A record number of house-hunters logged on to the internet in search of a new home on Boxing Day.
It was the busiest day of the year for online property searches with more than two million people trawling through dozens of web pages.
Property website Rightmove says some 40 million individual homes were viewed throughout the day compared to 38 million a year ago.
This Boxing Day figure is a three-fold increase on a typical day’s viewing.
Window shopping: Geraldine Cassidy was browsing the internet for a four-bedroom home
Rival property website Zoopla revealed the peak period for property surfing was 9pm – after the rest of the family had settled down on the sofa to watch John Malkovich play Hercule Poirot in a BBC TV Christmas special.
The main driving force behind the surge in online viewings seems to have been a desire for extra space – a wish maybe perpetuated by the claustrophobia caused by in-laws and partners staying over the festive season.
Unlike previous years, property websites have found that people are no longer just dreaming of a luxury city pad or period-featured rural retreat.
Instead they want a practical modern property that needs little maintenance.
Most want to escape cities, including the capital, and live in a commuter town that offers more space for their money.
A three-bedroom house is the most popular search criteria – followed by a two-bedroom apartment for those looking to get on to the housing ladder.
Experts believe continued concern over Brexit means many buyers are tightening their belts – and that even with the huge jump in internet property searches, most are driven more by wishful thinking than a genuine desire to buy.
Key words tapped into property search engines on Boxing Day included ‘garage’, ‘parking’ and ‘detached’ – while kitchens with expensive island worktops were the new ‘luxury extra’.
En-suite bathrooms were also desired for the master bedroom.
The most popular areas looked at were the South East of England – within easy reach of London.
New home: Over 2 million people were looking online this Boxing Day, searching for properties
Estate agency Hamptons International says people are setting themselves a typical budget of £400,000 to live within an hour of the capital.
Top searches include Chelmsford in Essex, Tunbridge Wells in Kent and Reading in Berkshire.
Bath and North East Somerset are also popular with searchers on a similar budget.
Those looking at London usually need at least £474,000 – with areas such as Dalston in East London and Brentford in South West London popular searches for affordable homes.
Increasing numbers of people are looking at other parts of the country – either to be closer to their family or to find something more affordable.
According to data collector Hometrack, popular sought-after locations that offer keen prices include Manchester, Liverpool, Cardiff and Newcastle.
The average cost of a home that property surfers look at in these areas is £169,000, £120,000, £210,000 and £131,000 respectively.
Bishop’s Stortford in Hertfordshire is a prime example of a location that was looked at by post-Christmas house hunters. It ticks all the boxes – a half-hour commute from London and good state schools.
Town estate agent Mullucks Wells reopened its branch the day after Boxing Day – with a five-fold increase in visitors as a result of earlier website searches.
Director Daniel Galati says: ‘New-builds are now surprisingly popular – it is all about lifestyle and making the most of free time. People want to maximise their leisure time rather than spending free moments – and cash – doing up old properties.’
Rightmove says some 40 million individual homes were viewed throughout the day
He points out that a modern property not only offers savings on maintenance bills but also on heating costs.
A more efficient Energy Performance Certificate rating from a new-build over a drafty home can knock £500 off annual heating bills.
Smaller gardens that are less demanding on time are also proving popular.
Galati says: ‘Couples with young families are doing most of the searching. Concerns over Brexit mean a top state school nearby is increasingly important – because of fears they might not be able to afford to pay for an expensive private education.’
Joan Bull, in charge of buy-to-let properties at Mullucks Wells, says: ‘It is not just family homes people are looking at but also rental properties.
‘Many millennials can no longer afford to buy. Others are looking for new ways to subsidise an uncertain retirement with a buy-to-let investment.’
Geraldine Cassidy is one of those who was surfing the internet – with a plate of cold turkey on her lap – on Boxing Day.
The 34-year-old retail manager, who lives in the Hertfordshire town of Stevenage, says: ‘I love to have a look at properties in my area – and find out how the market is doing and if I can afford to buy somewhere bigger.’
Geraldine lives in a three-bedroom ex-council house purchased a decade ago for £180,000 with builder husband Ben. It is now worth £270,000.
The couple found the home surfing the internet on Boxing Day exactly ten years ago.
They now have a five-year-old daughter Aoife and want to upscale to a £400,000 four-bedroom home in the same area – because they want extra living space.
Geraldine says: ‘The few days after Christmas are perfect for reflecting on what you want for the future. I only search in Stevenage using property websites such as Rightmove and Zoopla. We are happily settled and love the town’s community feel.’
Jean Hutchins, 57, logged on to property websites on Boxing Day to find out if she was paying too much rent for her two-bedroom home in Bishop’s Stortford.
She shares with 21-year-old daughter Natasha who is currently studying psychology with criminology at Nottingham Trent University.
Jean says: ‘It is not about aspiration for me – but seeing how much we are being exploited. After the expense of Christmas this is a great time to tighten the belt and get a better rental deal.
‘My daughter also likes to surf on property websites to work out how much money she needs to get together as a deposit to get on the property ladder.’
Rightmove says the spike in viewings on its property website will continue until Wednesday. Despite the surge in online interest most high street estate agents were closed over Christmas and will not reopen until the middle of next week.
The National Association of Estate Agents says that the highest demand for buying new homes – enquiries and viewings – is between January and March.
Boxing Day is when people start their initial look for the properties.
Another reason for the early start is families want to make their move in time to get children into preferred schools.
Local authorities do not usually consider an application for a school place until the buyer has exchanged contracts.
Property prices nationwide have fallen by nearly £10,000 since October – down 3.2 per cent to an average of £297,500, according to Rightmove. Prices in the South East are higher – averaging £389,000.
Areas that are bucking this downward trend – and attracting web searches – include Wales, where average prices are up more than 6 per cent over the year at £192,000.
The East Midlands has also seen growing interest among buyers over the past year – with prices up an average of 5.1 per cent to £222,500.
According to the Office for National Statistics the average price of a home fell by 0.2 per cent between September and October – though prices were up on the year by an average 2.4 per cent.
But London house prices are down 1.7 per cent over the year and now stand at an average of £474,000.
Experts predict there could be a further 2 per cent reduction in prices in the capital over the next year as a result of Brexit and continued economic uncertainty.