A new government-backed housing partnership which is the first of its kind in the UK was being launched today in Portadown by Social Development Minister Margaret Ritchie.
And the scheme, which is aimed primarily at first time buyers, could go some way to filling the void left by Co-Ownership.
The pilot scheme Own A Home is a joint initiative between the government and Portadown-based builder Turkingtons, local housing associations’ Clanmil Housing and the South Ulster Housing Association, and Barclays bank.
And the move is being heralded as something of a saviour to beleaguered first time buyers here during the current climate of economic gloom and falling house sales.
Under the scheme buyers will not have to stump up a deposit — which for first time buyers is usually in the region of £5,000.
House-hunters will also be able to purchase 50% of the property’s value through a 100% mortgage from Barclays.
Then the developer Turkington will pay 25% of the cost of the house, with the remaining 25% provided by either of the housing associations.
The 15-year-old properties in Mahon Park in the town, which have a garage, gardens and brick-paved driveway, are priced from £145,000. And it is hoped the innovative scheme should give those struggling to get onto the property ladder a much-needed leg-up.
Miss Ritchie said: “As part of the New Housing Agenda I want to increase the supply of affordable housing. This scheme, a first in Great Britain and Ireland, does that, but it is just a start.”
But there is mixed feeling among the province’s property professionals about the housing market. Yesterday the RICS called for a raft of measures to be imposed by the government in a bid to halt declining house sales.
An RICS spokesman described the housing market as “on its knees” with its research pointing to the worst house sales levels in 30 years.
RICS Northern Ireland director, Ben Collins, said: “There is no silver bullet, but RICS is calling for a joined-up, comprehensive approach to bring back confidence and to give the public clarity about what is available.”
The RICS called for a first time buyer tax-free savings scheme to fund a deposit, a stamp duty holiday, rent to buy scheme and a move to bring empty properties back into the housing pool among other things.
And while most will welcome the RICS campaign, local estate agents say they are selling houses that are well priced.
All 53 houses at Aylesbury Place in Newtownabbey sold out just hours after going on sale last week, thanks to price slashing and the developer picking up the tab for both the deposit and stamp duty.
Other estate agents say buyers are coming back to the market, but it is a trickle rather than a torrent.
BTW Cairns reported that 75% of its buyers during July and the beginning of August were first-timers.
But few expect price growth in the next 12-months: “I don’t think house prices will either go up or down in the next year,” said local estate agent John Minnis.