Demand for property reached an all time high in December, according to Jackson-Stops? latest figures. The estate agents recorded their highest ever figure for relative demand in December 2005, and a higher than average figure for January 2006. On average 34 intending purchasers were registered for each property newly taken onto their books during December. Demand dropped back a little at the start of this year, but remained above the January average for the previous three years.

?Relative demand always picks up in December because so few people put their houses on the market,? says Dawn Carritt of the Country Houses & Estates office in London said: ?Nevertheless, coupled with good figures for January, this makes it clear that any overall pressure on prices in the middle and upper market is upwards.?

Relative demand ? the ratio of new applicants to new instructions ? relates directly to emerging pressure on prices and thus on price trends for following months. According to Jackson-Stops, January 2006 saw relative demand dropping back to 26 new intending purchasers for every fresh property on the books, slightly above the average for the previous three years of 25.

Jackson-Stops is advising sellers to get onto the market quickly, before buyers are spoilt for choice. ?Almost every year we go from famine to feast,? says Ms Carritt, ?As a result, sellers of all but the most weather-affected houses tend to have a better choice of buyers earlier in the year whereas, by the end of May, it is often the buyers who feel they have the upper hand.?

Figures collated by Jackson-Stops over the last few years highlight May as an important ?crossover point?, predicting both the softer market of autumn 2004 and the marked confidence of autumn/winter 2005.