Its figures show that there were 216,200 first-time buyers in 2012. That was the first time the annual total exceeded 200,000 since 2007. It was also a 12% increase on the 2011 figure of 193,000.

In further good news for the housing market, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) reports that the number of sales continued to grow in January for the fourth month in a row. Although the growth is quite small, RICS’ spokesman Peter Bolton King says it’s a sign that the worst may be over for the property market.

It’s thought that mortgage approvals and sales have been helped by the Funding for Lending Scheme, which was introduced by the Bank of England to encourage banks and building societies to boost lending.

Mr Bolton King said: “Price falls across the
UK have gradually stemmed in recent months and it is interesting to see that the amount of completed transactions are on the rise, as confidence returns to the marketplace.

“While it is still very early days to talk about a comprehensive market recovery, activity levels are still encouraging and there is some optimism out there that things could continue to improve.”

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