Overview: Few winners as both buyers and sellers play the waiting game

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All those buyers who were planning to spend Easter week rushing from one viewing to another might find themselves sitting at home instead. So far, would-be sellers have obstinately resisted the increasingly frantic appeals to put their homes on the market, and the surge of new stock that estate agents have been predicting every month this year has not amounted to much more than a dribble.

All those buyers who were planning to spend Easter week rushing from one viewing to another might find themselves sitting at home instead. So far, would-be sellers have obstinately resisted the increasingly frantic appeals to put their homes on the market, and the surge of new stock that estate agents have been predicting every month this year has not amounted to much more than a dribble.

As a result, competition is forcing prices up even further with buyers fighting over a good property as soon as it lands on an agent's books.

At Goldschmidt & Howland in north-west London, agents have never seen the stock of property so low during the spring. Their busiest market is currently between £1.5 million and £3 million, but houses needing work that might have been given a wide berth during times of plenty are now proving an attractive proposition, even when they come without planning permission.

Since all this evidence has been piled at the door of every person seeking a valuation from an estate agent since January, one obvious conclusion to be drawn is that few people are prepared to put their homes up for sale if they see nothing around them they want to buy.

While there are those who withdrew their properties from the market last year when they failed to sell for as much as they had hoped, there are more potential sellers who gave up when chains collapsed and who simply couldn't find anything worth moving to that justified the expense of shifting.

But even if there are buyers out there prepared to offer at least the asking price, is that enough of an inducement if the prospect is buying something out of desperation or moving into rented accommodation?

Some of the most anxious potential buyers at present are those who are renting. Certainly when a sale involves a move to a new part of the country, testing an area first is far from uncommon. Hamptons International reports that the surplus of rental stock is nearly a third higher than last year, so there is a good chance of negotiating reasonable terms while waiting for the right house to come up for sale. It can also help to be on the spot instead of 100 miles down the motorway.

The one thing agents are often not successful at is persuading people to put their homes on the market before they start looking, as used to be commonplace. Telling vendors that by waiting they risk losing the advantage of being among the few, is not comforting if they are also looking to buy. Hamptons also makes the point that overpricing doesn't work, since buyers are better informed than ever about prices from research on the internet, and won't overpay.

If sellers are not holding out for ridiculous prices or waiting for them to rise, then presumably they are waiting for each other to make the first move. Time for some is already short if they hope to catch the new school year and their gardens looking at their best. With this in mind, agents such as Hamptons, who are expecting a post-Easter surge, say that vendors must price competitively and present their homes to the highest standard, while Strutt and Parker's message is to "to act now. Hanging on for better conditions could be counter-productive."

But is it always so clear to vendors that they have nothing to gain by waiting? The reader whose family house in the West Country was valued at £500,000 last month and a "conservative" £750,000 last week, might well think it was worth holding back. At the very least, it raises questions about who knows best. If we do see a sudden flood of homes on the market in the next few weeks, those sellers must have their reasons.

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