House prices plunge in Northern Ireland
Northern Ireland house prices have continued their downward plunge - showing a year-on-year drop of 35% during the first quarter of this year.
The average cost of a house fell by 10.8% during the quarter, according to the most widely-based property survey published today.
While the decline in values slowed from the 16.6% experienced in the last three months of 2008, they haven't hit the bottom yet, according to the experts.
But at an average price of around £157,000 they are already back at the pre-property boom levels of early 2006.
And the volume of transactions remains low - just 692 in January, February and March, according to the University of Ulster Quarterly House Price Index produced in partnership with the Bank of Ireland and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.
The only slight glimmer on the horizon was the expectation of the authors - Professors Alastair Adair and Stanley McGreal and Mrs Louise Brown - that the high level of volatility in the housing market would decline rapidly over the course of 2009 as price levels start to consolidate.
They said: "The downward correction in the market is likely to be as dramatic as the steep increase in 2006 and the start of 2007. We expect the trend in the price index will flatten out by the end of the year."
Economist Alan Bridle, Bank of Ireland head of research in Northern Ireland, added: "Prices have fallen by almost 40% from their peak. At an average of around £157,000, we are now back at the pre-boom levels that prevailed in the early part of 2006.
"It is unlikely we have yet reached the absolute trough in the price cycle, with the notable exception of the new build segment, but the survey shows the restoration of affordable housing in Northern Ireland is well advanced."
The Housing Executive's Head of Research, Joe Frey, said their latest affordability index confirmed the significant improvement in the ratio of incomes to house prices.
However he said: "Difficulties in obtaining mortgage finance continue and, more importantly, rising unemployment and growing economic uncertainty would indicate that first-time buyers will continue to face challenging times.
"It is important that a well-managed private rented sector and a sufficient number of new social dwellings are provided to help younger households, in particular, through this difficult transitional period."
The shift towards greater affordability saw 19% of properties in the latest survey selling below £100,000 and collectively the majority of houses in the survey (55%) selling at less than £150,000.
There were wide variations in the size of the price fall in the first quarter depending on the type of property.
While detached bungalows were down 15.4% and semi-detached bungalows by 14.5%, detached houses performed much better and only lost 1.8% in the three months.
Apartments were down by 9.1%, semi-detached houses by 8.9% and terraced/townhouses by 6.6%.
On a regional analysis there was a similar picture across Northern Ireland as reported by over 120 estate agents.
However, the highest average price was in North Down - £177,785 - and the lowest was in the Craigavon/Armagh area - £131,703.
Belfast, which slotted in at £155,483, also recorded the highest annual percentage drop of 38.8% - well over double the lowest - the 15.4% recorded in the Antrim/Ballymena area.