The recent housing market revival has brought with it the return of a species that had become frighteningly scarce - the first-time buyer.
The resurgence of this sector is highlighted in new research by Halifax, which found not only are first-time buyer numbers increasing, they are increasing at their fastest rate in more than a decade.
Using figures from the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) as well as its own, Halifax’s report estimates there were 265,000 first-time buyers in the UK in 2013. This figure represents a jump of more than one-fifth (22 per cent) on 2012, and the strongest annual rise seen since 2001.
The report also revealed first-time buyers accounted for 44 per cent of house purchases made using a mortgage last year, up from 40 per cent in 2012.
This increase is significant - and not simply for those frustrated people whose dreams of buying their first home have been repeatedly quashed in recent years. First-time buyers are a vital piece of the whole housing market jigsaw.
Without them, housing market chains grind to a halt. People who want to take their second step up the housing ladder, perhaps because they’ve started a family and grown out of their existing property, become stuck from the lack of people willing or able to buy their “starter” home from them.
Halifax’s figures also show how ultra-low interest rates have helped to improve mortgage affordability for first-time buyers in recent years. The proportion of a first-time buyer’s disposable earnings spent on mortgage payments stood at 30% in the last three months of 2013, compared with a peak of 50% in the summer of 2007.
A string of Government schemes have given those aspiring to get on the property ladder a helping hand too. In October, a new phase was launched in the flagship Help to Buy scheme, which offers state-backed mortgages to people with deposits of just five per cent.
But critics of the scheme have argued that a lack of homes for sale amid rising demand from buyers has put an upward pressure on house prices, meaning buyers have to stretch their borrowing further to keep up with the price increases. Fears have also been raised about what will happen to borrowers when interest rates rise again and their mortgage payments go up.
As house prices rise, this also has a knock-on effect on stamp duty costs. Halifax found that while close to half (45 per cent) of all first-time buyer purchases in 2013 were below the £125,000 stamp duty threshold, a similar proportion (46 per cent) were priced at between £125,000 and £250,000, attracting the lowest stamp duty level of one per cent.
So, what are the characteristics of this new, exciting breed of first-time buyer?
According to Halifax’s findings, first-time buyers are getting older, despite the series of new schemes aimed at giving them a helping hand.
The average age of a first-time buyer is now 30 years old, up from 29 in 2011. In London, first-time buyers are typically aged 31 by the time they make it onto the property ladder.
The rising age of the first-time buyer is hardly surprising given another finding about the size of deposit this sector needs to scrape together. The report found that the average first-time buyer deposit in 2013 stood at £30,943 - marking an 11 per cent jump from just over £28,000 in 2012. What’s more, this figure is a huge leap of 77% from 2007, when the typical deposit put down by this sector was just under £17,500.
In London, first-time buyers put down an average deposit of £56,183 last year. This is more than three times the average first-time buyer deposit in the North East, at £15,862.
The findings also reveal the vital role that the “bank of Mum and Dad” has played in giving many aspiring first-time buyers a leg up. The CML estimated that two-thirds (65 per cent) of first-time buyers had some form of financial help in mid-2012, compared with just one third (31 per cent) in mid-2005.
What trends are emerging in the way we browse for homes?
As activity has returned to the housing market, property website Rightmove has seen some interesting consumer trends emerging.
It says that Tuesday lunch breaks between 12 noon and 1pm are the busiest times for people searching for properties on its site. This includes people actively house-hunting as well as those checking out asking and sold prices.
The busiest time for house-hunters using their mobile devices to browse is around 8pm on a Sunday. Searching for properties on mobiles now accounts for more than one third (37 per cent) of all page views to Rightmove.
The busiest day on Rightmove last year was on Tuesday, August 13, with over 36 million views on the site, while July was the busiest month.