Official data on completions shows first drop in  volume since spring lockdown lifted

House sales fell in January for the first time since the easing of lockdown restrictions in May last year, according to the latest official data.

Numbers out this morning from HM Revenue & Customs show that residential completions fell by 2.4%, seasonally adjusted, to 121,640 in January.

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Without the seasonal adjustment the fall was much more severe – with actual real transaction numbers down 25.2% in January month-on-month, to under 100,000 for the first time since October.

However, despite the month on month drop, the figures showed that transactions were still far higher than seen in January last year, up by 24.1% on a seasonally adjusted basis. The non-seasonally adjust figure was the highest January figure since 2007.

The HMRC said the month-on-month decline in transactions, coming after a surge in sales in the wake of last spring’s first coronavirus lockdown, could be related to the milder winter lockdowns. The department said the falls potentially reflected “some impacts from national lockdowns introduced by UK governments during early January in response to the coronavirus pandemic, but the scale of this potential impact remains unclear”.

Transactions initially fell by 50% in the wake of the partial closure of the market last spring, but subsequently recovered to levels not seen since before the global financial crisis in 2008. Nevertheless, HMRC said the number of UK residential transactions in the 2020 to 2021 financial year to date were still the lowest since 2012-13.

Andrew Southern, chairman of property developer Southern Grove, said that despite the figures, there was no sustained downturn predicted for sales volumes in the first quarter. He said: “Hundreds of thousands of people are still scrambling to complete their purchases in time for the end of the stamp duty holiday, and that has been the case for months amid severe conveyancing delays.”