Gazumping has returned to the country house market for the first time since the housing boom of the late 1980s, estate agents say. Colin Mackenzie, head of the country house department as estate agents Hamptons, said he had witnessed two gazumpings so far this year. And there had been a number of failed gazumping attempts, too, with bidders offering to pay more than the asking price. Gazumping is a discredited practice of vendors selling their properties to a late high bidder, after already accepting an offer from someone else. In Scotland, gazumping is banned. In a recent failed gazumping bid, an Essex house sold for GBP1.1 million (HK$13.08 million), even though a late bidder offered a staggering GBP1.25 million. Gazumping was widespread in the late 1980s when British property sales were booming but disappeared in the early 1990s when the market was in recession. It was back because buyer competition was becoming increasingly tough in a rising market, Mr Mackenzie said. There are more people looking to buy than to sell, with the number of British buyers entering the market up by more than a quarter this summer, compared to summer 1995. Consequently, properties were selling quickly, he said. Desirable properties that were stuck on the market for two years at the start of the 1990s were sold within two weeks now. Sales were faster partly because buyers were more focused than in the past. 'Buyers are not going to look at a Victorian rectory if they want a Georgian one,' Mr Mackenzie said. 'And they are not going to look at tatty Georgian rectory if they can get a decent one.' Mr Mackenzie advised Hong Kong buyers interested in country homes to start looking soon because the best properties were snapped up quickly. Some Hong Kong and other overseas buyers were making offers on the day of their first visit to a property, he said. This rising demand was pushing up prices. Home Counties country house rises are now a third higher than they were at the nadir of the market in 1992, according to research from estate agents Savills. In the area southwest of London, prices have recently risen fastest in Surrey. There, homes became 8 per cent more valuable in the second quarter of 1996. Demand was fuelled by City of London financial services workers looking to spend their large bonuses on country retreats, said Yolande Barnes, Savills research manager. Confidence in the market would be the crucial factor affecting how well it would perform over the next 12 months, Mr Mackenzie said. Uncertainty over the impending general election, which must be held before May 1997, was misplaced. The worst that could happen was inflation would rise and a wealth tax may be introduced, if the Labour Party won. 'It has to be remembered that, until 1986, the top slice of income tax was 60 per cent,' Mr Mackenzie said. The current top rate of income tax is 40 per cent. Some property pundits argue inflation is healthy for the market, because it pushes up house prices. The current wave of Hong Kong buyers differed from the returnees who cornered the market in 1995, he said. Today's buyers were intending to stay on in Hong Kong after the handover and were simply looking to take their money offshore.