ESTATE agents today claimed that the housing market is starting to pick up again following a year which saw properties lose a record 14.4 per cent of their value.

House prices slid by a further 1.2 per cent during January to leave the average property costing £204,253 – the lowest point for four years, according to the Land Registry.

The figure of 14.4 per cent represents the annual change in prices and is the biggest recorded fall since records began in 1995.

The reduction has seen the price of the average property slashed by more than £30,000 in a year.

Estate agents in Weymouth and Dorchester say the market is showing signs of recovery.

Director of Roger McGhee in Weymouth Daniel Mallon said: “Locally, it was probably close to a 20 per cent reduction.

“Properties coming up now are selling compared to stock that has been around for a while and was priced, say, 12 months ago.”

He added: “We’re seeing more confidence. This year there has been an upturn, maybe people are trying to second-guess the market. Everyone is trying to be an expert.

“People want to do business if their mortgages and the banks allow them to.”

Manager of Hull Gregson and Hull in Weymouth Mark Bonnett said: “There’s people with money who may have been using the interest to support themselves and now don’t have that option so they’re buying properties to get the rental return. The market will pick up providing owners are realistic about the price.”

Mr Bonnett added: “Properties are starting to sell reasonably well – the amount of sold boards are evidence of that.”

Manager of the town’s Palmer Snell branch Anthony Goss said flats and the lower end of the market had been hit harder.

He said prices were levelling out, resulting in more sales and he predicted prices would hit a ‘plateau’ this year before increasing steadily towards the end of the year.

It’s a similar picture in Dorchester where agents are reporting increased activity.

Director of Jackson-Stops & Staff’s office Julian Bunkall said: “Last year was tough but from the middle of January the market has shown signs of activity.

“More people are registering and looking for properties and there has been a greater number of viewings and some sales.

“I’d still describe the market as delicate but definitely improving.”

Residential manager of Symonds & Sampson Jon Summers said: “This area is still quite a popular place. A lot of people are migrating this way and I guess we’re lucky in that we’re not so reliant on particularly big employers such as car manufacturers and factories.

“This is an area underpinned by second homes and we have a healthy buy-to-let market with the Olympics coming up and the potential of holiday lets.

“It seems there’s a lot of people holding cash they don’t know what to do with and may feel it’s better off in bricks and mortar than in some of our financial institutions.

“It’s a good time to buy.”