Residential transactions remain stagnant despite mounting evidence of an influx of new first-time buyers, according to the latest figures from HMRC.
HMRC found that there were 102,610 transactions in the UK in January, according to provisional seasonally adjusted figures.
That was 0.1% lower than the same month last year, once the figures were seasonally adjusted.
HMRC also found that residential transactions increased by 1.3% on December on a seasonally adjusted basis.
Last month, the number of non-adjusted residential transactions was about 23.3% lower compared with December.
The number of non-adjusted residential transactions was 2.6% higher than in January last year.
The figures come too early to reflect a return of first-time buyers to the market.
Earlier this month, UK Finance reported a decade-long high in the number of first-time buyers (365,000) in the market last year.
Haart also declared week month that first-time buyers were back in the market in a “big way” thanks to the cut in Stamp Duty, more stable house prices and low mortgage rates.
Commenting on yesterday’s figures from HMRC, Nick Chadbourne, chief executive of LMS, said: “January saw steady improvement in the housing market according to HMRC’s latest figures.
“Record numbers of first-time buyers are helping to drive activity and 2017 saw the highest number of first-time buyers in more than a decade which is reflected in our own conveyancing volumes.
“Help-to-buy, affable interest rates and the Chancellor’s recent easing of Stamp Duty have all helped first-time buyers make their first step on the property ladder.
“However, with asking prices rising by an average of £2,400 in January alone, and suggestions that the Bank of England will look to increase base rates at least once in 2018, there is no room for complacency and more can still be done to keep prices competitive and maintain demand.”
Paul Smith, chief executive of haart, said: “Today’s data shows that the number of property transactions across the country remained stable on the month in December, as the market shows no sign of faltering.
“Last week Rightmove announced that it experienced record activity at the start of the year, which chimes with our own data which shows new buyer registrations jump up 11% on the month, and viewings by 5%.
“However addressing problems of unaffordability, and the lack of stock, would really see the market soar.
“Our own data shows that the average age of our first-time buyers has reached 33 for the first time.
“It is now taking buyers four more years to buy their first home than it did in 2015.
“This gap is even starker in comparison to the 1990s, when the average first-time buyer was just 27.
“For the first time a generation is growing up worse off than their parents, rents are gobbling up incomes, and home ownership is moving further out of reach for the majority.
“Until these barriers are addressed, and Theresa May rethinks how pressure can be eased off young people, the market cannot reach its full potential.”
Richard Sexton, director of e.surv, said: “Property transactions have remained stagnant for quite some time now.
“Although our latest research showed one-fifth of mortgage approvals went to first-time buyers last month, if we are to see a real boost in numbers and overall market activity, we need to address our country’s limited housing supply which is acting as a roadblock.
“While the Government has certainly shown a clear commitment to helping first-time buyers onto the property ladder through the exemption of Stamp Duty, we still need to see greater initiatives resolving the supply side of the problem.
“By working more collaboratively with developers and local authorities to build more affordable housing, this will hopefully provide the Government with the support needed to create a long-term plan for housebuilding.”
* Separately, NAEA Propertymark has made a series of recommendations on what can be done to encourage more first-time buyers to enter the property market.
It said that despite figures showing that the number of first-time buyers had reached its highest level in a decade, more could be done to help more people into the market.
Among its suggestions were: longer fixed-rate mortgages; incentives for first-time sellers who can’t currently afford to move up the property ladder to move on; more affordable housing; discounted surveyors’ costs and a Government grant to subsidise solicitors’ fees; and less stringent mortgage criteria.
NAEA Propertymark chief executive Mark Hayward said: “The Government’s announcement to abolish stamp duty for first-time buyers has helped buyers feel like the process is more affordable.
“First-time buyers are struggling, particularly when it comes to saving for a deposit, and this needs to be addressed.
“Positively however, FTBs are being practical.
“Since the stamp duty reforms we have seen evidence that outside of London in particular, they are delaying their search until they have more money saved, in order to purchase a bigger property.
“This means they’ll be able to stay in the property for longer, making the most of the stamp duty saving and helping their money go even further.”