UK housing market picking up, figures suggest

Image caption Activity in the UK housing sector remains well below the peak of the market

The UK housing market is seeing a slight pick-up in activity with mortgage lending and prices both rising, figures have suggested.

Gross mortgage lending was up 4% in April, compared with March, to £12.1bn, according to the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML).

This was 21% higher than April 2012, but this data is skewed by the end of the stamp duty concession a year ago.

Official figures show UK house prices rose by 2.7% in the year to March.

However, this was driven by rises in England and Wales, with property price falls in Scotland and Northern Ireland, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

'Reasonable recovery'

The CML said that, while the lending figures showed an increase in activity, this was not a return to the boom of the previous decade.

April was one of the "strongest months" for lending activity since 2008, said CML chief economist Bob Pannell. However, lending was still running at half the level seen in 2003-04.

"The underlying picture overall is one of reasonable rather than dramatic recovery," he said.

The big rise compared with a year ago was the result of a sharp drop in house buying in April 2012, following the end of a stamp duty concession.

First-time buyers were exempt from paying stamp duty on properties that cost less than £250,000 until the concession ended on 24 March, 2012.

This was backed up by figures from HM Revenue and Customs, which showed that there were 79,210 sales of homes in April 2013 in the UK, on a seasonally adjusted basis, compared with 69,310 a year earlier.

Analysts said low interest rates on mortgages were attracting some mortgage borrowers back to home loans now.

Mark Harris, chief executive of mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, said: "The mortgage market is recovering. The continued availability of extremely competitive rates across the spectrum will help inspire confidence and should continue to boost the housing market."

Geographical differences

Meanwhile, house prices have been rising steadily, according to ONS figures, although the picture is not consistent across the UK.

Property values were up annually by 3% in England and by 1.2% in Wales, the figures showed.

Prices rose by 7.6% in London in the 12 months to the end of March. Estate agents believe that this is driven in part by overseas buyers being attracted to the capital.

In contrast, prices fell by 2% in Northern Ireland, and by 1.7% in Scotland, over the same period.

UK house prices increased by 0.4% between February and March, the ONS said, with the average home valued at £235,000.

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