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1 Jul 2019

Flats are losing thousands of pounds in value: are first-time buyers to blame?

Flat prices tumble by £3,000 as first-time buyers buyers hold out for a house

The average UK flat has fallen in value by £3,000 in the space of a year, despite overall property prices increasing.

The property portal Zoopla claims this is due to first-time buyers shunning city pads for larger houses in the commuter belt, as they focus on long-term aspirations rather than rushing to get on to the property ladder.

Here, we explain where prices are falling by the biggest margin and offer advice on whether you should hold out for a house.

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Flat values: how far have they fallen?

The Land Registry's House Price Index shows that the average price of UK property grew by 1.4% year-on-year in April 2019.

When we look solely at flats, however, we instead see a decrease of 1.6%, as shown in the graph below.

The data paints a similar picture on a regional level, too. For example, house prices have been falling across the board in London, but the decline has been steeper for flats.

The region with the biggest disparity between house and flat prices is the North East, where flats fell by 2.3%, but overall property prices rose by 2%.

Northern Ireland is the only region which saw flat prices outgrow the overall average. Here, average prices for all houses rose by 3.5%, compared to a 4.3% rise for flats.

The interactive chart shows how year-on-year flat price growth compares to overall property price growth in each region in April 2019.

Why are flat prices falling?

Changes to the housing market are driven by a whole host of factors.

For example, some experts argue that Brexit has affected house prices by adding a large helping of uncertainty to the market.

But why is it that flats, specifically, are falling in value while house prices in general are rising?

Zoopla suggests that first-time buyers are the traditional flat-buying audience, and that recently they have decided to 'leapfrog' these smaller homes in favour of houses.

The property portal says this theory is supported by the rising average age of first-time buyers.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that first-time buyers were 33 years old in 2017-18, up from 31 in 2007-8.

Another factor could be a lack of investment from buy-to-let landlords, who also traditionally buy flats and maisonettes. A whole host of taxation changes and government reforms have dissuaded investors from expanding their portfolios.

Has the 'bank of mum and dad' played a role?

It's also possible that first-time buyers are now being given greater help to buy a long-term home rather than a flat.

The financial services company Legal & General recently released its latest 'bank of mum and dad' survey. It found that parents are lending their children increasingly large sums to help them get onto the property ladder - with the average parental loan expected to be £24,000 this year.

Buyers who received help from their parents were most often buying two or three-bedroom homes.

Should you 'leapfrog' buying a flat?

So is it really worth waiting a little longer and buying a larger property?

On the one hand, flat prices are falling, making them more affordable and therefore more appealing for cash-strapped first-time buyers.

But buying a home is expensive, even when you ignore the property price.

Mortgage fees, valuation fees, survey fees, conveyancing fees, insurance premiums - all these things add up. So if you're planning to climb the property ladder soon, waiting and buying a bigger property could help you avoid paying these costs more than once.

And since first-time buyers in England and Wales are exempt from stamp duty for homes up to £300,000, if you can afford to buy a house priced close to that limit, you'll be saving even more.