First-time buyers 'driving' market

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File photo dated 25/06/13 of houses in Brighton as surveyors saw house sales lift to the strongest levels in nearly six years in the run-up to Christmas as the market began to

Banks and building societies have reported that first-time buyers are "driving" the housing market as the number of people taking their first step on the property ladder continued to run at a six-year high in December.

The total number of loans handed out to this sector last year rose to 268,800, marking a 23% increase on 2012 and the highest number since 359,900 first-time buyer loans were advanced in 2007, according to the Council of Mortgage Lenders' (CML) figures.

The CML said that "following a year of strong growth", the number of first-time buyer loans being handed out increased to 26,700 in December with a total value of £3.7 billion, surging by 48% compared with December 2012 and marking the strongest monthly total seen since winter 2007.

First-time buyers made up around 44% of all home loans advanced to home buyers last year, up from 40% in 2012.

The figures also showed that despite the launch of Government support schemes such as Help to Buy, first-time buyers are still putting down a 20% deposit typically, which is unchanged from December 2012.

They are also stretching themselves further with their borrowing. First-time buyers typically borrowed 3.43 times their gross income in December last year, edging up slightly from a ratio of 3.38 in November.

CML director general Paul Smee said: "First-time buyers were an especially important factor in driving the market forward in 2013 as improved economic conditions, as well as the introduction of government schemes like Help to Buy, have given the opportunity for them to enter the market and become home-owners.

"The consistent upward lending trend seen throughout 2013 would suggest relative optimism going forward."

Some experts have suggested would-be buyers are feeling more under pressure to get on the property ladder amid strong price increases in some areas.

Toughened mortgage rules are set to come into force in April to ensure there is no return to irresponsible lending. The Mortgage Market Review (MMR) rules will mean lenders have to consider not only whether a borrower can afford to pay back their loan now but also what impact any possible rise in interest rates could have.

The CML's figures showed that the number of mortgages advanced to home movers for house purchase totalled 31,500 in December, almost a fifth (19%) higher than December 2012. The total value of home mover loans in December 2013 was £5.6 billion.

Mark Harris, chief executive of mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, said: "Confidence is strong and an increasing number of buyers and movers are taking advantage of some rock-bottom mortgage rates, although longer-term fixed rates are starting to rise.

"Help to Buy continues to play a big part in encouraging first-time buyers to get on the housing ladder. However, beyond the scheme, lenders are offering high loan-to-value deals at even more competitive rates, so there are other options."

Mr Harris says that with the economic recovery "still in its infancy" a rise in the Bank of England base rate is unlikely this year. The base rate has been helping to keep borrowers' costs down by being held at a historic 0.5% low for five years.

But he said that swap rates, which lenders use to price their loans, have risen in the past few weeks, forcing some lenders to reprice their five-year fixed-rate mortgage deals upwards.

Mr Harris said: "There is no need for borrowers to panic as rates are still very cheap from an historical perspective but (borrowers) should plan ahead and budget for when interest rates do rise to ensure they can afford their mortgage."

Housing Minister Kris Hopkins said: "The Help to Buy schemes offer a valuable alternative to the bank of mum and dad, enabling people to buy with a fraction of the deposit they would normally require, and are so far helping 28,000 people become home-owners."

The people who affect house prices

The people who affect house prices