Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 July 2014

A market upturn is only hope for those in the property trap

A wave of homeowners who bought at the height of the housing boom now find themselves caught in a property trap – creating a crisis that has effectively paralysed a large part of the market.

It comes as no surprise that Northern Ireland has the worse statistics UK-wide with 35% of property owners here imprisoned by a home worth less than its mortgage.

While first-time buyers usually trade up to a family-sized abode within a few years, now many cannot even afford to downsize.

The inflated property prices of 2006-2007 mean they are paying mortgages which outstrip the current value of their homes, in a market still dominated by price slashing.

House prices have been in freefall since mid-2007 when the housing market crashed, so where does that leave those who paid top dollar?

The answer is – in negative equity.

And while those people will count the cost of the boom years for a long time to come or face repossession, plummeting prices are attracting buyers back to the market.

Despite the grim picture painted by the figures from the Council for Mortgage Lenders, there are tentative signs of some recovery.

House sales are on the up, according to the most recent figures from the University of Ulster's House Price Survey. In fact, and rather significantly, it's the biggest increase in sales since 2007.

Unfortunately this turnaround will probably not save those homeowners currently in crisis.

However, demand is the magic ingredient which moves prices.

Two local estate agents have both opened new offices in response to the change in the local property scene. John Minnis has a new branch in Ballyhackamore, east Belfast, while Templeton Robinson has expanded its network to six, with a new office in Lisburn. That's not to say that everything is rosy, far from it.

The harsh reality is many homeowners who are struggling to meet their monthly repayments may just cut their losses and walk away from a lifetime of debt they can ill-afford.

Others, meanwhile, have let their homes out and moved into alternative rented accommodation in a bid to get through the catastrophe. For those, more so than anyone else, any sense of an improving market has to be good news.

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