave pause for thought but all the indications are that these concerns have been shrugged off.
Land and Buildings Transaction Tax, the Scottish government’s punitive imposition on higher-value homes, has been a factor, but is has not brought the market in that sector shuddering to a halt as it has in the Central Belt. On like-for-like properties, the numbers are just so vastly different.
So, as the Inverness market ventures into 2017, there are many reasons to be optimistic. Long may it continue.
Graham Forbes is director of the Inverness office of DM Hall Chartered Surveyors.