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Home buyers in Ulster on rollercoaster price journey

Published 10/04/2008

Hold on tight for the white knuckle ride that is Northern Ireland's property market. Property Correspondent Helen Carson reports on the lastest blow to first-time buyers Buyers and sellers alike have learned that what goes up must come down.

The white-knuckle ride that is the volatile housing market, which began its upward trajectory in 2005, has never been so unpredictable.

First it was spiralling house prices which attracted the new breed of buyer - the investor.

All of sudden traditional 'starter homes' became investment territory and those trying to get their foot on the first rung of the property ladder faced fierce competition and bidding wars for humble terraces and apartments provincewide.

First-timers, however, were thrown a lifeline from banks which recognised that many new buyers were losing out.

Enter the 100% mortgage - a nil deposit home loan which empowered prospective property owners to drive through that pain barrier and get a mortgage - minus years of savings or a welcome fillip from the bank of mum and dad.

But nothing lasts forever in the fast-moving property rollercoaster that is the local market. Prices peaked pushing the cost of the average house here to over £250,000 at one stage. Since then, however,

And in a province unused to a boom - or indeed a bust - situation felt the full economic wrath of a market rectifying itself.

The people who bought at the peak of the boom discovered they may just have to sit tight for another while before selling, or in the worst cases face accepting a lower price 12-months on than they had previously paid.

Since last year property prices have taken a tumble, yet ironically Northern Ireland still has some of the most expensive houses in the UK.

Add to this mix a global credit crunch and what do you get? The banks and building societies having to batten down the hatches in a bid to consolidate their own spending and borrowing.

Interest rates for some savers were slashed, while Bank of England interest rate drops are not necessarily passed onto borrowers. Meanwhile, the financial plight of the Northern Ireland Co-Ownership Scheme was another curve ball to be thrown at the hapless first-time buyer.

But there were more harsh house-keeping measures to come. In another bitter blow the banks have one-by-one taken away the single product which was keeping the first-time buyers onboard - 100% mortgages.

Abbey was the last lender to axe the deposit-free deal, citing market conditions as the reason for the move.

Estate agents here have bravely soldiered on encouraging sellers to negotiate on prices and urging first-time buyers to come back.

Indeed what is happening now is the flipside of the boom which was a case of simple economics - supply vs demand.

In 2005 an influx of people to Northern Ireland looking for property meant demand from buyers outstripped the supply of houses for sale - now it is the complete opposite.

Websites show hundreds houses for sale - all in a single price bracket.

There is barely a part of the province which doesn't have a 'forest' of for sale signs.

In some areas entire roads are on the market, competing for that all-important buyer.

So what is the forecast on the housing front? Unless prices come down and banks begin to incentify buyers, it may be gloomy.

First-time buyers are once again at the sharp end of a property predictament, so it will take a Herculean effort from government and the financial institutions to get them back.

If they don't, every home-owner in the province will be affected.

Belfast Telegraph

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