picture of sold signsSpring seems to have sprung early for the housing market, with a surge in buyer activity over the last few months.

Could this mean that a window of opportunity has opened for sellers who want to achieve a fair price and a quick sale?


Green shoots

In the past week the doom and gloom of the housing market has been replaced with a ray of sunshine, and a smattering of positive property and mortgage statistics.

First we had the Department for Communities and Local Government announcing that average prices in England and Wales for December were up across the board – that's on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis. The increases were marginal (less than 1%), but increases nonetheless.

Then Rightmove stated that asking prices in February rose by a significant 4.1%, the highest monthly increase in 10 years. It said the market was showing "evidence of dormant buyers springing back to life".

On Monday the Council of Mortgage Lenders joined the party, reporting that lending in January was up a chunky 10% year on year.

Then the National Association of Estate Agents said that more first-time buyers came through estate agents' doors in January than at any point in the previous eight months.

And finally, the British Bankers' Association stated yesterday that mortgage approvals for house purchase reached a two-year high in January, up a whopping 34% year on year.

All in all, it has been a pretty good week for the UK housing market. In fact, it appears that the traditionally strong spring buying season is already well underway.

For those who have held off selling their home until the market bounced back, now could well be the time to make the most of the recent boost in buyer interest.

Demand outstripping supply
Peter Rollings, CEO of estate agent Marsh & Parsons, reckons that the recent rise in demand from buyers is good news for potential sellers.

He says:"Real demand for property is showing signs of improving, placing home sellers in a stronger position in many parts of the country. In areas where there is an underlying shortage of available property, this is boosting sales prices.

"However, sensible pricing is still key to a sale. A well-priced property should not only sell quickly, it may also trigger competing bids, pushing up the final sale price, rather than be left sitting on the shelf."

According to Hometrack sellers are currently achieving on average 92.5% of their asking price, up from 91.9% a year ago.

But of course, the UK property market is wide ranging and varied, so national averages can mean little to families selling their homes up and down the country. For example, Rollings points out that as a result of intense buyer demand, the average property on their books in January in Central & West London sold for a whopping 97.8% of its asking price!

London calling
Of course the capital's property market has long existed in its own bubble and it is currently booming, with prices just 1% off their all-time high, according to Rightmove.

Geoff Wilford, director of estate agent Wilfords London in Kensington, claims it is now a seller's market:"2012 has got off to an extremely busy start for the central London property market. Now is a great time to sell as we approach the busy spring period, and we are seeing our instruction and applicant levels increasing. The Bank of England continuing to keep interest rates at a record low also helps."

James Hyman, head of residential sales at Cluttons, agrees that sellers hold all the cards in the capital: "Demand for property in prime Central London has caused a 25% drop in stock levels at the start of this year. This is resulting in extraordinary levels of competition between buyers for the limited property for sale, while demand remains close to record high levels.

"Deals are being agreed within hours of a property coming onto the market, often after just one viewing."

Regional picture
It's not just London that is experiencing a good start to 2012. According to Rightmove, all regions in England and Wales saw an increase in prices in February, ranging from 1.1% in East Anglia and Yorkshire and Humberside to 6.9% in the South East.

But let's not get carried away – there is often a price boost before the spring buying season, as estate agents increase asking prices to attract more sellers to their books. And with a shortage of properties for sale in many parts of the country, they are pulling out all the stops to get vendors to register with them.

Miles Shipside, director at Rightmove says: "Average weekly listings are currently running at 30% below pre-credit crunch levels, and new seller numbers continue to be as depressed as those of 2011."

In other words, sellers are in very high demand right now, particularly in desirable areas. If you have spent the last few years wanting to move, but worrying about the price you could achieve for your property, perhaps it's time to look again at what is happening in your local market.