The housing market has made a "sprightly" start to 2013, with asking prices reaching their highest levels for February since 2008, a property search website has said.
Prices jumped by 2.8% month-on-month to reach £235,741 on average, with big monthly leaps of around 5% recorded in the north west of England and Wales, Rightmove said. Prices are 1.1% higher than a year ago and are just £2,115 shy of a February record set in 2008, showing the market is making a "slow but steady recovery," the study said.
Rightmove also reported that it recorded its busiest ever month in January, in a further sign that activity in the market is gathering pace. Miles Shipside, director of Rightmove, said: "There has been a sprightly start to 2013, and while market activity remains patchy across locations and property type, some agents are reporting their busiest new year since the onset of the credit crunch."
There have been signs of the market picking up in recent months following the launch of Government schemes to kick-start mortgage lending and give people a leg up on to the property ladder.
The Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) recently reported that lending to first-time buyers reached a five-year high in 2012. But Rightmove said it had found that seven out of 10 people who plan to sell in 2013 will be aged over 45, suggesting that older people are likely to be driving the market this year. Half of those planning to buy a home in 2013 said they would be third-time buyers, and downsizing was the main reason for selling in the vast majority of regions.
The two most active age brackets were found to be 45 to 54-year-olds and 55 to 64-year-olds, the study found, suggesting that those who already have access to equity and finance will be the main "movers and shakers" in 2013.
All regions across England and Wales recorded month-on-month increases to asking prices. Rightmove said that the large monthly price increases recorded in northern areas and Wales were effectively "rebounds" from large house price falls at a time when there were low numbers of properties on the market towards the end of last year.
The North West recorded the highest monthly increase at 5.2%, taking prices to £156,801. However, prices in the region are still 1.8% lower than a year ago. Wales saw the second highest month-on-month increase at 5%, meaning that, at £161,365, prices are 0.9% higher than a year ago.
Asking prices in London are a hefty 8.4% higher than they were a year ago at £486,890, although the month-on-month change was much softer at 1.2%. The South East recorded the smallest monthly increase at 0.4%, taking average prices to £297,036.
Mr Shipside said: "Pages viewed on the Rightmove website hit a record high in January, up by over 20% year-on-year. "While the journey between expressing interest and closing the deal has many more twists and turns than before the credit crunch, it is a sign of increased confidence and helps build a momentum that has been sadly lacking in many local markets over the last five years."