Sales activity this year set to be highest since 2007 – Gráinne Gilmore

The first quarter of 2021 was the busiest sales market seen in years. In our latest House Price Index, we examine the trends underpinning this activity, and forecast that sales completions this year will reach 1.5 million.

Sales completions, based on the HMRC measure, have already reached more than 560,000 in the first four months of the year, and, as many of you will be experiencing, buyer demand remains strong up and down the country.

This demand among buyers is being driven by two main factors. The first is the stamp duty holiday. The extension of this tax break has continued to boost activity as buyers are persuaded to make a move now rather than wait in order to make savings.

Grainne Gilmore

However, at the beginning of this year, we saw surging levels of buyer demand even in a market where, because of the extended time between agreeing and sale and sale completion, many of those active had no expectation of benefitting from the stamp duty holiday as they would not complete before the initial deadline at the end of March.

This highlights how the second factor – a once-in-a-generation ‘reassessment of home’ among households – has been driving the market since the end of the first lockdown last year, and it has further to run.

Firstly, there are the families who need more space, something which has become clear during several lockdowns with home working and homeschooling. Those households who work in office-based jobs may also have more scope to move further afield with some companies confirming they are moving to more flexible working permanently . Second, older homeowners are also active in the market, looking for a lifestyle change, many of whom will not have moved for years. And finally, first-time buyers, still keen to climb onto the housing ladder, with many more mortgages to choose from.

The factor which could hamper more sales is the lack of supply. While the flow of new homes being listed for sale has picked up, the total stock of homes available to buy has been eroded by very high levels of activity, and this remains a factor in the market this year.

 

So in this busiest of markets, which regions are the ‘hottest’? Most markets are registering price growth, and most markets are moving more quickly. But we have measured the ‘hot’ markets by looking at regions where the time to sell has fallen compared to 2017-2019 and where house price growth is highest.

 

And on these measures, Wales, Yorkshire & the Humber and the North West top the charts, while inner London, with price growth of 0.3% and slower sales times, brings up the rear.

This reflects the international nature of the market in central London, and while some family houses are being snapped up, the wider market is intricately linked with global mobility, something which has been curtailed since the start of the pandemic.

We anticipate that while demand levels will ease from the highs seen in early April throughout the summer, they will remain elevated compared to historic norms, underpinning sales activity that will make this one of the busiest housing markets for years.

Gráinne Gilmore is head of research at Zoopla. 

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