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5 surprising reasons for the 3-bed home shortage

Feel like three bedroom homes are hard to get your hands on? It’s not just you. An imbalance of supply and demand is making three bedroom homes hot property, and here’s why.

Words by: Ellie Isaac

Senior Editor

Three bedroom homes for sale are hard to come by at the moment, and it’s because everyone wants one - from first-time buyers to retirees.

There’s an imbalance of supply and demand for three bedroom properties, making them among the quickest selling of any property type in the country.

But what’s causing it? What’s put three bedroom homes at the top of everyone’s list?

We’ve done some digging, and it turns out there’s a few reasons. Let’s take a look.

1. Older homeowners want to host Christmas

Our survey of 2,000 UK homeowners aged over 65 found that 41% live in a home which is ‘larger than they need’.

And a huge 9 in 10 homeowners aged 65+ have at least one spare bedroom. This equates to a massive 10 million spare bedrooms that growing families would love to get their hands on.

These homeowners have lived in their current home for more than a quarter of a century on average. So it’s easy to see why they might find it hard to move on.

22% say emotional ties are a barrier to moving, while more than a quarter (27%) say they’d be concerned about being able to host Christmas if they downsized.

But downsizing can often release capital, cut energy bills, reduce mortgage repayments or even make homeowners mortgage-free. Hosting might be off the cards, but that’s not to say Christmas is ruined.

2. First-time buyers are older than ever

The age Brits buy their first home has been rising, and first-time buyers are now aged 34 on average - compared to 30 a decade ago.

It means many first-time buyers are skipping the one-bedroom flat or two bedroom starter home in favour of a family home.

With first-time buyers making up 34% of buyers in the market, that’s a large proportion joining the hunt for family-sized properties.

Our data shows that 40% of first-time buyer enquiries are for three bedroom houses. That makes them an even bigger buyer group for this type of property than people moving house, who enquire about three bedroom properties 38% of the time.

Type of buyerPropertyPercentage of enquiries
Mover3 bed house38%
Mover4+ bed house22%
First-time buyer3 bed house40%
First-time buyer4+ bed house9%
Zoopla data, October 2023

3. The stress of moving house in old age

Those who own a home larger than they need reckon it takes them an additional 12.6 hours and £91 per month to maintain, compared to a more suitably-sized property.

But despite this extra work and cost, 25% of older homeowners are put off selling by the stress of moving house ‘at their age’.

No one can deny it’s a stressful process. If you’re in a dreaded chain, everything can feel as delicately balanced as a stack of cards.

What’s more, the housing market is slower than it was over the last three years. Higher mortgage rates make the market a little more uncertain, as people find it harder to be approved for finance.

Not to mention, costs are higher for everything from removals to repairs. This adds financial pressure to the process, no matter your age.

For many, it’ll be about weighing up if the time and money you’ll save in the long-run is worth the short-term stress of moving.

How to buy and sell a home at the same time

4. Terraces and semis with three bedrooms sell among the quickest of any property type

Speed of sale is an important indicator of buyer demand. The quicker a property type sells, the more buyers are interested in that sort of property.

Three bedroom terraced houses and three bedroom semi-detached houses are 2 of only 3 property types selling faster than the national average of 34 days.

They sell in 31 and 32 days respectively, with only two bedroom terraces selling quicker at 28 days.

However, if your budget can stretch to a three bedroom detached house, you’re likely to have more choice and less competition.

Three bedroom detached houses are taking 43 days to sell, the second longest behind only four bedroom detached houses (47). It’s a symptom of the higher average cost of detached houses - they require larger mortgages which means less demand at the moment.

Which types of property are selling the fastest right now?

5. Three bedroom terraces are in highest demand

The table shows the percentage share of buyer enquiries and supply of homes for sale of different property types.

The biggest gap between demand and supply is for three bedroom terraces. They make up almost 20% of enquiries in the market in October 2023, but only represent 12% of homes for sale.

Three bedroom semi-detached houses have the next highest imbalance between demand and supply. 

Three bedroom detached houses, on the other hand, have a much lower level of demand. Detached homes are usually more expensive, so this is another reflection of higher mortgage rates limiting buyer demand for this type of property.

A chart showing the percentage of enquiries for different types of properties vs the percentage of those types of properties for sale. The biggest gap between supply and demand is 3-bed terraced houses.

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We try to make sure that the information here is accurate at the time of publishing. But the property market moves fast and some information may now be out of date. Zoopla Property Group accepts no responsibility or liability for any decisions you make based on the information provided.