December was better than expected

The latest numbers form HMRC of sales across the whole of the UK published this morning come as a pleasant surprise with 100k completions in the month up from 57k in December the year before. Housing Expert Henry Pryor says “The end of the Stamp Duty holiday clearly will have had some influence on this and the rush to complete ahead of the December 31st deadline illustrates just how much the market can be effected by a 1% saving. Despite an optimistic end to the year, the total number of sales as expected was less than the year before with just 848,000 properties selling compared to 920,000 in 2008. In 2006 and 2007 over 1.6m homes were sold each year.

“Demand from those looking for houses has helped underpin house prices through the last six months with some areas of central London for instance reportedly seeing increases of 50% from their lows last February.” Pryor continues, “However this is not reflected across the whole country. Over 2.2m people looked online for property in December alone and with only 700,000 individual properties for sale it’s perhaps not that surprising that 100,000 sold which is only 12% below the long-term 7 year average of 112k sales a month.

“Like unemployment” continues Pryor “it would seem that the Government are going to be able to take the credit for turning around the housing market although there are similar concerns over the long term prospects with the impact of higher interest rates and affordability issues still casting a long shadow. It’s too early to conclude that the housing market is anything other than off the life support machine. It remains in a critical and highly vulnerable situation.

Numbers released today from the Council of Mortgage Lenders adds weight to the HMRC figures reporting that gross mortgage lending was up 14% on November and 3% on the year before.

What’s odd is that unlike sales volumes which were 8% down on the year before, total lending for 2009 was down a whopping 43% on 2008 lending at just £143.7b. Many more buyers obviously have the cash or are funding their house purchases in some other way.