Estate agents saw house-hunter numbers surge to their highest level in more than five years last month, boosting hopes that 2013 will be a “better year” for the market.
Some 314 would-be buyers on average registered with an agent in January, marking the highest number seen since September 2007, the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA) said.
The NAEA said the year has also started strongly for first-time buyer sales, with one quarter (25%) of sales last month made to this group, marking a two-year high.
On average, seven sales were agreed per branch in January, up from five in December, while the typical number of homes on the market decreased slightly month-on-month to 56 per branch as demand strengthened.
Meanwhile, Land Registry figures released today showed that house prices jumped by 1% month-on-month in January across England and Wales to reach £162,441 on average.
Prices are also 1% higher than they were a year ago and continuing a trend, they increased at their fastest rate in London, where at £373,207 on average, prices are 7.1% above what they were a year ago.
By contrast, house prices in the North West are 4.2% down year-on-year, at £106,527 typically. House prices in Wales are 0.9% higher year-on-year, at £116,545 on average.
Signs of an improvement in the market have been seen since the Government launched a scheme last August to help borrowers by giving lenders access to cheap finance.
The number of mortgages on the market has increased by around one third since the Funding for Lending scheme was introduced and there have been more recent signs that conditions for would-be first time buyers, a group which has particularly struggled since the onset of the credit crunch, are getting better.
Lenders have been slashing their rates to some of their lowest ever levels since the scheme was launched, but analysts have warned that some of these products also come with high fees, so borrowers need to weigh up which deals will work out cheapest.
More than 3,000 homes have also been reserved under the Government’s NewBuy scheme, which was launched last spring and helps people to buy a new-build home with just a 5% deposit.
Home builders have reported an uplift in interest in the scheme since the start of this year, which they have put down to the more competitive mortgages being offered by lenders.
President of the NAEA Mark Hayward, said: “These latest results reflect a wider upturn in the market at the start of what we hope will be a better year for UK property.
“The strong number of enquiries during January suggests the financial barriers that have plagued the market for so many years may be beginning to ease as banks increasingly look at new ways to assist buyers.
“Strong financial results from some of the country’s leading house builders this week suggest a growing confidence that some form of a recovery is beginning to take shape.”