The housing market has been sending out some mixed messages recently - on the one hand there's talk of consumers being reluctant to make big decisions amid wider economic uncertainty and a squeeze on their living costs, but on the other hand, house prices have continued to climb in many areas, with reports of a lack of properties to choose from in popular locations.

So what's in store for 2018? Here's a look at what the market could bring for house prices, mortgages and first-time buyers.

What will happen to house prices in 2018?

Loading article content

In general, predictions have ranged from house prices being flat across the UK to edging up by a few percentage points by this time next year. Economists believe the squeeze on incomes from inflation will limit what buyers are willing to pay.

Robert Gardner, chief economist at Nationwide Building Society, says: "How the housing market performs in 2018 will be determined in large part by developments in the wider economy. Brexit developments will remain important, but hard to foresee."

Does that mean house price growth is expected to be subdued across the whole of the UK?

This year has seen been big differences between areas of the UK in how the housing market has performed. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) has said pricing in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and north-west England has been resilient compared with some other places.

While London has seen a cooldown, some other major cities, where housing affordability is less stretched, have been putting in a relatively strong performance.

Richard Donnell, insight director at property analysts Hometrack, says: "The likes of Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow have seen market activity increase and this has delivered above-average price growth of 6-8% for the last 12 months."

Will buyers have more opportunities to bag a bargain?

When it comes to sealing a deal, more house sales are now going through at less than the original price sellers had wanted, according to estate agents. For some buyers, they may find there's more room for negotiation, depending on what the local housing market is like at the time.

But the supply of properties on the market is still tight in many places, so sellers in these areas may feel more confident in holding firm on price.

Across the UK, 85% of properties sold for less than the asking price in November, according to NAEA (National Association of Estate Agents) Propertymark - the highest proportion since its records started in 2013. One in eight (12%) properties sold for the asking price and 3% sold above the asking price.

What about mortgage deals?

Despite the Bank of England hiking the base rate from 0.25% to 0.5% in November, in general, the mortgage rates on offer are still "extremely low", says David Hollingworth from broker London & Country Mortgages.

He says some rates on the fixed-rate mortgage deals on offer had started to edge up even before the base rate increase, with rates creeping up further across the mortgage market generally after November.

Home owners sitting on their lender's standard variable rate (SVR), which happens after a particular mortgage deal comes to an end, may want to consider whether they can get a better deal, he says, adding that many lenders announced rate increases to their SVRs in line with the base rate hike.

Hollingworth says some mortgage borrowers will be receiving their annual statements in January, which can help them to take stock of whether they should make switching mortgage their New Year's resolution or whether they are already on a good deal.

How about first-time buyers?

Hollingworth says there are still plenty of mortgage options available for people with lower deposits.

Those who have slightly less than a 10% deposit may find quite a "substantial advantage" in being able to access a better mortgage rate if they can scrape together more cash to push themselves into the 10% deposit bracket, he says.

In some good news for first-time buyers, Hometrack predicts this sector will make up the largest group of buyers in 2018.

Donnell says: "We expect first time buyers to be the largest group of buyers in 2018 accounting for over one in every three sales (35%) and overtaking existing home owners (34%) as new purchases by investors fall in the wake of tax changes."

SARAH BEENY'S TOP TIPS FOR HOUSE HUNTERS THIS WINTER

While finding a new place to call home can be an exciting time, the "honeymoon" period can soon fade - two-thirds of home owners say they've had unexpected problems after moving into a new home, according to a survey from Sarah Beeny's estate agent, Tepilo.com.

In the chilly winter months problems with a property can become more acute, with broken boilers, heating problems and faulty windows being among common issues people face after moving into a new property.

Here are Beeny's tips to help people avoid any nasty surprises - some of which could be costly to fix and if spotted, could help buyers viewing properties to negotiate on the price:

1. Be boiler aware. A busted boiler in winter can be a nightmare - and new boilers don't come cheap. Have a good look at the boiler whenever you view a property to get an idea of its condition and ask the seller or agent how old it is and whether it's been regularly serviced. An old boiler with no service history is a potential money pit. Check out radiators too. If you're viewing a home on a cold winter's day and the heating is off, it could be a sign that something's amiss. Ask the seller to switch it on and check each radiator works. Do the same with hot taps.

2. Investigate the electrics. Old electrics can be dangerous, plus they can be expensive and messy to replace, so ask about them when viewing a house. Ask how old they are and if they're over 15 years old or the current owner doesn't know the age, it could be worth getting an electrical survey done to find out more. You can also get a good idea about the state of the electrics by looking at the sockets and fuse box - if they look old, then the rest of the electrics could be too.

3. Check the pipes. Plumbing problems can be hard to spot, but leaks can be devastating, so look out for telltale signs of problems. Look at walls and ceilings - if they're stained with water marks or are showing signs of damp, it could be a sign of leaking pipes. Ask the seller about anything suspicious and make sure you get a good survey done before completing a house purchase.

4. Broken and faulty windows can be hugely expensive to repair and replace, so check them. Make sure all windows open and close properly and take a close look at seals to make sure they're intact and working.

5. Avoid any really nasty surprises after moving into a new home by looking for common signs of pests - droppings and signs of gnawing are major red flags.