Scotland’s first-time buyers undeterred by higher costs as they snap up half of homes

01 February 2021

  • Average first-time buyer deposit leapt to more than £35,000
  • Number of first-time buyers fell by 21% but activity bounced back after first lockdown
  • East and North Ayrshire still the most affordable areas for first-time buyers

The overall number of first-time buyers in Scotland fell by around a fifth during 2020, as the housing market was curtailed during the first national lockdown, according to the latest research by Bank of Scotland.
With sales activity largely grinding to a halt during Spring, the overall number of first-time buyers in 2020 was down by over 6,800 (21%) compared to 2019 (25,826 v 32,630).

However, first-time buyer transactions bounced back strongly in the second half of the year (up 69% from 9,600 in H1 to 16,226 in H2) once the market reopened. Comparing the second half of 2020 to the same six-month period in 2019, first-time buyer transactions were down by just 5% (compared to 38% in H1).

In total, the number of first-time buyers as a proportion of all homes purchased with a mortgage in Scotland remained stable last year at 50% (also 50% in 2017, 2018 and 2019).

Looking across the UK, Northern Ireland (-23%) and Wales (-23%) experienced the biggest decreases in the number of first-time buyers last year. London’s first-time buyer figure fell by the smallest percentage of any region, down by just 6% year-on-year.

Graham Blair, Mortgages Director, Bank of Scotland, said: “It’s no great surprise that the overall number of first-time buyers fell last year, as the property market effectively ground to a halt during the first national lockdown. However, the underlying strength of the market was made clear in the second half of 2020, as activity bounced back sharply as the country opened up again.

“While Scottish first-time buyers may have been spared the steep increases in average purchase price seen elsewhere over the last 12 months, the need to raise an ever-bigger deposit is still a significant barrier to home ownership.

“First-time buyers account for half of all home purchases, and affordability in certain areas of the country is amongst the best in the UK. With continued Land and Buildings Transaction Tax relief confirmed for those taking that first step onto the property ladder, home ownership should remain a realistic goal.”

Average purchase price

The average price paid by a first-time buyer in Scotland last year was £155,411, up by just £2,133 (1.4%) from 2019 (£153,278). This compares to the UK average first-time buyer purchase price of £256,057, up by £22,939 (10%) from a year earlier (£233,118).

Across the UK, London saw the biggest monetary increase in the average price paid by first-time buyers over the last 12 months, up by £33,486 (7%) from £455,611 to £489,098.

Average deposit paid

The average amount put down by a first-time buyer in Scotland in 2020 was £35,745, compared to £30,101 the year before, a rise of almost 19% (£5,644).

Meanwhile, the average UK first-time buyer deposit amount was £57,278, up from £46,449 the year before, a rise of over 23% (£10,829).

Average deposits for first-time buyers in London were up by £20,211 (18%), from £110,145 to £130,357, while other areas of the UK also saw big increases, such as Wales, up by 25% (£6,634) from £26,029 to £32,663.

Local affordability for first-time buyers

East and North Ayrshire remain the most affordable areas in Scotland for local first-time buyers – calculated by comparing average earnings to average house prices – with ratios of 3.2.

Eight out of the 10 UK’s most affordable areas are in Scotland, with Inverclyde (3.4), West Dunbartonshire (3.4) and Renfrewshire (3.5) also making the list.

The City of Edinburgh – where the average property price for a first-time buyer is almost five times average earnings (4.9) – tops the list of the least affordable areas in the country, taking over from Midlothian (4.5) which has fallen to from second to eighth over the last year. East Lothian (4.8) remains in second place, alongside Argyll and Bute (also 4.8).