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Record January for Rightmove but more sales collapse as stamp duty deadline looms

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Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·3-min read
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Terraced houses and rooftops in Everton, Liverpool, Merseyside
Rightmove recorded its busiest ever January. Photo: PA

Property website Rightmove (RMV.L) saw its busiest ever month in January, as Britain’s property market continued to boom in spite of the wider economic slowdown.

Industry data in recent months has pointed to an easing of the burst in buying and selling since the sector reopened after the first nationwide lockdown last summer. Rightmove data last month showed prices dipping 0.9%.

But the latest figures from the leading property listings site suggest a renewed surge in activity since the New Year.

Visits to the website were up 39% on the previous January, and timer spent on the site up 44%. Last Saturday alone, home-hunters spent a combined total of 60 million minutes looking for their next home, according to Rightmove analysis.

The number of agreed sales and prospective buyers and renters contacting estate agents all rose year-on-year.

READ MORE: UK economy to ‘recover rapidly’ thanks to vaccines

The 5% rise in agreed sales comes in spite of the likelihood many will not complete before stamp duty and land tax holidays across the UK expire at the end of March.

The tax cuts introduced last July have fuelled surging demand for home moves, on top of pent-up demand and new interest in moving since the pandemic and first lockdown first overhauled everyday life.

But Rightmove’s property data director Tim Bannister said the number of sales falling through had begun to “creep up” ahead of the stamp duty deadline. But he said the 7% year-on-year increase in transactions breaking down was not “substantial.”

Experts warned for much of last year that the temporary stamp duty holiday would spark a short-term spike followed by a sharp decline in the market.

But it remains unclear if parties involved in the high number of agreed sales in January are expecting to beat the deadline or happy to proceed even if they miss it.

WATCH: How much money do I need to buy a house?

Housebuilders are reported to be increasingly optimistic about the market holding up beyond March. “Whilst we are mindful of the continued economic uncertainties, the housing market fundamentals remain attractive,” said Barratt’s (BDEV.L) chief executive David Thomas on Thursday.

The developer reinstated its dividend, a sign of confidence amid rising completions, sales and profits in the final six months of 2020.

Bannister said: “It’s clear that more people than ever before used the new year as a chance to start thinking about moving home, despite all of the challenges and worries that came with January, but we are seeing the effect of lockdown on the number of properties coming to market.

“I know first-hand how hard it is right now to juggle your work commitments with also trying to teach your kids their times tables, so those looking to trade-up to a bigger home may find there isn’t as much choice as before in this sector of the market until kids start going back to school.”

New listings fell 21% on January 2020, though that month was in the aftermath of an election which eased significant Brexit uncertainty hanging over the market.

WATCH: What do stamp duty cuts mean for buyers and house prices?