The healthy monthly totals reflecting improved finances, aided by

The number of mortgage approvals rose to 70,837 in December, up from 70,424 in November and a four-month high, according to the latest figures from the Bank of England.The number of approvals for remortgaging was 41,708, compared to an average of 39,540 over the previous six months.Net mortgage lending was £3.2 billion, down from £3.8 billion in November.House price growth was strong last year, bolstered by low interest rates and high employment.Recent figures from Nationwide show that he average price of a property last year was £196,829, up from £188,446 in 2014.The government and the BoE are also looking at ways of dampening the buy-to-let market to prevent overheatingRichard Sexton, director of chartered surveyor e.surv, said: “The end of 2015 saw a steady flow of lending to homebuyers, with healthy monthly totals reflecting improved finances, aided by a year of low inflation and rising wages. But these supportive economic conditions can only go so far, and the recovery is being hindered by lack of available homes from sellers.”The property pipeline needs to be supported right the way through. Currently, Help to Buy is giving first-timers a fighting chance to get on the ladder and keeping up demand levels for the houses that are available to the market.”Speeding up the homebuilding process is essential, and updating our antiquated planning system would help this along. Meanwhile, we should encourage homeowners to keep moving. Marriages, births and divorces can all spur different housing needs – but at the moment many people are stuck in unsuitable housing as they can’t find the right home for their next step. Transaction costs may be putting others off selling-up.”Brian Murphy, head of lending at Mortgage Advice Bureau, said: “Growing numbers of homeowners are wising up to the fact that it pays to remortgage, particularly if moving from a poor value standard variable rate. Borrowers who are comfortable with a long-term commitment can take advantage of today’s rates by locking into a fixed product, avoiding higher mortgage bills when an interest rate rise eventually kicks in.”For those who do not have the comfort of already sitting on the property ladder and are looking to buy for the first time, the outlook is still positive. Although not quite up to pre-recession levels, mortgage approvals for house purchase have improved markedly in recent years and lenders are battling for business. However, with house prices continuing to rise, affordability remains a concern, and today’s low mortgage rates aren’t a permanent fixture of the market.”