Northern Ireland house prices rise 4.5% in year, but we're still cheapest place in UK
House prices in Northern Ireland have increased by 4.5% over the last year – the smallest growth in any UK region, according to new official figures.
The average price of a house in Northern Ireland is now just under £139,000, also the lowest in the UK, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS).
However, local industry experts say any rise here is to be welcomed, and the low prices represent good news for first-time buyers.
At the peak of the housing boom in 2007 a survey of estate agents recorded an average house price of £240,408 in Northern Ireland.
While prices have jumped to new all-time highs in six UK regions, Northern Ireland still has the furthest to climb to recover to its boom-time peak.
Prices here are still 46.7% below their highest levels, the ONS said.
Across the UK, property values surged by 11.7% in the year to July and increased by 1.6% compared to June, the latest ONS report revealed.
The figures are based on data from mortgage completions.
Richard McCulloch, director of Stanley Best estate agents – which has branches in Belfast, Cookstown and Magherafelt – said any price increase here should be welcomed as the rest of the UK has always outperformed Northern Ireland.
"Given that we have had five years of significant price drops, any sign of static in the market or even a slight rise should be welcomed – even if it is only two or three per cent – because that's greater than what we have been achieving in the last few years, and it shows the market is returning to some sort of normality," he said.
"Transactions are up, the number of enquiries are up and I think those are the real figures that need to be looked at, and not just house prices."
Mr McCulloch said first-time buyers in Northern Ireland can benefit from the current price levels.
He said: "It still allows people time to get on the ladder without worrying about missing the boat, which was the common phrase seven years ago.
"And I think, actually, this story is to be welcomed."
He added: "The rest of the UK has always performed better than here apart from the two years that we were in a very different market, it was more of a bubble. I think any increase in house prices, even around inflation levels, is sensible and I don't think we need to get carried away hoping for 10% increases per year."
Across the UK house prices reached a new record high of £272,000, and the average value in London has topped half-a-million pounds for the first time. London prices leapt by 19.1% in the 12 months to July – far outstripping growth seen in the rest of the UK.
House prices in England are now 13% above their previous high.
How prices have risen from July 2013 to July 2014
UK as a whole, 11.7%, £272,000 (new peak)
Northern Ireland, 4.5%, £139,000
England, 12%, £284,000 (new peak)
Wales, 7.4%, £171,000
Scotland, 7.6%, £198,000 (new peak)
London, 19.1%, £514,000 (new peak)
East Midlands, 7.6%, £187,000 (new peak)
West Midlands, 7.3%, £198,000 (new peak)
East, 10.6%, £282,000 (new peak)
South East, 12.2%, £337,000 (new peak)
South West, 7.1%, £246,000 (peak)