The unsettled buyer's market where cash is King

With increasing numbers of sellers setting unrealistic asking prices, fuelled by higher valuations over the previous months and demand for homes on the slide, it was always going to turn into a buyer's market eventually.

Related topics:  Property,  Housing,  House Prices,  Buyers
Property | Reporter
30th January 2023
"Funding a purchase with cash can avoid lengthy valuation queues, boundless scrutiny from conveyancers and have the added benefit of being able to move ahead irrespective of wider economic concerns"

However, compounding this trend are several other factors including the cost of living crisis, rising interest rates and, increased political turmoil which have led to an 'unsettled buyer's market'. And in this market, cash is very much king.

New research from national estate agency Jackson-Stops has revealed the regions where the most savings can be made by paying in cash, building on similar research undertaken in 2021 for year-on-year comparison.

According to recent data, cash buyers were able to secure properties 6% under the UK average house price, equating to a £15,162 saving, compared to paying 3% more, or an extra £7,596, when paying with a mortgage. Comparing the average house price when paying with cash compared to a mortgaged transaction, the saving is 8%, equating to £22,758.

An analysis of Land Registry data found that cash buyers in the North West of England were able to negotiate a purchase price that is 10% below the average property price in the region. This saving, which equates to £20,993 for the average cash purchaser in the area, is the highest percentage saving in the country and is 16% less than those purchasing using a mortgage.

Overall, the data indicates that cash buyers are willing to spend more than ever before to secure their dream home, sending £21,384 more than they did one year ago on a property purchase. However, by comparison, it was those purchasing a property with a mortgage who paid the highest premiums, spending £25,347 more than last year, indicating that cash buyers hold all the cards when it comes to price negotiation.

The appeal of cash buyers in the current market is particularly prevalent amidst the backdrop of mortgage rate rises and expiring lending offers, according to Jackson-Stops, which has in part led to a national rise in transaction delays and longer chains. Figures show the time it takes from a buyer instructing a conveyancing firm to exchanging on a new property is now 90% longer in some parts of the country than in 2007, with a national average of 132 days per transaction.

Nick Leeming, Chairman of Jackson-Stops, explains: “It’s a cash buyers’ market. Not only are they pipping some mortgaged buyers to the post, but they’re often able to give sellers the quick sale that they are after in today’s less than certain mortgage market.

He continues: “A large proportion of today’s cash buyers are equity-rich baby boomers deciding that now is the time to downsize and live retirement with fewer bills and more financial agility. We expect this trend to continue as the UK market demographic goes through a significant shift, in which soon one in four people will be over 65.

"Many of these homeowners are choosing to take their next steps now and make a purchase that better reflects their future needs. These are lifestyle-driven cash buyers who’ve typically built up equity in the family home over several decades.”

The analysis shows that the volume of cash buyers across England is broadly in-line with levels seen before the pandemic, prior to the housing market frenzy in 2021 that saw record volumes of transaction levels overall.

Nick continues: “Those that got onto the property ladder pre-1990 when house prices were relatively low, have reaped the rewards in capital values today when property price inflation hit record highs during the pandemic. Often being able to take this high level of equity into their next purchase will mean that buyers can not only be mortgage free but will also have additional capital to supplement their retirement or gift to the next generation. This is a common situation among today’s mid-market buyers.

“For sellers hoping for a quick sale and a straightforward process, cash buyers are undoubtedly an appealing option. Funding a purchase with cash can avoid lengthy valuation queues, boundless scrutiny from conveyancers and have the added benefit of being able to move ahead irrespective of wider economic concerns.”

South West

Research shows that cash buyers achieved the smallest saving in the South West, paying £33,069 more in 2022 than in 2021. This meant cash buyers in the South West paid just £10,440 less than mortgaged buyers, and 98% of the average price paid in the region. Agents believe this is down to the high level of demand in the area and limited supply, with the counties like Devon and Dorset riding high on its winning combination of seaside appeal and the rise in flexible working.

Brian Bishop, Director of Jackson-Stops Taunton, explains: “The intense competition for best-in-class properties in the South West seen last year left little room for buyers to make any significant savings by paying with cash.

“Many of our buyers were from the South East or London looking for greener pastures, a trend which extended from the pandemic. In a similar vein, a large proportion of our buyer pool are mortgage free having built up equity in more saturated markets, making their appeal less of a differentiator when making an offer. They would have been competing with three or four other cash buyers in the same boat, where the winning, highest, bid is the only real differential.”

According to the analysis of the latest Jackson-Stops branch data, Blandford in Dorset has become the most saturated housing market for buyer interest, underscoring the regions surging appeal with 26 buyers for every new property that is listed; a 225%[7] increase on 2021.

Brian continues: “It can be easy to think that the South West is solely beachside homes, but our real mix of period properties, land, and increasingly new developments, gives it something for everyone. This is especially true for those now able to work flexibly or has chosen to retire after the chaotic few years the pandemic caused, opening up the area to a whole new cohort of buyers. The only downside is the finite number of properties we have.”

North West

Whilst cash buyers in the South West have less room for negotiation, it is in the North West of England where paying in cash offers the biggest potential price saving on a home.

Research illustrates a 10% saving could be made by paying in cash here: a 16% greater saving than those purchasing using a mortgage. This equates to a £20,993 difference between the average house price in the North West (£219,005) and the average cash purchase price (£198,012).

With cash purchasers paying just 90% of the average property price in the North West, this makes it the UK’s most attractive market for those without the need for a mortgage.

Crispin Harris, Director at Jackson-Stops’ Alderley Edge branch, comments: “Cash buyers remain very active in our marketplace, many of whom are empty nesters after years in the same family property, capitalising from the pandemic property boom.

"They are a very attractive buyer choice to sellers, being arguably less complicated than those that require a mortgage and likely to be stuck in a chain. In a transaction process with many moving parts from land registry to conveyancers, simplicity is sought after. By removing the lender from the equation, cash buyers can dramatically cut down the time it takes to complete a sale.

“A trend we’ve been seeing is the use of bridging loans from what would be fairly wealthy cash buyers, moving them into a different category altogether. They are using loans to secure their onward purchase even though they don’t have a mortgage currently, to allow them to move in and enjoy a more flexible timeline before selling their current home.

"This became a more frequent occurrence at the start of last year when supply was particularly short and a fear of not securing an onward purchase was felt by many.”

South East

Research also showed that mortgaged buyers paid the highest premiums in the South East of England, spending on average £32,832 more on their property purchase year-on-year compared to cash buyers. As one of the UK’s busiest and most saturated markets, the South East continues to command the highest asking prices in the UK at £403,515.

Report Summary

Nick concludes: “Our latest research shows that cash buyers are willing to pay £21,384 compared to the same period a year ago. This shows that in a competitive market where time is of the essence, sellers aren’t having to opt for less in pursuit of a quick sale. The benefit of a cash buyer when interest rates are fluctuating is undoubtedly speed and certainty, meaning buyers without a mortgage are in the most advantageous position in today’s market.

“Our analysis shows that buyers using a mortgage are paying more, having to find a further £25,347 compared to September 2021. With the average house price in England reaching £314,278 in September 2022, this means that buyers are having to find an additional 8% simply to be able to afford the same property as a year prior.

“To be in the best position, there are still many things that mortgaged buyers can do to help aid the process. Having a mortgage in principle agreed upon before beginning a property search and having a clear idea of your top price will avoid buyers from being left disappointed with their search.

"As we now look ahead to the Spring bounce, we expect a number of properties to come onto the market following a brief slowdown towards the end of 2022. With more properties coming to market, this should create greater opportunities for transactions to continue and properties to change hands.”

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