Housing slowdown ‘deeper than anticipated’ as property sales slump

New data from HMRC shows a fall in property sales - now experts predict a delay to the housing recovery

A view of London houses at sunset
(Image credit: © Getty images)

The number of property transactions has fallen after a bumper month in March leading experts to say the housing market slowdown will likely be longer and deeper than anticipated.

Residential property sales slumped 8% from the previous month, while sales in April fell by 25% compared with April 2022, with around 82,120 transactions taking place across the UK, according to new data from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

HMRC noted the fall "appears particularly large".

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The data shows a return to the downward trend seen earlier in the year, reflecting the long-lasting effects of the mini-Budget on the UK property market.

Seasonally adjusted estimates of the number of UK residential transactions in April 2023 show there has been a huge 25% fall compared to the same month last year.

But HMRC noted the impact of March’s elevated figures. It says: "The number of transactions in March was high due to a combination of factors including a larger number of working days relative to April and the final month for purchases to be completed under the government's Help To Buy equity loan scheme."

Karen Noye, mortgage expert at Quilter, says April’s figures show a “return to the buoyant market we had grown accustomed to is not yet on the cards,” despite some optimism and promising data from elsewhere in the economy.

The spring and summer months tend to be a busy period for the housing market but high mortgage rates could undermine activity and “put a dampener on transactions as moving home or taking the first step onto the property ladder becomes increasingly unaffordable,” adds Noye.

Mike Scott, chief analyst at estate agency Yopa, says: "This disappointing number, combined with the recent equally disappointing inflation figures and the resulting increases in market expectations for interest rates, means that the housing market slowdown is likely to be longer and deeper than we originally anticipated."

Mortgage approvals drop in April

Net mortgage approvals for house purchases also fell over the past month, from 51,500 in March to 48,700 in April, separate data from the Bank of England reveals, but approvals for remortgaging increased slightly from 32,200 to 32,500 during the same period.

Meanwhile, net borrowing of mortgage debt continued to decline in April, falling to a record low of £1.4 billion - the lowest level on record when excluding anomalous data from the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Alice Haine, personal finance analyst at BestInvest says it is a “reflection of the hit to consumer appetite for property amid sticky inflation and rising borrowing costs.”

She says: “The outlook from here is far from rosy, with mortgage rates edging up over the past week as lenders pull hundreds of products to reassess borrowing conditions.

“Changing interest rate expectations – with rates now tipped to peak at 5.5.% or higher in the coming months - has caused more mortgage turmoil for borrowers who were hoping for some respite from the turbulence seen over the past few months,” she adds.

What does this mean for mortgage rates and house prices?

House prices in the year to May dropped by 3.4% - the largest decline since July 2009 - the latest data from Nationwide’s house price index shows, and the trend is likely to continue owing to lower levels of buy-side demand.

Quilter’s Noye says prices will continue “falling steadily for a few months yet as sellers compete for buyers.”

She continues: “For those still keen to move or buy their first home, where possible it may be worth considering a fixed-term deal for two years to make the most of lower predicted rates in 2025.

“If you are considering opting for a tracker mortgage to see you out of the current period of inflated rates, it is important to consider the potential for further BoE rate rises and the impact this would have on your monthly outgoings,” she adds.

But Alex Lyle, director of estate agency Antony Roberts, says some types of properties are selling better than others.

“The majority of the most desirable houses – £1.5 million-plus family homes – are going under offer within three weeks of marketing. However, flats, in particular those compromised in some way, are struggling to achieve the prices we could have expected this time last year.”

Compounding the issue are delays in processing deals.“It is hard to remember a time when deals took so long to progress from agreed to an exchange of contracts. As well as chains being more protracted, many solicitors are finding themselves working at capacity,” Lyle says.

Meanwhile, mortgage providers have pulled a number of products from sale as concerns mount over whether the Bank of England will continue to raise interest rates, possibly as high as 5.5%.

Buy-to-let mortgages have been particularly impacted, with 14% removed from the market.

Tom Higgins

Tom is a journalist and writer with an interest in sustainability, economic policy and pensions, looking into how personal finances can be used to make a positive impact.

He graduated from Goldsmiths, University of London, with a BA in journalism before moving to a financial content agency. 

His work has appeared in titles Investment Week and Money Marketing, as well as social media copy for Reuters and Bloomberg in addition to corporate content for financial giants including Mercer, State Street Global Advisors and the PLSA. He has also written for the  Financial Times Group.

When not working out of the Future’s Cardiff office, Tom can be found exploring the hills and coasts of South Wales but is sometimes east of the border supporting Bristol Rovers.