Housing demand highest since 2009, say surveyors

estate agents
Image caption More people asked for property details in March

Demand for flats and houses in the UK rose to its highest level for three and a half years in April, according to an industry survey.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) also said that a majority of its members reported rising prices, for the first time since 2010.

Rics said that the government's new housing initiative, Help to Buy, was one reason for the increase in demand.

Separate figures have shown an increase in the number of first-time buyers.

The Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) said that 19,100 people took out loans to buy their first property in March, a 20.1% increase on the previous month.

However, that was fewer than the total of 24,400 in March last year, when house buyers rushed to complete deals in order to beat the end of a stamp duty holiday.

The CML also reported an increase in lending to all home-buyers.

The number of new loans to home-owners rose to 42,000 in March, a 14.8% increase on the month before. In March last year there were 52,600 new loans taken out, but again that figure was distorted by the end of the stamp duty holiday.

Help to Buy

Rics said that the number of people interested in buying a property was now at its highest level since November 2009.

It said one factor driving demand was the government's new Help to Buy scheme.

Image caption Catherine McClean and Nikolai Ivanovic were the first to use the Help to Buy scheme

"It is encouraging to see government initiatives are having an impact on the property market," said Peter Bolton King of Rics.

"Help to Buy in combination with the Funding for Lending Scheme appears to be giving the market a shot in the arm," he said.

The first stage of Help to Buy began last month.

New borrowers are able to get a government loan of up to 20% of a property's value, to help them get on the housing ladder.

A second stage will begin in January, when the government will guarantee mortgage payments.

The CML said that lenders were also helping to boost the market.

"More borrowers are taking out higher loan-to-value mortgages than any other time in the last four years," said Paul Smee, the CML's director general.

"That's a sign that lenders are open for business, and that borrowers, even those without a large deposit, are increasingly able to get a foot on the property ladder."

However, Rics sounded a warning that more houses need to be built to stop prices rising too fast.

"There are some understandable concerns that the measures will also lead to higher prices. In view of this, it is critical that developers are as good as their word and speed up the delivery of new stock," said Mr Bolton King.

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