HOUSE prices in the North West have risen sharply over the past three months, with officials predicting a boom in opportunities for investors in 2006.
The figures for house prices between February and April were released this month by Land Registry - the official body in charge of storing details about land transactions in the UK - and show a rise of
7.63% in North West prices compared with the same period last year.
The news suggests an increase from the comparatively steady rise of 5.4% predicted for 2006 and could see a return to the 'property boom' of 2003 and 2004, which saw national rises of 21.8% and 15.7% respectively.
Other figures released by the Land Registry showed that the actual volume of houses being sold was also on the increase, with a total of 2,618 buildings changing hands compared with 1,805 last year.
All these figures mean the North West is now the second strongest region in the housing and property market - news that was backed up by another survey taken with exhibitioners preparing for tomorrow's Property Investor and Homebuyer Show at Manchester's G-Mex Centre.
More than 70% of the exhibitors said during the past few years, the Northern housing market had grown to the stage where it now rivals the strong Southern market for investment opportunities.
Nick Clark, managing director of the exhibition, said: 'The results of our survey show that while London is leading the current property boom, industry experts believe you shouldn't discount the North.
'With lower house prices and high demand, there are plenty of opportunities for shrewd investors who are looking to make money out of property and homebuyers who want to get their first step on the property ladder.'
Louis Mann, sales director of investment company Validus, agreed, adding: 'Buy-to-let investors should keep their eyes on the North.
'Property prices are still lower than in the South and for the investor this means a lower 'ticket price' to purchase the property, which is great for cash flow.'
One of the main reasons for the boom is thought to be the amount of money poured into the region.
The Commonwealth Games in Manchester 2002, Liverpool's status as the Capital of Culture in 2008 and plans for a second Runcorn-Widnes bridge have added to the feeling of regeneration and improvement in the area.
Christopher Hall, president of the National Association of Estate Agents, is encouraged by the boom and predicts property values could double within a decade.
However, statistics from property company Up My Street suggest house prices in Halton continued to be well below the national average, down from £150,895 to £145,720 between January and March compared with the end of last year.
Another survey by mortgage lender Halifax, released this week, suggests Halton might be following a national trend, which is for properties in urban areas to be cheaper than rural ones.
While the news might not be that surprising, the size of the difference is staggering.
The average house in a rural location is said to be £208,699, compared with £176,115 in an urban area.
This news means far fewer first-time buyers live in the countryside than in the towns.
Martin Ellis, chief economist at Halifax, said: 'Housing market conditions are particularly tough for those living in rural areas.
'Higher house prices combined with lower average earnings mean property is less affordable than urban areas.
'This is making it especially difficult for first-time buyers to get a foot on the property ladder while, at the same time, there is less provision of social housing.