Zoopla: housing market recovery continuing amid brighter 2024 outlook

The Zoopla House Price Index has found sellers are still accepting five-figure discounts on their properties. But house price inflation is improving.

Zoopla House Price Index: people look at estate agency's listings
The Zoopla House Price Index has shown sellers are continuing to agree to discounts
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Confidence appears to be returning to the housing market, after the latest Zoopla House Price Index showed transactions were on the up.

In the four weeks to 17 March 2024, the number of agreed property sales was 9% higher year-on-year, according to the data. It meant that Q1 this year saw 7% more activity than the same quarter in 2023. The listings website also said the stock of homes that were on sale had increased by 20% since March 2023, with a typical estate agent having roughly 30 homes on sale.

Although sellers are still having to accept a median average discount of £10,000 on their asking prices, this figure was 30% lower than the £14,250 recorded in November 2023. Likewise, house prices continued to rebound, climbing year-on-year (over a different timescale of February 2023 to February 2024) in seven of the 12 UK nations and regions.

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On Wednesday (27 March) data from the mortgage lender Halifax showed it was cheaper for prospective first-time buyers to rent a home than buy one in most parts of the country in 2023. But it added that home ownership was more cost-effective in the longer-term.

It comes as mortgage rates have begun to fall ahead of an expected drop in the Bank of England base rate. The central bank’s anti-inflation mechanism is currently sitting at a 16-year high, but the Consumer Prices Index (CPI) has plummeted to 3.4%. Wages have also been making back some of the erosion in our spending power seen during the cost of living crisis.

Zoopla House Price Index finds asking price discounts ‘getting smaller’

Zoopla’s latest data showed activity has grown across the board when compared annually. The jump in transactions was notably stronger in more affordable areas, the website found, with the North West and Yorkshire and the Humber regions recording leaps of 13% and 11% respectively.

Meanwhile, increases in housing stock had outpaced the national average in the South West (+28%) and North East (26%). London continued to lag behind the rest of the country, with growth of just 8% year-on-year.

Given buyer demand had only risen 4% annually, and 32% of homes had been listed for sale at the same asking price for three months or more, Zoopla said buyers had more room to negotiate. It found that two out of every five sales had been agreed at a discount of 5% or more on the asking price.

There was some good news in the data for sellers, however, as the difference between asking prices and discounts has narrowed in recent months. The median discount now sits broadly in line with pre-Covid levels at 3.9%, having come down from 4.5% last November.

The highest discounts were shown to be in London and the South East, where they came in at a median of 4.3%. Elsewhere in the UK, they were 3.4% on average.

What’s happening to house prices?

Despite Zoopla warning sellers that it continues to be a buyer’s market, there was some positive data for house prices. Overall, the rate of inflation fell less rapidly than last month, with prices down 0.3% year-on-year as of February as opposed to 0.5% in January (Zoopla’s house price data tracks around a month behind its market activity data). This rate was markedly better than the -1.4% recorded in October 2023.

Prices continued to fall in southern regions of England, with the largest annual decreases recorded in the East of England (-2.3%) and the South East (-2%). But they were recorded as growing significantly in Northern Ireland (+4.1%) and Scotland (+2.1%), with Belfast (+4.5%) and Glasgow (+2.6%) driving those rises.

Reacting to the findings, Zoopla’s executive director Richard Donnell said: “Rising wages and falling mortgage rates have boosted consumer confidence and this is feeding into improving levels of housing market activity over the first quarter of 2024.

“House prices are falling at a slower rate but it remains a buyer’s market where there is a much greater choice of homes for sale.”

He was echoed by director of estate agency Benham and Reeves, Marc von Grundherr, who said buyer confidence was building despite the "disappointment" of no extra housing market support being announced in the Spring Budget.

He said: “Price remains the key compromise for sellers when it comes to securing a buyer in today's market, with higher mortgage rates continuing to restrict buyer purchasing power.

“However, the gap between this purchasing power price point and seller asking price expectation has narrowed and we’re finding that sellers are more than happy to oblige in order to make their move."

What will happen to the housing market in 2024?

Zoopla said the growth in housing stock would likely prove to be a check on price hikes in the near-term. Given the number of buyers isn’t currently matching the number of sellers, the listings website said prospective purchasers would have room to negotiate on homes that aren’t attracting much interest.

But it added that the growth in wage packets could boost affordability, with incomes set to rise 3.5% this year and house prices expected to remain relatively flat. The website suggested this rise in budgets would have to be particularly pronounced in southern parts of England, where affordability remains challenging.

If mortgage rates fell to around 4%, this situation would “support sales volumes” Zoopla said - although whether or not this would happen would be dependent on how soon and how much the Bank of England cuts the base rate over the coming months.

Regarding Zoopla’s outlook for the rest of the year, Donnell said: “We don't believe that house prices are about to increase more quickly but there is more buyer interest.

“Sellers need to remain realistic on where they set the asking price if they are to take advantage of improving market conditions to secure a sale and move home in 2024.”

Henry Sandercock
Staff Writer

Henry Sandercock has spent more than eight years as a journalist covering a wide variety of beats. Having studied for an MA in journalism at the University of Kent, he started his career in the garden of England as a reporter for local TV channel KMTV. 

Henry then worked at the BBC for three years as a radio producer - mostly on BBC Radio 2 with Jeremy Vine, but also on major BBC Radio 4 programmes like The World at One, PM and Broadcasting House. Switching to print media, he covered fresh foods for respected magazine The Grocer for two years. 

After moving to NationalWorld.com - a national news site run by the publisher of The Scotsman and Yorkshire Post - Henry began reporting on the cost of living crisis, becoming the title’s money editor in early 2023. He covered everything from the energy crisis to scams, and inflation. You will now find him writing for MoneyWeek. Away from work, Henry lives in Edinburgh with his partner and their whippet Whisper.