01/03/2014 10:07 GMT | Updated 01/03/2014 10:59 GMT

Negative Equity: Why The North Continues To Suffer in 2014

A new build home goes unsold a year after completion on a new housing estate in Nottingham
Lewis Stickley/PA Archive
A new build home goes unsold a year after completion on a new housing estate in Nottingham

Positive figures that signal a decline in negative equity mask massive regional variations, say business critics.

The number of households in negative equity has fallen from 8% to 14%, reveals an analysis of mortgages taken out since 2005.

However, the north/south divide in England is "alive and well", says Damian Riley, director of business intelligence at HML.

While there has been a decrease from the 826,800 households recorded in the first quarter of 2011, to 463,415 households in late 2013, this reduction "masks huge regional variations" says Riley.

Around 86,000 households in the North (16%) and North West (7%) are in negative equity - meaning the houses are now worth less than the amount owners borrowed to buy them, figures show.

The figure for Greater London is just 5,942 households (1%), while the South East and South West are 2% and 4% respectively.

At the top of the table were the 41% of borrowers in Northern Ireland - 68,024 households - in negative equity at the end of 2013, the figures from mortgage group HML show.

It is thought Northern Ireland is still suffering in the aftermath of the Celtic Tiger property boom years.

In Scotland 72,845 (13%) of borrowers are in negative equity, with the "unresolved issue of sovereignty" suggested as the main reason.

In Wales 12,258 (4%) of households are in negative equity.

The figures are based on mortgages taken out since 2005.

Mr Riley said: "Clearly, the overall reduction in UK negative equity between Q1 2011 and Q4 2013 masks huge regional variations - it appears the north/south divide is alive and well where negative equity is concerned.

"Hopefully, the expected London-centric ripple effect regarding house price recovery will take hold and the more distant provinces will play catch-up over the coming months and years.

"In Scotland, the unresolved issue of sovereignty could be the leading reason for the continuing depression in property prices; resolution is expected following the independence referendum.

"In Northern Ireland, contagion from the bursting of the Celtic Tiger property bubble may take much longer to resolve."

He added: "While the UK housing market is in general recovery, at regional and local level the view remains mixed. Doing nothing is an option; after all, unless a homeowner wants or needs to sell, the issue of negative equity is of low relevance, and over time improving house prices may kill off the issue for many.

"However, if homeowners have free disposable income, making overpayments now to help decrease any negative equity gaps, particularly before a mortgage interest rate increase, would be a very sensible course of action.

"Lenders may also want to be more flexible with the terms and conditions placed on mortgages, allowing customers to overpay without facing fines."