NEWPORT seems to be the place to buy a house at the moment, if figures released last week are to be believed.

The statistics released by the Principality Building Society showed house sales in Newport had leaped by 31 per cent between the first three months of 2015 and the start of this year – the biggest increase anywhere in the UK.

The figures also showed the average house price in the city has risen by 5.1 per cent year on year, and now stands at £176,090. The report said the reason for the increase in sales was the large number of new-build properties available for sale in Newport.

But how realistic is this?

Cerys Williams, of Bridge Street-based independent estate agency Kingston Newell, said: “My feeling is that properties are scarcer at the moment. We’ve got so many people clambering for every property which comes in.

“We recently brought a house in Tredegar Street on the market on Friday and had viewings on Saturday. We’ve had two sealed bids and I had to cancel a viewing.

“We definitely have fewer listings than we did last year.”

But she added Kingston Newell does not deal with new builds, and the large number of new developments in the city in areas such as Llanwern and Allt-Yr-Yn could mean the overall number of sales was up.

But she said house prices in the city had gathered “significant momentum” over the past 12 months.

“There are many contributing factors and some areas of the city have seen sharper inclines than others,” she said.

“Generally, properties on the west side of Newport have benefitted the most from a buoyant market with some homeowners banking equity in the tens of thousands.

“With its proximity to the M4 and excellent school catchments it has also captured the attention of Cardiff buyers who are finding they get far more for their money in comparison to our capital city.

“Homeowners on the east side of the city need not despair as an influx of Bristolians who have been priced out of their retrospective areas are also taking advantage of the lower prices.”

She added: “I was at a valuation this morning where I sold the property to a young lady 12 months ago for £136,000 and without doing a thing its current market value is £144,950.

“It’s fantastic for vendors that their assets are growing so quickly, however it can lead to locals being priced out of their own markets or home owners not being able to move up the ladder as much as they’d like.”

Ms Williams added the planned scrapping of tolls on the Severn bridges made it a particularly attractive time to buy a home this side of the Severn Estuary.

“With news of the bridge tolls being significantly reduced if not scrapped altogether it’s a great time to buy,” she said.

“An increased demand for housing within the Newport area has also seen a variety of developers creating new estates in various parts of the city.

“First time buyers are benefitting from help to buy schemes on these new developments allowing them to increase their budgets significantly.

“I believe that vendors are also contributing to increased sales prices by presenting their homes as they see on popular TV home buyer shows.

“They are a guilty pleasure for most and offer great tips to sellers to help maximise their home's potential.”

Principality’s chief financial officer Tom Denman said: “In general terms the housing market tends to adopt a cautious attitude when the future direction of the economy becomes uncertain.

“We can therefore expect to see further fluctuations in housing sales and prices, as potential purchasers weigh up the pros and cons of making what is one of the largest investment decisions of their lives.

“The cost of living is rising, which means that consumers need to spend more just to maintain their current standard of living. This is a significant extra pressure for those who are saving for a deposit. Mortgage rates, however, remain at historic lows and the market is highly competitive for those who do choose to purchase, whether for the first time or to move up the market.”

But there doesn’t seem to be much end in sight for house prices, with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) predicting price tags will continue to rise throughout this year.

And instructions to sell, when sellers give estate agents the go-ahead to put their property on the market, have also increased, and were up by nine per cent in June alone. But completed sales did decrease slightly in June in comparison with May.

Cardiff-based surveyor and Wales spokesman for the RICS Tony Filice said: “Wales appears to be bucking the wider UK trend, which is of a slowing market.

“Clearly within the UK, there are markets within markets, and indeed the same can be said of Wales, where there is also regional variation.

“But in our experience, confidence amongst buyers is strong, particularly in the first-time buyer market and in the market for three-bed semis, and overall surveyors expect prices to rise.”

But, there is some good news, as prices in Newport are still far below the UK average of £220,094.

Stephen James, of Cardiff property consultancy Bruton Knowles, said the planned scrapping of the Severn bridges tolls will lead to a spike in development east of Newport. Mr James said land between the bridges and the Brynglas Tunnels would be particularly attractive to buyers, and landowners stood to benefit to the tune of hundreds of millions of pounds.

“Although the Department for Transport has confirmed there is no current date for any abolition of the charges, if Theresa May sticks to her election promises, the scrapping or significant reduction of the tolls should result in an upturn of interest in areas such as Magor, Caerleon and Chepstow, along with the A449 corridor,” he said.

“For a single van it currently costs £13.40 and a HGV £20. Even if you’ve got a small fleet of vehicles, the overall cost mounts up and has always restricted businesses locating here in south east Wales.

“To scrap or reduce the tolls will strengthen the link between the regions and allow for much easier movement of traffic.

“It will also make Welsh businesses pitching for work in England much more competitive as they will be able to factor in the lower charges on their bottom line.

“With both Severn crossings being vital arteries into Wales, reduced or scrapped tolls will demonstrate that Wales is very much open for business.”

He added house hunters priced out of the market in Bristol or the west of England may be more willing to look at Wales, where prices are generally cheaper.

“With underlying residential property values in Bristol some of the strongest in the country, house hunters from across the bridge will be crunching the numbers to work out whether to look for somewhere to live on the Welsh side of the River Severn,” he said.

“In Bristol average property prices are £289,048 while in Magor it is £227,793 so the difference is clear to see.

“Those looking for somewhere more affordable to live will be eyeing up potential bargains before owners start hiking up prices. Landowners could also be in line for a windfall as developers consider their options on where to build.”

Assuming Mrs May makes good on her manifesto promise to scrap the tolls, the charges are expected to stop towards the end of 2018.