Belfast Telegraph

New estate agent Simon Brien Residential building on 'buoyant' housing market

By Alice Johnson

The head of estate agency Simon Brien Residential has said it has seen solid growth since its launch two months ago. The firm, which has two offices in Belfast and one in Holywood, was formerly known as BTW Shiells Residential.

Director Simon Brien said the company's growth could partly be attributed to good timing as the the property market was beginning to pick up speed just as the new company emerged.

Mr Brien said: "The market bottomed out in late 2013. Significant recovery is now taking place, which began at bottom of market and has progressively filtered to mid and upper sectors.

"For 2013 as a whole the average asking price increased by 7%, consistent with a significant increase in the volume of house sales. In the last quarter there has been a 1.4% increase according to the University of Ulster House Quarterly Price Index, and that concurs with our experience in the marketplace."

Simon Brien Residential evolved from the break-up of BTW Shiells into a residential business – now Simon Brien – and a separate commercial property entity, now Lambert Smith Hampton.

Its staff of 42 across the three offices will soon be boosted by four new members, Mr Brien said.

With over 30 years' experience in the industry, Mr Brien believes that it has just emerged from one of the most difficult periods.

"From 2007 to 2013 prices fell by 50% and there was limited availability of funding for mortgages. This downturn affected almost everyone, but we are now emerging into a period where the economic climate is much brighter, there is strong inward investment to Northern Ireland, consumer confidence has returned and confidence in the housing market is well and truly back."

He said a high level of demand was proof of the return of the market, with the Lisburn Road office alone receiving 700-800 incoming calls per day.

"People are again confident that a house purchase is a secure investment for the future, and mortgages are now more readily available, albeit with more restrictive credit criteria, which in my opinion leads to more responsible lending and borrowing, and will lead to a steady, controlled growth in house prices. Volume sales are increasing across all price and geographical sectors."

One sector in which sales are particularly healthy is new developments, he said.

"We recently sold a new development of 14 houses out completely, off-plan before the development commenced."

While recovery began at the lowest end of the market, Mr Brien said there had also been recent improvement to the mid and upper sectors, with sales at the top end of the market, after languishing for years, beginning to pick up.

According to the last University of Ulster index, the Northern Ireland housing market in the second quarter was the strongest it's been since 2007.

The average price was £139,720 – up 6.9% on the same time last year and up by 1.4% on the first quarter of 2014.

The separate residential property price index from the Department of Finance and Personnel said prices were up 3% between the last quarter of 2013 and the first quarter of 2014.

It quoted a standard average price of £102,034 – though that index includes auction and cash sales.

The index covering the second quarter comes out next Wednesday.

Belfast Telegraph