Mortgages for homeowners wanting to climb the property ladder are at their lowest in nearly 40 years, according to new figures.
The Council of Mortgage Lenders' (CML) in Northern Ireland said 3,600 home loans were advanced to movers last year – the smallest number since 1974.
But in evidence of a two-track housing market, loans to first-time buyers were at their most plentiful for five years.
The CML, which collects mortgage data from most lenders – although home-grown building society The Progressive is not a member – said there were 5,100 loans to newcomers, up 9% on 2011 and the highest number since 2007. Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said the figures were "mixed but not surprising".
"The first-time buyer market is showing growth, which is encouraging. However, the home mover market is still patiently waiting for a pick-up in activity.
"The divergence in performance for both markets suggests that the majority of first-time buyers are purchasing new builds as opposed to second-hand properties.
"As a result, the rise in first-time buyer activity is not stimulating the owner-occupier market. A significant rise in transactions within the home-owner market will be a key signal of improving health within the housing market."
The separate Residential Property Price Index (RPPI) – published by the Department if Finance and Personnel last week – showed there were 13,445 house sales last year.
A spokesman for the CML said the performance of house prices in the 2000s could explain the divergence between first-time buyer and mover activity.
As prices in Northern Ireland had "almost tripled" between 2000 and 2007, many first-time buyers were excluded – but the rise in values made it more attractive for home-owners to 'trade up'.
"With the steeper falls in house prices in Northern Ireland since 2007 (compared to the UK) the opposite is true," the spokesman said.
"The fall in prices makes it harder for movers to move due to the erosion of their equity, but for first-time buyers things look better – prices are lower than they once were so (for those with a deposit) more accessible/affordable."
The RPPI said the standardised price of a home in Northern Ireland was £91,553, down over 50% from the peak price of £209,857 in the third quarter of 2007.