Belfast Telegraph

House sales and loans up - is Ulster property market moving at last?

By Helen Carson

Could Northern Ireland’s housing market gloom finally be coming to an end?

House sales have taken an unexpected upward turn, according to the latest findings from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

The RICS and Ulster Bank housing market survey shows house sales rose in February and predicts this trend will continue.

However, the positive move has been offset by prices which are still falling, with suggestions that they haven’t finished yet.

There are, however, a few other positive pointers, with the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) recently revealing that Northern Ireland was the only part of the UK to see a hike in the number of mortgages in the last quarter of 2011 — up by 4%.

Nationally, the CML has just revealed the number of first-time buyers in the UK was up by 23% in January this year compared to the same time last year.

Local estate agents have long been claiming that prices are steady in certain sectors, such as new build.

However a local RICS spokesman said house prices here might be near the bottom now.

Tom McClelland said: “Recent auction results and repossession sales show that, in some instances, selling prices are down 65 to 70% from peak prices, which hints that the bottom of the market may not be too far off.”

He agreed that sales are up, which is probably due to the spring market, but warned economic uncertainty and job security could undermine confidence.

He added: “I think the key theme for this year is not to expect the unexpected. Average prices will continue to come under pressure, though the view is that this will be less so in greater Belfast and Lisburn than elsewhere.”

Meanwhile, Ryan Andrews of Reeds Rains said when it comes to clinching a sale the price has to be right: “If a house is realistically priced we can sell it in three months.”

And north Down estate agent Mr John Minnis agreed on the price issue: “When a buyer has scrimped and scraped to get a deposit and then a mortgage, they are in no mood to be played with on the price. They know the market and if they don’t like the price they won’t even look at the house.”

Paddy Palmer of Templeton Robinson agrees that prices are bottoming out.

“We’re at the bottom now or thereabouts,” he said.

“It is a very good time to buy.”

Simon Brien of BTWCairns also agreed that prices are near their lowest, but he claimed house prices in Northern Ireland have fallen by 40 to 50%.

“The price drops of up to 70% apply to poorer quality houses sold at auction that may not be mortgageable,” he said.

He agreed, however, that prices in the greater Belfast area have stabilised while sales in rural areas are still not high enough.

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