When is the best time to buy a house?

Buying a house is rarely a simple process and, particularly in uncertain economic times, deciding when to make your move in the property market can be difficult.

Even in more predictable conditions, when inflation isn’t rising and people aren’t experiencing a cost-of-living squeeze, knowing when to take the plunge and buy a house is hard to judge.

Traditionally, spring and autumn are the busiest periods for buying properties as there is “more housing stock available”, according to Ideal Home. Conversely, winter and summer are traditionally the best times to sell a house as “there’s less competition on the market”.

March is the best time to list your house if you want to “sell fast”, according to The Times, and is a good time for buyers too as generally more housing becomes available then. August is particularly quiet for listings as homeowners head off on holiday, while they “​​tend to stay put” over the Christmas period as well, making December one of the more difficult times to buy.

What is happening in the market now?

The housing market experienced a boom in 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the government’s temporary stamp duty cut. This has resulted in a “volatile market” and house prices that have “risen considerably” since then, according to Stephen Maunder at Which? 

The Land Registry’s UK House Price Index indicated that there was a 12.8% average increase in house prices year-on-year in May 2022, while property purchases fell by 55% in June 2022 compared to last year, according to HMRC.

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“Limited supply and strong demand is keeping house prices high,” said Faith Archer in The Times, meaning that at the moment it is very much a seller’s market.

Rising inflation and costs do mean house prices could fall, though it is “unlikely that house prices will crash”.

Property site Rightmove says that house prices could fall slightly towards the end of 2022, although it predicts that prices could still be 5% higher than they were at the end of 2021.

What about mortgage rates?

The Bank of England increased its base interest rate to 1.75% in early August, meaning the best time to have applied for a mortgage was “six months to a year ago”, according to Claer Barrett in the Financial Times.

Those on fixed-term mortgages are currently safe from the additional cost of increasing interest rates, though they need to “plan for what to do when it expires”. Anyone on a fixed-term plan who is soon to remortgage will “struggle to find a deal as good” as the one they have now, said Archer in The Times. 

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People on variable rates will already be feeling the increased cost of their monthly mortgage after the interest rate rise.

House hunters with big deposits can still find low mortgage rates, “but they are rising”, added Archer. “Low-deposit mortgages are still readily available” for first-time buyers, said Which?, “so you might find it a little easier to get a home loan than before”.

And there is more good news for buyers, with the Bank of England scrapping a key mortgage affordability test at the start of August that should make it easier for prospective homeowners to borrow money. But this does create the risk that some people will take out mortgages they are unable to afford, warned The Guardian,

Should you buy or should you wait?

It’s clear that buying a house is much more expensive than it was a year ago, increasing the temptation to hold off and wait for things to hopefully become cheaper. With “all the signs of a slow-down at best and a possible recession” in the economy, “now is the time to take some decisions”, said James Max in The Spectator.

Waiting for a better market can be “risky” for several reasons, personal finance expert Gemma Godfrey told Sky News. There’s “no guarantee” of falling house prices, she said, and mortgage interest rates may “continue to rise” and remain costly.

There is also little evidence that house prices will fall “significantly over the medium or long term” although growth should be slower this year, said Which?, meaning that waiting to buy will potentially cost you as much or more in the near future.

Mortgage rates are likely to continue rising into next year, broker Nicholas Mendes told The Guardian, who is advising clients to “consider longer-term fixed rates” to avoid big hikes in payments.