The number of first-time buyers climbing on to the property ladder rose by more than a third in March as bargain hunters returned to the market, figures show.

The emergence of two classes of home buyer was confirmed with a sharp rise in the number of mortgages approved by banks and building societies – but only to those able to raise a substantial deposit.

Some 12,500 first-time buyers were granted a mortgage during the month, up 36% from February, in a further sign that the slump in the housing market is slowing. However, this was 30% lower than the number of loans granted in March last year.

The total number of mortgages taken out by people buying a new home jumped by 29% compared with February but was down 33% from a year ago, figures from the Council of Mortgage Lenders show.

Sales remain low, with the average estate agency branch selling fewer than four properties a month.

The Times, The Independent