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1 May 2021

Is now a good time to move house?

More buyers are paying over the asking price as stamp duty holiday fuels demand
a young couple view a property guided by an estate

More buyers are bidding over the asking price for properties than at any point in the last seven years.

The UK's property market is flying at the moment, with buyers battling to secure sought-after homes before the end of the stamp duty holiday.

But is now really the time to take the leap? Here, Which? analyses what's happening to house prices and mortgages to help you decide whether to make a move in a hot market, or wait until things cool down.

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Buyers compete for properties as demand rises

New research by NAEA Propertymark found one in six properties (16%) sold for more than their asking price in March - the highest proportion recorded in seven years.

In the same month, a third of properties (33%) sold for below their asking price, the lowest proportion since NAEA started keeping records.

The estate agency group says there are currently 13 buyers for each home on the market, as the stamp duty holiday continues to entice buyers.

Mark Hayward of Propertymark says: 'The pandemic has meant many homeowners living in urban and city areas have reconsidered their lifestyle and are reprioritising how and where they want to live, especially with working from home becoming the new normal.

'The imbalance of supply and demand means it's an extremely strong sellers' market; properties are selling quickly and for over the asking price, and this is something we expect will continue in the coming months.'

How the stamp duty cut has impacted sales

The government's decision to temporarily cut stamp duty has had a significant impact on the property market.

The tax holiday means buyers in England and Northern Ireland can save up to £15,000 when purchasing a property, with the biggest breaks on offer to those spending £500,000 or more.

The stamp duty cut was due to end on 31 March, and this resulted in a huge surge of buyers trying to get purchases over the line last month.

Data from HMRC shows 190,000 transactions took place in March, double the figure recorded a year earlier, and by far the highest seen since the start of the pandemic.

The tax break was extended in March, meaning we're likely to see high numbers of sales continue at least for a little longer.

What's happened to house prices?

House prices have risen across the UK in the last year, with growth of more than 8% in England, Wales and Scotland.

Prices in Northern Ireland have risen at a slower rate, as shown in the table below.

CountryAverage price (Feb 2020)Average price (Feb 2021)Change (%)
Northern Ireland£140,722£147,5934.9%

Greater demand has resulted in higher prices, especially for buyers moving up the property ladder to larger and more expensive homes.

Data from the Land Registry shows how detached houses in the UK have increased in price by the biggest percentage over the last 12 months.

Flats have seen the smallest growth in price, perhaps reflecting buyers looking to move to bigger properties and concerns over the cladding crisis.

Type of propertyAverage price (Feb 2020)Average price (Feb 2021)Change (%)
All types£230,609£250,3418.6%

What's happening to mortgages rates?

The coronavirus outbreak last spring resulted in the number of mortgage deals on the market halving, with people with the smallest deposits worst affected.

The good news is that things are now improving. There are now 3,659 fixed-rate mortgages available, 25% down on the numbers recorded before the pandemic but the highest number we've seen since last spring.

Rates are attractive, too, especially if you've got a big deposit. The chart below shows the cheapest initial rates available to homebuyers at five popular loan-to-value levels.

Is now a good time to buy a home?

The stamp duty cut and low mortgage rates might seem like tempting reasons to buy a home right now, but there are some downsides of buying in a hot market, especially one so heavily influenced by external factors such as the pandemic and temporary tax changes.

First of all, let's look at the stamp duty cut. The £500,000 tax-free threshold will be lowered to £250,000 in England and Northern Ireland, and £180,000 in Wales from 1 July.

This means that even if you're actively looking now, you will face a race against time to get your purchase over the line before the end of the tax break.

The other problem is that artificially high house prices could spell trouble in the short term. Simply put, if you buy now, you might find that your property is worth less than you paid once the current rush dies down.

With these factors in mind, it may be worth biding your time rather than rushing into a purchase and - if you do choose to move - ensure you're doing so with the longer-term picture in mind.

Picture perfect houses on newly built estate.

Is now the time to sell your home?

As we mentioned earlier, it's very much a seller's market at the moment, but whether you should take the leap depends on your individual circumstances.

If your property has grown significantly in value, you might be tempted to cash in now and use your equity to progress to another home.

Whether this a good idea depends partly on the property you're looking to buy - if you're selling at the top of the market, you'll probably be buying in that same market - so that uplift in value of your current home may not have as significant an effect as you hope.

Sought-after properties in great locations will always attract interest from buyers, and moving home is a big decision.

With this in mind, take your time, do your research and don't be tempted to sell just because of the tax cut or high house prices.

What buyers are looking for in 2021

The Covid-19 outbreak has resulted in significant changes to how we live our lives - with working from home likely to remain more commonplace in the long-term.

With this in mind, home buyers are looking for different things from a property than they were before the pandemic.

A survey conducted by Savills last year found that younger buyers are increasingly looking for homes with gardens, separate areas where they can work from home and high-speed internet.

If you are thinking of selling this year, have a think about how your property fits with what buyers are searching for, and consider any improvements you could make to make your home rise in value and attract greater interest.