A large majority of estate agents are optimistic that 2013 will see a steady rise in the number of home sales and the improving situation will put a floor under prices, which have fallen on average for the last two years.
A survey, by online property agent Hometrack, found that 79% of estate agents are more upbeat about the market this spring than they were a year ago. A bigger turnover in home sales could also spur the sale of furniture and housewares, which have suffered in the downturn.
The housing market has been a key driver of activity in the wider economy and boosts taxes for the government through stamp duty and capital gains tax.
While many economists have urged ministers to shift the economy away from property and finance to manufacturing, any signs of growth are likely to be welcomed, at least in the short term.
Some analysts have argued that prices are likely to strengthen over the coming year due to the continued shortage of new homes, the UK’s rising population and easier borrowing following the Bank of England’s funding-for-lending scheme.
Hometrack said this spring will be a “key test” of whether households are able to act on the signs of improvement.
Its latest study found that house prices were flat month on month across England and Wales in January following six months of falls. Around 16% of postcodes saw prices fall in January, representing a big slowdown in falls compared with the previous two months, when around 27% of districts recorded decreases.
London, which has consistently outperformed other areas, was the only region to see an uplift in prices, with a 0.3% increase. They fell by 0.1% in Wales, Yorkshire and Humberside and the North East and by 0.2% in East Anglia.
A growing divide has opened up between the property market inside the M25 and the rest of the country, causing concerns that Britain’s economy is increasingly driven by the capital as it emerges from the financial crisis.
Of the estate agents who feel more optimistic about the housing market, most cited improvements to the mortgage situation and a “growing realism” among sellers about pricing as a factor. Across the country, the typical percentage of the asking price achieved in January was 93.1%.
“Despite the slow start, the housing market looks to be in slightly better shape than at the start of the previous two years,” said Richard Donnell, director of research at Hometrack.
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