THE number of first-time buyers in Scotland has reached its highest level since the crash of the property market.
A total of 19,000 first-time buyers became home-owners in 2012 – the highest figure since 2008, when 22,100 people bought their own home.
The rise, which has been linked to the availability of more affordable mortgages, is also a 13% increase on 2011 which saw 16,800 first-time buyers.
The figures from the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) Scotland have been welcomed by property experts, who claim younger buyers are making the most of good mortgage rates and affordable property.
Michael Luck, managing director of estate agents Slater Hogg & Howison, said: "Mortgage lending has eased up a little bit for first-time buyers. There are more 90% and even 95% loans becoming available and that's making it easier for people to get on the ladder.
"There are also a lot of properties around offering excellent value for money – in Glasgow, for example, there are some properties going for between £65,000 and £90,000, and people are taking advantage of that."
He added: "We're moving back to a culture of people understanding if they want to buy property they have to have saved something in the way of the deposit and that's definitely a good thing. Overall, the lending for me is the biggest thing and that's beginning to really impact on the market."
The CML Scotland report also shows the fourth quarter of 2012 saw an 18% increase in first-time buyers on the same period in 2011. It also rose by 4% on the previous three months of 2012.
Faisal Choudhry, director of residential research at Savills, claimed last year's success can be linked to a number of Government incentives for first-time buyers, including a rise in the stamp duty threshold which was in place until March 2012.
He said: "Last year was probably higher because of the end of the stamp-duty concession. People rushed to get their sales completed before the end of March, 2012, to ensure they saved on stamp duty.
"That's one of the main reasons we've had a high last year. The other is that if first-time buyers can get a deposit together, there are lots of good deals to be had with low interest rates and more affordable property in a buyers' market."
He added: "The rise is excellent news, but it's still only around half of what we would have seen on average in previous years – for example in the mid-1990s, when the average was 36,000 first-time buyer loans per year."
CML Scotland said the rise could also be linked to lower house prices north of the Border, meaning more first-time buyers are exempt from stamp duty even at the normal level of £125,000.
In the fourth quarter of 2012, 62% of first-time buyers in Scotland bought a property for less than £125,000 compared to 39% in the UK.
The figures also show a slight increase in the number of home-movers in 2012 – up from 27,500 in 2011 to 27,600.
Iain Malloch, chair of CML Scotland, said: "The Scottish housing market showed positive signs of recovery in 2012, broadly following the pattern seen in the rest of the UK. The availability of mortgages at more than 90% loan-to-value has more than doubled in the last two years and lenders expect to offer more high loan-to-value mortgages this year.
"This, and the fact the number of first-time buyers is at a post-crunch high, suggests lenders really are open for business."