The total number of residential valuations conducted in March showed growth of 24% from the same month last year, according to the latest Housing Market Activity Report by Connells Survey & Valuation.
This represents a sixth consecutive month of annual growth. On a monthly basis, the number of valuations grew by 29%.
John Bagshaw, corporate services director of Connells Survey & Valuation, said the coldest March in over 50 years hasn’t seemed to have stalled progress.
“The last time there were this many residential valuations in a single month, HBOS had just announced a £6 billion profit and Northern Rock was still vigorously expanding its lending. This year, confidence in the housing market could be returning cautiously. Certainly, if last month’s trend continues, the housing market might be looking at a more sustained take-off than the usual spring bounce.”
First time buyer activity in March was also the strongest for six years, as 26% monthly growth brought the number of first time buyers to the highest level since March 2007. Of all sub-sections of the market, valuations on behalf of new buyers showed the fastest year-on-year growth, at 33%. This represents the seventh successive month of annual growth for first time buyers.
Bagshaw said: “Improvements are filtering through to more first timers too. Better competition at higher loan-to-value ratios is starting to make mortgages more affordable for first time buyers. The expectation that Bank rates will stay low for many years is also cementing low interest rates, but the biggest change is a calmer approach to the risk from smaller deposits.
“Much of that particular progress is down to the latest government intervention. The Budget was effectively a relaunch of NewBuy and FirstBuy, but there was real change too. Firstly, the timescale is now more realistic, with mortgage guarantees until 2017. And there’s the new £3.5 billion pound budget for equity loans. It will all take time to filter through, and the longer-term economic impact is far less certain. But already, things are moving in a much more positive direction.”
The number of home mover valuations has also increased by 28% since last month. This puts valuations on behalf of home movers up 16% from March last year, and makes March 2013 the strongest month for home moving activity since June 2007.
Bagshaw said: “With prices starting to pick up, this could be feeding the optimism of some movers. Even if many regions are still seeing negative price growth, the national picture is looking more buoyant. On Monday, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors announced the strongest quarter for house sales in three years. And the more recent picture in March looks even more positive.”
In March, the number of remortgaging valuations rose by 25% since the same point last year, after monthly growth also at 25%. This brings remortgaging activity to the highest level since March 2008, a five-year high.
Buy-to-let was another robust area of the market, with the strongest rebound of any market sector from the quiet winter months. Buy-to-let valuations grew 45% on a monthly basis, bringing this activity to a level 19% above March 2012.
Bagshaw added: “Lenders are increasingly incentivised to write more loans with smaller deposits, for the likes of first time buyers. But at the same time, they’re told to bolster their balance sheets with safer assets. Buy-to-let and remortgaging loans are the balancing weights that allow that progress. And luckily, these loans provide a vital function themselves.
“The buy-to-let industry is increasingly important for the housing market, while a fresh round of remortgaging will help many households lower their repayments, making the monthly financial squeeze a little easier.”