The number of prospective buyers registering their details with estate agents slumped by nearly at third (31%) in December 2017, new figures from NAEA Propertymark suggest.
NAEA recorded just 268 prospective home owners registered per member branch last month, down from 386 in December 2016 — a huge drop even at a quiet time of year.
In November 2017, there was an average of 333 registrations per member branch.
Sales agreed also fell.
There was an average of five sales agreed per estate agent branch in December 2017, down from six in December 2016.
That made it the lowest level since December 2014, when there were also five sales agreed on average, and down from seven sales agreed in November 2017.
Nonetheless, NAEA took some encouragement from the figures, noting an increase in the proportion of first-time buyers in the market.
It said that first-time buyers made up 32% of sales in December 2017 as opposed to 27% in the month before.
NAEA Propertymark chief executive Mark Hayward said: “We see this, year in, year out. Buyers take a back seat in December to enjoy the festivities, while sellers keep their homes on the market in the hope that someone will take interest and make an offer.
“What we don’t usually see is first-time buyers capitalising on this slump and using it to their advantage – 44% of our members think that the Chancellor’s stamp duty cut for first-time buyers will encourage more to make offers, and it looks like that’s what we’re starting to see.
“Hopefully this enthusiasm won’t falter when the second- and third-time buyers come back on to the market in the New Year and competition hots up again.”
Meanwhile, NAEA found that the supply of available properties remained fairly stagnant in December, falling by just one to 33 on average per branch.
This is down 20% from December 2016 when agents were typically marketing 41 properties per branch.
The time taken between offers being accepted and exchanging contracts reduced marginally in December, with 4% of sales going through in under four weeks, compared to an average of 1% from January to November 2016.
The percentage of transactions which took longer than 17 weeks to exchange fell in line with this, from 7% in November, to just 4% last month.
NAEA’s figures on registrations chime with recently released figures that show approvals for house purchases in December 2017 were at a five-year low.
Trade body UK Finance shows banks approved a total of 36,115 mortgages in December.
This is the lowest monthly figure since April 2013.
Eric Leenders, managing director for personal finance at UK Finance, said: “December is traditionally a quieter month for mortgages, although the underlying trend of increased numbers of first-time buyers, supported by government initiatives such as Help to Buy, continues.”
Separate data has also revealed a 30-year high in the building of affordable new homes.
Data from the National House Building Council (NHBC) based on registrations for the provider’s warranty product and builder completions, found 160,606 homes were registered to be built in 2017, while 147,278 were completed.
The private sector grew by 3% with 118,825 new homes registered, with the affordable sector increasing by 14% to 41,781 – the highest yearly total for the sector since NHBC electronic records began 30 years ago.