Moving home can be difficult in today's market but Teresa Hunter has 10 tips to bag a bargain
In its first affordability index, the Bank of Scotland reported that the proportion of disposable earnings devoted to mortgage payments has fallen significantly over the past 18 months, from typically 37% in the second half of 2007 to 26% last month. Crucially, they are now lower than the long-running average of 31%.
Moving should also have become easier, thanks to the packages which builders are offering potential buyers to smooth the house-moving property.
Yet for many, the barriers to housebuying look as impenetrable as ever. Getting a mortgage is like climbing a mountain, with applications rejected at four times the rate of two years ago, according to Moneysupermarket.
So how can you cash in on bargains? Scotland on Sunday has drawn up a 10-point plan to help you break down the barriers to buying.
But first some words of caution: prices in general may continue sliding, so only make a move if you are sure you are getting a steal of a deal.
In the new build market, companies are bending over backwards to help buyers. John Slater, managing director of Stewart Milne Homes, explained: "The market has undoubtedly been difficult, yet we see huge demand from what we call the 'needs drive' market. These are people who have to move irrespective of the state of the economy.
"We realise what a challenge it can be for all these people and do everything we can to ease their path."
Here are our 10 tips for breaking down housebuying barriers.
Get a deposit
You will probably need a deposit of 15%, although some lenders such as HSBC are now granting loans with a 10% deposit. It has a two-year fixed available at 4.99% with a 1,499 fee, or 5.49% with a 199 fee.
The best way to build up a deposit is to open a savings account and inject a big sum monthly.
Even saving hard yourself may not be enough, so prepare to ask parents or grandparents for help.
According to David Hollingworth of L&C Mortgages, getting a loan has not become any easier and lenders are pernickety.
Four times income is the maximum you are likely to borrow, and lenders have cut back on income they are prepared to accept. Only a proportion of commission earnings or bonuses will now be accepted, if at all.
Clean up your credit history
Make sure your credit history is spotless. Check your file with reference agencies such as Experian. If there are any mistakes, get them corrected. If bad debts are recorded, pay these off. Make sure you make all credit and other bill payments on time; otherwise you will be blacklisted.
It's also a good idea to show you can handle credit maturely. Even if you don't want to borrow, get a credit card and pay it off each month. Companies are currently wary of giving loans to customers who have no credit history.
Confront negative equity
According to the Council of Mortgage Lenders, nearly one million homeowners have properties worth less than their mortgage. This doesn't matter until you want to move, when it can cause problems.
The CML says two-thirds have just 10% negative equity, equating to a 6,000 gap for first-time buyers and 8,000 for second movers.
If possible, pay this off. Otherwise, if you have to move, speak to your lender. C&G is one institution which will consider allowing you to move house and take the negative equity with you, as was commonplace during the last recession
Move your current account
Institutions look more favourably on applications from existing customers. Some, such as HSBC, require borrowers to have current accounts.
Exchange your home
Building companies will often take your home in part exchange. But estate agent Catherine Taylor, at HBJ Gateley Wareing, cautions buyers to make sure they get full value for their old property.
She added: "You should also bear in mind you are exchanging a secondhand home for a new one, and their prices can move differently."
It is also possible for homeowners to arrange home swaps privately, following the launch of websites designed for this purpose.
Rent to mortgage
Some builders are offering schemes which allow you to rent a new home before committing to buy.
Part-buy your home
Housing associations sometimes offer shared ownership schemes, and some builders offer shared equity arrangements. Read the small print carefully.
Build it yourself
One way to keep the costs down is to build your own home, particularly if you have relevant skills such as bricklaying or plastering. You could always do an evening course.
The best option is to form a co-operative with others with complementary skills, so you work on each other's houses.
Gentrify an area
Persuade a group of friends to move with you into a rundown area. You get property cheap, and together can gentrify it and make a killing.
Joy after a moving experience
IAN Clark admits he should have moved years ago but the engineer and his wife Pamela couldn't face all the hassle, writes Teresa Hunter.
Even so, when they took a look at properties on a new development in Leathan Fields, Portlethen, they had no intention of moving then either.
But they fell in love with a three-bedroom semi, with good-sized rooms and a garage on a nice plot, and when they heard about the package of incentives available from the Stewart Milne Group, including an exchange scheme, they thought they would give it a try.
Ian said: "The property cost 229,995, and with that we got a 10,000 cashback and the garden landscaping. But the company also offered to buy your old home subject to valuation.
"They arranged the surveyor, and when the valuation came in it was perfectly respectable. It was slightly lower than we might have expected, but only by a couple of thousand. If the valuation had been lower than we thought we wouldn't have proceeded but would have walked away. But we had nothing to complain about."
They used a mortgage broker, and had an offer from Halifax the day after completing the application form. "We couldn't face the hassle of finding a buyer and then finding somewhere else for us. It was just laziness. Now we are very happy to have made the move."