SOARING house prices have triggered a surge in demand for rented property, says a Huddersfield-based lettings agency.
Belvoir Lettings said it was doing record business as would-be first-time buyers priced out of the market chose to rent instead.
The company, which manages properties worth more than £1bn across the UK, said its lettings had risen 40% in the past 12 months.
Neil McDonald, based at Belvoir's office at Longley, said: "The buoyant rental market reflects the difficulties that many people are experiencing in trying to buy their first home.
"We are handling a record number of inquiries from prospective tenants, and also from would-be landlords looking to take advantage of continuing growth in the buy-to-let market."
Belvoir chief executive Mike Goddard said the rise in lettings also underlined two important new trends.
One was the emergence of a new type of landlord - people in their 30s or 40s who had one or two properties and were using buy-to-let as their new "pension", by switching funds from traditional stock market-linked schemes.
Said Mr Goddard: "As orthodox pension funds continue to perform poorly, we believe there will be an even greater increase in the buy-to-let market."
He said more people were also following the European style of renting, rather than owning their home.
Mr Goddard said Belvoir has increased its national stock of properties from fewer than 4,000 to more than 6,000 in the past 12 months.
He added: "The market has grown by more than 50% over the past 10 years, but the last few months have been exceptional."
The Council of Mortgage Lenders says the number of first-time buyers coming on the market is the lowest since records began in 1974.
During the first six months of 2003, there were 174,000 first-time buyers - 32% down on the 253,000 a year ago.
And a report from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said demand for rental accommodation in England and Wales was at a two-year high.