Property sales bounce back in December, but this may be a blip

Property sales (non-seasonally adjusted) rose again in December – up 11.8% from November, but down 14.6% from a year earlier. It’s the third busiest December for the past decade. Sales over the 2021/22 tax year so far are still higher than any other year for the past decade (1,084,630).

HMRC published monthly property sales for December: UK monthly property transactions commentary – GOV.UK (

HMRC recommends treating seasonally adjusted figures with caution because of the impact of the stamp duty holiday, so we have used non-seasonally adjusted figures.

Sarah Coles, senior personal finance analyst, Hargreaves Lansdown: “Property sales continued to bounce back in December, but there’s every chance this is a temporary blip. Over the previous two months, sales have been recovering from the lows of October, climbing slightly above the kind of levels we usually see in December. However, the lag  in these figures means they reflect sentiment before talk of rate rises started in earnest, so this bounce isn’t guaranteed to take off.

October was always going to be a real low, because so many people hurried a sale through to take advantage of the tax break that finished at the end of September. The recovery in the two months to December sees a return to stronger levels of transactions.

However, these figures measure completed transactions, so there’s a lag between people’s decision to buy and when they feed into these statistics – about 2-3 months later. We know that agreed sales have been dropping for months, so there’s a good chance this will manifest itself in lower completion numbers over the next few months.

Agreed sales have been dropping partly as a result of the property drought, with the number of properties coming to market falling for the last nine months of 2021. The shortage of houses doesn’t just make it harder to buy, it’s also pushing prices up, with early indications from the commercial indices that prices hit a record high in December. It puts buyers in the miserable position of having to pay a huge premium for a home that they’ve had to settle for, which is going to put some of them off.

Interest rates will be playing their part too, with weeks of speculation, a rise in December, and yet more talk of rises to come in the next few weeks or months. Any rise in mortgage rates would be a rise from a very low base, and there will still be some very attractive mortgage deals around. However, as we saw from the last few months of the stamp duty holiday, sometimes the idea of a change affects people’s buying decisions far more than the practical impact of the change itself. Back in September, people were racing for a deadline that, at most, would save them £2,500. So there’s a risk that a rise to an interest rate as low as 0.5% could make people think twice about stretching themselves to a more expensive property.