Negative equity not a problem

This equates to around £6,000 for those first-time buyers with negative equity, and £8,000 for other home-buyers and is a problem spread broadly across all age groups and those at differing points on the housing ladder.

The new research by James Tatch, senior statistician at the Council of Mortgage Lenders, shows that at the depth of the last housing market recession in 1993, 1.5 million households or more were estimated to have negative equity. Most sat tight, saved, continued to pay their mortgages and eventually recovered their equity position. And, according to the Council of Mortgage Lenders, this is what most of today's borrowers with reduced or negative equity are also doing.

While reduced and negative equity are likely to constrain the ability of affected households to move house, the overall scale and impact of this for the market as a whole needs to be kept in perspective - even in today's weaker market, the CML estimates that home-owners still have around £2.1 trillion of unmortgaged housing equity.

Bob Pannell, CML head of research, commented: "Although negative equity has resurfaced as house prices have fallen, one big difference from the early 1990s downturn is that it is less concentrated among young, first-time buyers, and more evenly spread across wider age groups and those at different points on the housing ladder.

"Negative equity will contribute to subdued property turnover, but otherwise should have few adverse effects for the majority of households affected. Where people needs to move house for job or other priority reasons, lenders can often be flexible to existing borrowers with low or negative equity, as long as their financial position is sound and they have a good payment track record. Otherwise, sitting tight and building up savings or overpaying on the mortgage are the strategies most borrowers are likely to adopt. It should be easier for households to rebuild their equity position than in the early 1990s, as low interest rates on their mortgage can help them to save or overpay more quickly."