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The seasonal slowdown in housing activity

The seasonal slowdown in housing activity

Category: Mortgages

Updated: 03/05/2017
First Published: 04/12/2014

This article was correct at the time of publication. It is now over 6 months old so the content may be out of date.

There's often a lull in housing market activity during the winter months, and this year is no exception. After the rise in mortgage applications, valuations, sales and completions during the first half of the year, things have definitely tailed off – several reports have noted this slowdown, with activity across the market being distinctly subdued.

There are probably wider factors coming into play – things like increased regulation, uncertainty over interest rates and affordability pressures will all take their toll – but seasonal factors have a lot to answer for, too. And, it seems that a lot of this seasonality comes down to people simply not wanting to move at this time of year…

In before Christmas?

Research from moving supplies company Box Shack has found that the majority of respondents (51.5%) would ideally choose to move home between April and June, suggesting that the best time to move is in spring. It's therefore little wonder that activity slows to such an extent during the festive season – just 6.79% of those surveyed would choose to move between October and December – as people simply don't want the hassle, and would much rather wait until the New Year before they start their search in fervour.

So, although we often hear people say they want to be "in before Christmas", the data suggests otherwise. It's a fairly broad-based issue, too, with only 8.59% of men and 4.69% of women being happy to move in the fourth quarter of the year. The younger generation is more flexible, however, as although there's still a clear preference for the second quarter (41.8% of those aged 18-24 would prefer to move during this time), 9.2% would be willing to move before Christmas.

This drops sharply in the over-65s age group, with just 1.4% choosing to move at this time of year, and only 7% ideally moving between January and March. A whopping 70.4% prefer to wait until the second quarter, and 21.1% favour July to September. Other age groups have a generally more balanced spread across the year, but the warmer temperatures and better weather during the summer appear to be the biggest plus points of moving – after all, who wants to move furniture in the rain?

Box Shack owner Craig Donnelly commented: "A lot of people have no choice as to when they can and can't move house. If you find a great deal in October, for example, you obviously can't afford to hang around until April before making an offer – the opportunity is likely to have passed by then.

"That said, we do find the demand for moving boxes tends to spike in the second quarter of the year, as people are clearly keen to get things done when the weather is more favourable. The survey results certainly reflect this.

"With conditions in the housing market improving, it's likely that more people will be looking to sell up and move elsewhere in the next year or so, which means it'll be a busy time for [the market]."

Stalling house prices

The seasonal slowdown is clear from this research as well as many other surveys, but it can also be witnessed in another area – house price growth. The latest House Price Index from Halifax has revealed that average house prices rose by just 0.4% in November to reach £186,941, while on an annual basis they've increased by 8.2% since last year. It still sounds like a big jump, but this is a stark difference from the annual growth rate of 8.8% recorded in October, and far less than the peak of 10.2% seen in July.

House prices are now rising at their slowest rate since February, and the level of house sales and mortgage approvals are continuing to fall, too. House sales fell below 100,000 in October for the first time this year, while the volume of mortgage approvals also fell, totalling 59,426 in the month, and are now 22% lower than in January this year.

So, what does all this mean? Well, it could suggest that now's a great time to start your search. The seasonal slowdown means house price inflation is under control, so it could be a great time to pick up a bargain. Add to that the reduced number of buyers in the market and it's even more likely you'll be able to find your ideal home, without needing to fight it out with competing househunters or pay over the odds in the process.

The rapid drop in mortgage rates over the last few months means now could be an even better time to get in on the action. Moneyfacts' figures reveal that the average two-year fixed rate mortgage is currently at its lowest on record, standing at just 3.28%, and if you've got a decent amount of equity, you can get even better deals. So why not see what's out there? The market may be subdued, but with rates so low, it's a great time to take advantage of things.

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