Signs of recovery in house sales
House prices in Northern Ireland fell by 13% to around £91,500 in 2012, according to a government index on the housing market.
But despite the continued price slump, sales in the last three months of the year were up 20% on the same period in 2011.
The Residential Property Price Index, which draws information from HMRC figures, gave a standardised house price for the end of 2012 of £91,553 – down more than 50% from the £209,857 peak in 2007.
Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey (below) said the index gave "the best measure of housing transactions".
It records 13,445 sales in 2012, including repossessions and auction sales.
Between October and December last year there were 3,693 sales, the highest since 4,329 recorded in the last quarter of 2007.
It was also an increase of nearly one-fifth on the last three months of 2011 – a trend confirmed by estate agents.
But Mr Ramsey said: "We still anticipate an overall peak-to-trough decline of around 60%. Some property types have already posted decreases of 60% – ie, terraced properties and apartments."
Rising sales translated into good news for the economy as solicitors, furniture shops and estate agents benefit – but Mr Ramsey cautioned against waiting for a rise in house prices as a sign the market had stabilised.
"If and when transaction levels reach 20,000 every year, that would be the green light that things were stabilising."
Economist John Simpson said the increase in transactions and the slowdown of price-drops "would convince me that the worst is over for the housing market".
But he cautioned: "That's not to say that we can look forward to prices increasing but consumer confidence in the housing market would start to increase."
Jonathan Terry of Agar Murdoch Deane estate agents in Comber, Co Down, said: "We have had a good flurry of sales in the detached market though we have been a bit lacking in first-time buyers."
Desmond Turley of Ulster Property Sales in Belfast said transactions were up in his agency but added that more lending was necessary for any price increases to take place.
Conor Mulligan, managing director of housebuilder Lagan Homes, said new home transactions were less badly hit than RPPI figures, which include repossessions, suggest. He said the company sold 80 new homes in 2012, compared to 200 in 2006.
Helen Sloan, a solicitor at O'Hare Solicitors in Belfast, said it was receiving more conveyancing business: "Our business has a much more positive outlook on the conveyancing market than it did a year or two ago."