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Property buyers and sellers are on strike – something has to give

“What’s happening in the housing market?”

In the past 18 months, if I had £1 every time I have been asked that question, I would be sitting on a beach and not at my desk to come up with an article about trying what is happening in the housing market.

For many involved in property, the glass is half full and they’ve never had it so good. To others, it is half empty and they’ve never had it so bad. Many under the age of 30 can’t even get hold of a glass let alone afford anything to put in it.

As usual, the answer is always more nuanced than we would like it to be.

If we cast our minds back to the halcyon days of January, many thought the market had turned a corner. Lenders were once again fighting for market share, a vital component in any active market.

February was our busiest month since September 2022 and many involved in the housing market started to rebook the Ferrari test drives that they had previously been forced to cancel.

Fast forward a few months and the picture is now very different. At best the market is benign with a smattering of activity bursts but nothing compared to what we would expect to see in the much-needed Property Spring Offensive.

It does feel like we are currently in the pincers of both a buyers and sellers strike where buyers are reluctant to pay eye watering prices and sellers are reluctant to drop them.

This has recently started to come through in some RICS data suggesting that buyer demand has stalled and properties are sitting on the market for longer.

We can back this up with our own data which suggests purchase activity in the first part of this year is down 20pc compared to 2022, arguably the last normal market we saw.

Everyone else in the property buying chain – agents, conveyancers and so on – will be suffering by similar degrees, and this amplifies the effects on the wider market.

Don’t get me wrong, there are transactions occurring. Good properties in great areas which are sensibly priced are seeing huge demand and multiple offers.

But these are sporadic and the hype around them is likely to provide a false market impression because, on the other hand, I know people who have listed their properties on the market in London for six months and are barely getting viewings, let alone offers.

Perhaps this is one of the issues at the moment. There are currently too many vested interests chasing too few data points to justify their particular narrative. As a result, we are left in limbo and the eternal question we started with – what is happening in the housing market?

The reality is, it is happening at different speeds in different parts of the market and at different times. The market is not moving in tandem as it once did.

At this stage, I think it would be good to remember some fundamental housing market basics. We are subservient to the consumer and their willingness to buy houses, and subservient to the lenders in their willingness and confidence to lend.

Until those two aspects blend themselves seamlessly together once again, we may just zig zag our way through the rest of the year.

Martin Stewart is the founder of London Money, a mortgage brokerage

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