The seasonally adjusted number showed this was also eight per cent lower than the previous month.
On a non-seasonally adjusted basis, transactions fell by 32 per cent annually to 67,220 and dropped by 29 per cent against March.
HMRC said the downward trend had resumed in April following a spike in transactions in March. It attributed the higher activity in March to the larger number of working days during the month and the last round of purchases completed through the Help to Buy scheme.
Transaction levels between January and March this year were also lower than before the pandemic, with 270,000 transactions completed compared to 283,540 in 2020.
Fresh market uncertainty will suppress activity
Andrew Montlake, managing director of Coreco, said it was no surprise that transactions were lower than a year ago.
He added: “In recent months, we have seen the market begin to awaken from its prolonged slumber, with buyers returning and getting used to the new mortgage rate environment. That, of course, was before the latest inflation figures caused swap rates and therefore mortgage rates to start to increase again. This will undoubtedly have an effect on buyer affordability, mortgage choice, and therefore transaction levels going forward.
“With many hoping the second quarter would be the start of a new normal market, this now looks like it will be pushed back to the third quarter. If the Bank of England panics and puts rates up much further, this could have a profound effect on the housing market.”
Craig Fish, managing director at Lodestone, said the market was seeing normal levels of activity in April and May, but the recent “turmoil” hinted at stagnation ahead.
He added: “We have already had some clients tell us that their property plans are on hold until things settle down. Further rate rises could continue to dampen property transactions, but the hope is that as inflation drops, conditions will improve and we could see a strong end to 2023, which should continue into 2024.”
Mike Scott, chief analyst at Yopa, suggested that the transactions levels coupled with “disappointing inflation figures” could mean that “the housing market slowdown is likely to be longer and deeper than we originally anticipated”.
Karen Noye mortgage expert at Quilter, added: “While the economic path is starting to look a little more predictable and we had seen an uptick in transactions in March, April’s figures show a return to the buoyant market we had grown accustomed to is not yet on the cards.
“House prices have been slowly declining in recent months, reflecting the decreased level of demand, and we can expect them to continue falling steadily for a few months yet as sellers compete for buyers.”
A market boost needed
Some industry professionals suggested that external help could drive activity in the property market.
Andy Sommerville, director at Search Acumen, said technological development and investment would be a benefit.
He added: “These circumstances make it obvious that more needs to be done to support the property market’s resilience. Not only are higher mortgage rates pricing people out of their moves, but professionals themselves also face ongoing challenges undertaking the transaction.
“Move timelines are now upwards of 150 days, having increased by a third from the 100-day average seen in 2019. This leaves ample room for fall-throughs, upping the pressure on shrinking sectors like conveyancing.”
“It is imperative that we give property lawyers and all stakeholders within the transaction chain access to cutting edge, cohesive technology as the new normal to get the job done with greater ease and efficiency,” Sommerville said.
Alex Lyle, director of estate agency Antony Roberts, also felt that conveyancers needed support, adding: “One issue is how long everything is taking – it is hard to remember a time when deals took so long to progress from agreed to exchange of contracts. As well as chains being more protracted, many solicitors are finding themselves working at capacity.”
Tomer Aboody, director of MT Finance, suggested that the government step in. He said: “With transactions on a downward trend, some stimulus is needed to encourage sellers to come to market, and downsizers in particular.
“With a general election in 18 months’ time, it would be a good way for the government to boost the economy and get the property market thriving once more.”