MORTGAGE lenders in Scotland say last year saw the highest number of loans provided to prospective house buyers since 2008, providing further signs that the property market revival is set to gather pace.
The number of home loans being approved has reached a five-year high, with 54,100 people securing finance to buy a house last year, according to figures released by the Council Of Mortgage Lenders in Scotland.
In total, bank and building society lending rose to £6.5 billion by the end of 2013, the highest figure since 2008, when £7bn was made available.
The statistics follow upbeat reports from estate agents, chartered surveyors and house price analysts in recent weeks that have all found reasons to be cheerful about the fortunes of the Scottish property market.
Earlier this month, property data firm LSL/Acadata Scotland branded 2013 the "year of recovery", while the Office Of National Statistics said its data showed modest house prices were rising.
Fresh interest in property is being fuelled by more homes coming on the market and low interest rates, easier lending conditions, competitively-priced mortgages and Government Help To Buy schemes, which provide easy credit to first-time buyers.
Iain Malloch, chairman of the Council Of Mortgage Lenders (CML) in Scotland, said the volume of lending recorded last year showed the "optimism" in the industry was not misplaced.
He said: "The strong upward trend in lending gives grounds for optimism, suggesting improved mortgage availability and economic recovery are creating greater activity in the Scottish housing market. First-time buyers have been a crucial driver throughout 2013, and the CML anticipates this growth in the market will continue into 2014."
Lending was particularly strong towards the end of 2013, with 6700 home loans advanced to first-time buyers in Scotland between October and December.
This is the largest number in a single quarter since the fourth quarter of 2007, and an increase of 3% on the third quarter of 2013, and up 26% on quarter four 2012.
A spokeswoman for Lloyds Banking Group, which owns Bank Of Scotland, said its figures mirrored those of the CML.
She said: "This is welcome news for the Scottish housing market and is in line with what Lloyds Banking Group has seen as our mortgage lending returned to growth in the third quarter of 2013.
"We also exceeded our 2013 lending commitment to new-to-market buyers across the UK, helping one in four to buy their first home and exceeding our first-time buyer lending target of 60,000 mortgages by more than 20,000 at the year-end."
Philip Hogg, chief executive of industry body Homes For Scotland, said: "The figures are very positive, particularly in relation to first-time buyers, who are essential to a healthy and well-functioning housing market.
"With consumer and business confidence increasing, our members look forward to translating this upturn in market demand into the building of much-needed new homes, creating jobs and stimulating economic growth."