Mortgage lending at a high as £220bn of deals agreed
Mortgage lending reached its highest level in seven years in 2015, with more than £220bn worth of mortgages agreed by banks and building societies, up 8% on the previous year.
However, the annual figure is still well below the £356bn lent at the peak of the property market in 2007. Mohammad Jamei, economist at the Council of Mortgage Lenders, said: "The low inflation environment, along with real wage growth, an improving labour market and competitive mortgage deals have all helped to underpin demand."
However, there is an element of uncertainty caused by the looming changes in the buy-to-let sector. From April, buy-to-let investors will pay three percentage points above current stamp duty rates. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) says investors are rushing to snap up properties to beat the tax hike.
However, Samuel Dickey, the RICS spokesman in Northern Ireland, said this was largely a phenomenon in London and south-east England, where prices are high and the tax rise will be felt the hardest. "It's not going to make a huge difference here where prices are much lower," said Mr Dickey.
"But the buy-to-let market here is very strong, with cash buyers opting to invest in properties at the lower end.
Since 2011, the private rental sector has grown from 120,000 to 145,000 properties, about 19% of the overall housing stock of 746,000 homes." Mr Dickey said surveyors were forecasting a 5% increase in property prices in Northern Ireland this year, although this was a "conservative" estimate.
"It's down to the economies of supply and demand," said Mr Dickey. "There's a lack of supply of new builds and resale properties and here in Northern Ireland we don't have the same 'help to buy' incentives as Great Britain."