House sales to tumble
House sales in Northern Ireland could be set to fall by up to 30%, it was revealed today.
A leading housing expert says house sales figures collected for the next University of Ulster House Price Survey are "substantially lower" than last year.
The claim follows a prediction from the UK's biggest mortgage lender, HBOS, that housing transactions could fall by up to 30% this year nationally.
And Professor Stanley McGreal, one of the authors of the UU House Price Index, agreed the province could follow suit.
"Yes, sales are certainly down in Northern Ireland, we are seeing the same picture," he said.
The latest findings from the UU survey, for the last quarter of 2007, showed local house sales had fallen by a third on the same period a year before.
And this downward trend could be set to continue for the rest of the year as both housing and industry experts in the province are reporting a 'slow' spring market - a period which is traditionally buoyant and the starting point for busy summer months.
Prof McGreal said: "We noticed at the mid-point of last year a drop in the number of house sales, but this did not surprise me at all."
He added falling house transactions were followed by plummeting prices - taking the average property value here to £230,000.
"There is no doubt about it, house sales are considerably down," said Prof McGreal.
And he says the global credit crunch is affecting buyers' ability to borrow.
"The way the mortgage market is at the minute, with the restrictions on lending and the fact that many mortgage products have been withdrawn, is making it difficult for people to access the housing market," he added.
The UU academic said agents have reported the market picked up before Easter: "The Easter period would normally be the time of the year when sales activity is at its highest. At present there is little evidence of this and there could be continuation of this for the rest of the year."
Professor McGreal claimed, however, there may have to be more price falls before buyer confidence returns: "There is a wait and see approach at the minute and people will come back into the market when prices come down to £30,000 or £40,000 less than they would have paid for property last year. "
Belfast-based property investor and owner of Property One, Steve McGuinness says: "There has never been a worse time to sell your house. The only people out there buying are well-heeled investors who are snapping up property all over Belfast and I think they are going to make a lot of money."
Mr McGuinness said the recent withdrawal of the Northern Ireland Co-Ownership Scheme was a "disaster".
"This could not have come at a worse time combined with the fact it is not as easy to get a mortgage now," he added. "We haven't had a normal market here for years and that needs to stablise."
Despite the current sluggish period he claims confidence will return to the local housing market by the summer.