Surge in activity in housing market

The findings of the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA) monthly survey of the housing market, revealed 91 per cent of respondents saying there had been an increase in the number of viewings from the previous month.

The number of applicant enquiries had risen to beat the average of the last quarter of 2001, while the volume of sales agreed was also higher than during the Autumn.

The percentage of first-time buyers coming into the market was maintained at an average of 26.5 per cent.

In terms of house prices, 93 per cent of respondents said that prices were higher than the same time last year, with an average rise of 12.9 per cent across the country.

Hugh Dunsmore-Hardy, chief executive of the NAEA, said that the current activity levels bode well for a lively market in the Spring.

Dunsmore said: "The market has kicked off the New Year on a positive note. While December saw a lull in viewings, the number of enquiries was unusually high and this is now being evidenced in the reported increases in viewings and sales agreed.

"Despite a 66 per cent rise in the number of new instructions. It appears that supply is generally not keeping up with demand, although there are some notable regional variations.

"The fall in the length of time between instruction and sale agreed may be further evidence that properties are being snapped up too quickly - although there is a reported two month lapse before exchange of contracts."

The results also showed that the buy-to-let market experienced a healthy start to 2002, with 81 per cent of agents reporting strong demand for rental properties in their area.

However, Dunsmore-Hardy said that this trend masked some significant local and regional variations, with shortages of rental properties being reported in some of the more popular areas while there were many available in others.

Where there was over supply, agents reported that this was having an average of10 plus per cent negative impact on rental levels.

Agents also reported that while some landlords were experiencing shortages of investment properties, they also cited shortage of quality tenants as a key factor on investment.

Dunsmore-Hardy said: "While the buy-to-let market is generally healthy, the results of our survey reinforce the fact that investors should be looking further afield for suitable rental properties to buy."

Jim Atkins, president of the NAEA, said: "The housing market continues to be active, supported by low interest rates, sustained consumer confidence and mortgage growth.

"Although we are likely to see house price inflation slowing down during 2002, we are looking forward to a stable year, with a steady market throughout," he added.