Northern Ireland is leading the way in UK in property building
44% leap in number of new homes registered
Nearly 1,000 new homes were registered in Northern Ireland in the three months to the end of October - the biggest number in five years, according to new figures.
The quarterly statistics from the National House Building Council (NHBC) showed a 44% jump on the same time last year, with Northern Ireland the only UK region to show a substantial increase.
There were 995 new houses registered in the province over the three-month period, up from 691 a year earlier.
According to the NHBC, that is the highest number since the third quarter of 2009, when 1,061 new homes were registered here.
The 44% increase contrasted with a 1% increase in new builds in England and falls in house builds of 15% and 18% in Scotland and Wales respectively.
Despite the latest increase, the industry said Northern Ireland was still lagging behind on the number of new homes needed to meet demand.
Conor Mulligan, managing director of house-builder Lagan Homes, added: "It's great to see the increase in volume in the NHBC housing stats, which shows an improved confidence in the recovery within the industry.
"The volume is still well below what is needed but starting to move in the right direction."
And John Armstrong, managing director of the Construction Employers Federation, said: "The year-on-year increase in the number of new homes registered is undoubtedly very welcome.
"It reflects well on a house-building industry that is continuing to gradually emerge from years of recession.
"That being said, we still have a long way to go in terms of meeting identified new housing need in Northern Ireland, given that approximately 5,500 new homes were completed in 2014/15, around 50% short of the recurrent requirement."
There is also evidence that banks and other lenders are now more prepared to lend money to house-builders.
Last week, the UK's Business Growth Fund announced it would be making its first loan here to Co Londonderry builder Braidwater.
And English property companies such as the Neptune Group are also buying up major sites - including the former Belvoir Park Hospital site in south Belfast.
Off-plan houses on the site have been sold through the estate agents Simon Brien.
Stacey Deller of Simon Brien said: "Between 2007 and 2013, there were very few new homes available in Northern Ireland.
"At the first phase of recovery, it was primarily first-time buyer homes of up to £175,000 that were most in demand. However, as confidence has continued to grow in the market over the past 18 months, we have witnessed a strong demand for new housing throughout the price range, from first-time buyer homes to £1m-plus."
'We looked all over but were getting outbid'
Newlyweds Rachael and Niall Cunningham have paid a deposit for a new build four-bed house in the new Belvoir Park development in south Belfast.
Mr Cunningham (33), a software engineer from Maguiresbridge in Co Fermanagh, said: "Originally we were looking at buying a house in the Lisburn Road area of Belfast because that is where my wife is from.
"We were looking at lots of areas, from Eglantine Avenue as far up as Shaw's Bridge, but then every time we saw a house we liked and made an offer, we were getting outbid. It was eventually going from the asking price, which we could afford, to another £60,000 above that, which we couldn't afford.
"Then the development at Belvoir Park came up, and we saw that we could go up and put down a £1,000 booking fee and secure a house before it was built - and that's what attracted us to it. We knew that we wouldn't end up in a bidding war. Now we have put down the booking fee for a four-bedroom house at £325,000. We've put down a deposit as well because we've been saving for years for a deposit, and we got a mortgage through Bank of Ireland."
Mr Cunningham and his wife, a doctor, tied the knot in August and currently rent a house in Finaghy. But he said they had been following the progress of the construction of their new house on Instagram through pictures provided by the builder.
While this month had been given as a completion date for the house, the earliest it will now be ready is February next year.
"Hopefully, if there's a good winter, they will achieve that date," Mr Cunningham said.
The development, which is being sold by estate agents Simon Brien, is being built on the location of the former Belvoir Park Hospital.
Around 300 homes - priced between £245,000 and £410,000 - will be built on the site, and the first 27 were released to sellers in April this year. The site was bought last year by London-based Neptune Group.