SOUTH Essex house prices are now at their most expensive since 2007, fueled by a shortage of properties for sale.

Analysis by online property listings site Rightmove suggests sellers have pushed up prices by an astonishing 3.3 per cent this month alone.

The national average price for a house now stands at more than £250,000, an increase of more than 6.9 per cent on February 2013 – the fastest annual growth rate since 2007.

In south Essex, estate agents say they are struggling to cope with demand, with some properties selling within hours and waiting lists cropping up for homes on the most popular new developments.

Ian Hunt, co-owner of Southend agent Hunt and Roche, said: “The demand is so high, it is the busiest we have been since 2007. There is a real lack of properties.

“Six months ago it was a buyers’ market, now it’s a sellers’ one.

“Overnight, it has gone ballistic.

"First-time buyers who were contemplating buying are now getting more active, because they don’t want to miss the boat.”

Rightmove figures also show a slight decrease in the number of properties coming to market, with sellers looking for a quick sale to make the most of their stronger position.

Jeremy Tyler, of Tyler’s Estates, in Billericay, said: “About 80 per cent of our buyers now are first-timers and properties are just disappearing.

“I’ve got people working all hours putting through paperwork on sales.

“It’s good for us, it’s good for buyers, because they’re getting the properties and for sellers as they are getting the money.

“I don’t like gazumping though. We try to stay clear of that.”

Demand in Rayleigh and Castle Point also remains high, fueled more by the buy-to-let market rather than first-time buyers.

Colin Maclean, owner of Amos Estates, which has offices in Rayleigh and Hadleigh, said properties were barely on the market before they sold.

He added: “The Government’s Help to Buy scheme is bringing a few more first time buyers into the market.

“The Rayleigh market is mainly investment-driven, with buy-to-let mortgages, but first-time buyers are gradually increasing.”