The month of December saw strong annual growth, with the total number of valuations increasing by 12% annually, even after a 28% seasonal slowdown compared to a record-breaking month in November 2013.
John Bagshaw, corporate services director of Connells Survey & Valuation, said: “Growth on this scale seemed almost impossible a year ago – but the last twelve months have proved the sceptics wrong.
“Confidence in the property market has reached levels not seen for more than five years, and some months have even surpassed 2007 levels of activity.
“Despite the usual winter dip, the valuations industry is gearing up for an even busier 2014.”
December’s fastest annual growth was in remortgaging activity, up by 51% since December 2012. Remortgaging also showed the smallest seasonal dip, with 24% fewer valuations conducted over the festive season than in November, compared to an overall monthly fall across the industry of 28%.
Bagshaw said: “Interest rates will be the big story for household finances this year. Far from the Bank of England’s ivory tower, the cost of borrowing remains an issue for ordinary people. Because of this, remortgaging will remain a large part of the valuations market in the coming months – as the cost of mortgages on the ground is likely to remain low for some time.”
First-time buyers were 8% more active in the final month of 2013 than in December 2007 - with valuations on behalf of new buyers the second fastest growing section of the market.
On an annual basis, December saw 7% more valuations on behalf of first-time buyers than December 2012, despite a 31% seasonal slowdown when compared on a monthly basis with November.
Home movers were less active than first-time buyers. Valuations for those already established on the property ladder saw a 30% seasonal slowdown compared to November. However this also brought activity on behalf of established owner occupiers down on an annual basis – with 4% fewer home movers compared to December 2012.
Bagshaw added: “For first-time buyers, this December tops off a great year – with considerably more people squeezing in the time to become homeowners over the festive season than is usual for this time of year.
“However, less movement for those established homeowners reflects a housing market – and an economy – which are still shaking off the recession.
“Those who own their own home may be starting to see prices rise, but many are making the most of lower mortgage rates to balance the monthly budget, and delaying any plans to buy a larger home. This reflects the ongoing squeeze on household incomes.
“As economic progress picks up this year, salaries seem set to follow at some point. And when that happens, the housing market will really begin to tug at its moorings.”
While buy-to-let activity in December saw a seasonal fall of 27% compared to November, on an annual basis this represents 6% growth from December 2012.
Bagshaw said: “Buy to let is the exceptional success of the housing market recovery. Landlords have recently made use of lower mortgage rates in the same way as many remortgagors, but have also demonstrated steady progress every year since the darkest parts of the recession. Demand for rental property is driving this.
“And while the purchase market is accelerating rapidly, half a decade of setbacks for first-time buyers will stoke strong demand from landlords seeking to keep up with the scramble for homes to let.”