Flowers aren't the only things blooming as the property market sees a spring bounce. Mortgage advances soared by 19% in March, says the Council of Mortgage Lenders.

What’s the latest?

Housing market activity picked up in March with a jump in both property transactions and mortgage lending.

The number of homes changing hands rose by 21% compared with the previous month to stand at 102,740, the highest total so far this year, according to HM Revenue & Customs.

At the same time, figures from the Council of Mortgage Lenders showed total mortgage advances soared by 19% to £21.4bn in March.

But both figures were significantly lower than for the same month of 2016, when there was a rush among buyers to complete purchases before the new 3% stamp duty rate on second homes came into force in April.

Why is this happening?

Activity in the property market traditionally begins to pick up in the spring following a seasonal lull over the winter.

But the CML said lending was being driven by homeowners remortgaging in order to take advantage of record low interest rates, and first-time buyers using government schemes to get on to the property ladder.

Demand from existing homeowners trading up the ladder and buy-to-let investors remained muted.

Despite the month-on-month rise, March’s total was also slightly lower than the average monthly lending levels seen during the past year. 

Who does it affect?

The fall in activity among buy-to-let investors creates a window of opportunity for first-time buyers buyers.

Investment landlords and people buying their first home traditionally target the same properties, so the drop in buy-to-let purchasers as means those looking to get on to the property ladder face less competition.

But the fact that existing homeowners are sitting tight is bad news for the property market as a whole, as these people need to trade up the ladder to make homes available for those lower down it.

Meanwhile, the CML estimates buy-to-let transactions are 42% lower year-on-year, which is bad news for those looking to rent, as demand for homes to let already outstrips supply.

Sounds interesting. What’s the background?

The figures come after data for February had pointed to a slowdown in the market, with mortgage lending dropping and Nationwide recording its first fall in house prices for two years.

It remains to be seen what impact the snap General Election will have on transaction volumes.

But, housing commentators have suggested the uncertainty could lead to a fall in activity in the run up to the polls on June 8.

However, the increased majority the Government is expected to win, combined with a stronger mandate for Brexit, could lead to greater economic and political stability over the longer term.

Meanwhile, the shortage of homes for sale, with the number of properties on estate agents’ books dropping to a new record low in March, is likely to continue to support prices. 

Top 3 takeaways

  •   Housing market activity picked up in March
  •   Property transactions rose by 21% to 102,740
  •   Mortgage advances soared by 19% to £21.4bn 

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