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Northern Ireland house sales on the up but prices still falling

A spring bounce in Northern Ireland house sales has not translated into a recovery in prices, according to a pivotal housing market survey.

Research by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) for May showed the biggest number of surveyors recording rising transactions for 18 months.

Respondents also told the RICS and Ulster Bank survey that they expected sales to go up again in the next three months.

Yet members still do not expect prices to go up - and with low prices reported for the 46th month in a row, the survey is close to entering its fourth year of price pessimism.

Richard McCulloch, a partner at Stanley Best Estate Agents in Cookstown, Co Tyrone, said he would be "cautious" about whether transactions were up Mid-Ulster.

"The overall rise last month could be down to a blip because there is no real trend here of transactions increasing week to week.

"I would also say prices are still correcting downwards. I don't see any indication or evidence of them stopping dropping - in fact, I think they have a little bit further to go."

The Mid-Ulster region experienced the largest percentage growth in prices at the peak of the market and subsequently, the biggest fall, with average prices falling from around £230,000 in 2007 at £115,000 at the present time.

Michael Rodgers of Rodgers & Browne estate agents, agreed that transactions were up in May.

"There has been a realignment in prices which means that owners' expectations have reduced to current market values, so transactions are starting to come through."

Garry Best of Best Property Services said: "The volume of sales is increasing but it's all in the less than £100,000 bracket.

"I expect it will be another year or couple of years before we have price rises."

The last University of Ulster house price survey said the average house price was around £143,900 in the first quarter of this year, compared to a high of £240,408 in August 2007.

Tom McClelland, the housing spokesman for RICS in Northern Ireland, said: "Transaction levels have been rising, which is welcome, but this is from low levels, relative to historic averages.

"In terms of prices, there continues to be a mixed picture across Northern Ireland, with some areas reporting greater price stability than others.

"There are also differences in the experiences of different property types."