Northern Ireland has become one of the UK’s most affordable regions for housing, a professional body for estates agents said.
With prices in the province expected to fall further this year, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) said not even a rise in interest rates would significantly push up the cost of buying a new home.
RICS spoke as its December survey showed that the weather slowed down an already sluggish housing market as would-be house hunters stayed at home.
RICS predicted more repossessions in 2011, which could ultimately benefit the market.
Tom McClelland, the spokes-man for RICS in Northern Ireland, said: “We will likely see a rise in repossessions, with properties then put onto the market at realistic price levels. This has the potential to set a price benchmark that could act as a catalyst for movement in the market.”
And as interest rates were at a historic low, an increase in rates by the end of 2011 would not harm the housing market, despite pushing up the cost of borrowing.
“It must be noted that affordability in Northern Ireland has improved dramatically in recent years. By some measures, Northern Ireland is now one of the UK’s most affordable regions. Indeed, we are now seeing some former buy-to-let properties selling at close to 2004 levels.”
House prices in Northern Ireland fell by 7.6% last year, and are expected to fall more this year. The average house price is now under £150,000, compared to £240,400 in 2007.
RICS said December transactions were the lowest for a year with the weather a “significant factor”. The wait for a draft budget also dampened public enthusiasm for new houses.
The findings of the survey, carried out with Ulster Bank, indicate that prices were at one of the lowest levels since mid-2009. Those estate agents who said prices were down outnumbered those who said they were up.