Belfast Telegraph

Home sales expected to rise before summer

By Margaret Canning

The number of houses being sold in Northern Ireland is expected to go up in the next three months, an industry survey has said.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) said their members in Northern Ireland expected transaction volumes to go up between now and May.

But despite anticipating a growing number of deals - and indeed, with some members reporting a rise in transactions in December, January and February - surveyors and estate agents said prices are continuing to fall.

February's survey for RICS reported a price balance of -46 - the percentage of chartered surveyors who say prices rose in the past three months minus those who say they fell.

House prices fell by 7.7% in 2010, with the average house price in Northern Ireland falling to under £150,000 for the first time in five years.

RICS housing spokesman Tom McClelland said a three tier housing market had begun to emerge in Northern Ireland.

"There is evidence that keenly-priced new build homes are selling well. Repossessed properties priced at 2003 and early 2004 levels are also selling. In terms of resales of existing stock, activity is limited however.

"This is because these properties are often not priced to reflect market realities, with sellers unwilling to accept the price drop that has taken place.

"When resale properties are priced correctly though, the evidence is that there is activity," he said.

"The reality is that prices are down by something in the region of 50%, which makes homes much more affordable.

"However, for activity levels to get back to 'normal', properties have to be priced to reflect this," he added.

Keith Mitchell, a partner in estate agents Templeton Robinson, said: "Transaction volumes over the winter were uncharacteristically low.

"Traditionally what has driven the market has been owner-occupier activity rather than short-term speculative buying.

"I think the key message is that residential property should be regarded as a medium to long-term investment over at least a five year period."