The average price of property coming to market is up by just 0.4% (+£1,207) for January, the lowest monthly rise seen at this time of year since January 2012, Rightmove’s House Price Index has found.
In contrast, potential home-mover visits to the Rightmove website are at record highs for the first two weeks of a new year, and up by 5% on the comparable period a year ago.
Miles Shipside, Rightmove director and housing market analyst, said: “As we move from the old year into the new, the headline summary is that the Christmas slowdown came early and the hangover lasted a few days longer into the New Year than usual.
“Agents report that activity is now picking up, though when you dig underneath the national averages, the first snapshot of 2019 shows a somewhat patchy and variable picture depending on where you are in the country.
“Given the current market backdrop and ongoing political turmoil, it’s not surprising that the more challenging conditions in London and its nearby regions mean that they appear to have had a slower start to the year.
“Overall however, with Rightmove visits up by 5% on 2018 and at record levels for this time of year, it is encouraging that potential home-movers are still searching in vast numbers.
“Traditionally this is the time of year when more movers look at a wider choice of fresh property supply and kick-start the market, and this year’s buyers have the added spur of the slowest rate of new year price increases for five years.”
The first data-driven market snapshot of 2019 based on virtually the whole market shows a patchy but active start to the year, with more northerly regions faring better in terms of pricing power and willingness to move than those farther south.
Three out of 11 regions have seen actual price falls this month. London, which perhaps is feeling more closely affected by the uncertainty associated with Brexit, has seen an average fall of 1.5% in new seller asking prices this month, while the adjacent South East region remains muted at only +0.2%.
Both London and the South East have a strong influence on national average prices since together they constitute 30% of all new-to-the-market listings, despite their homeowners currently being among the most reluctant to come to market.
The national average of properties coming to the market is broadly the same in the first two weeks of the year (-2.1%) compared to the same period a year ago. There is a 10.0% drop in London, while the largest rises are predominantly in the northern regions.
Shipside added: “Broadly speaking, buyer affordability and sentiment are in more positive territory in the north than in the south.
“But wherever you are looking to buy, mortgage rates are still at historically very cheap levels and lenders are competing hard to lend.
“In addition, sellers seem to recognise that they need to lower their price aspirations, and with an average of over 4.5 million visits to Rightmove each day many people appear to be contemplating a new-year move.
“Mass-market homemovers have a track record of ignoring the politics and continuing to satisfy their housing needs, and as long as these fundamentals remain in place through this period of uncertainty, the market will keep moving.
“Indeed, in 2018 the number of sales agreed by estate agents was down by only 3% on 2017, an indicator of resilience and holding up much better than many had forecast.”
David Plumtree, Connells Group Estate Agency chief executive, said: “2019 has started off in encouraging fashion in respect of market appraisals and instructions, both of which are ahead of the first two weeks of last year.
“There remains a good deal of price reduction activity on unsold stock in order to stimulate interest from buyers and we expect to see very modest growth in average house prices in 2019.”