Rise in house sales prompts cautious note of optimism
The number of houses in Northern Ireland changing hands has increased, the property industry has a more positive outlook and the rate of price decline has eased, according to the latest data released today.
But despite a more buoyant mood, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors and Ulster Bank Housing Market Survey found that residential property prices continued to fall in the three months to the end of December.
Of the chartered surveyors here, 39% said that prices fell between October and December, 44% said the market remained unchanged and only 17% said prices had increased.
RICS Northern Ireland housing spokesman Tom McClelland said that 2013 will likely be better than 2012, but that no significant recovery will be evident for some time.
"What is clear is that affordability has improved considerably and that the rate of price decline has eased," he said.
"With regard to 2013, there will certainly be no dramatic recovery, but we expect the overall trend of easing price decline to continue, with increasing signs of stability."
A look at the rest of the UK shows Northern Ireland's property market is far from alone.
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Only the London area managed to record a positive reading when it came to price rises over the last three months.
There, a balance of 22% of chartered surveyors said prices had risen over the last three months. At the other end of the scale, the North of England recorded the worst performance in the last quarter with a balance of 52% of surveyors recording a drop in house prices.
According to the latest figures from the University of Ulster Quarterly House Price Index, the average price of a house in Northern Ireland was just under £139,000 at the end of September 2012.
John Minnis, director, John Minnis Estate Agents, said the data was good news, adding: "As in the survey, 2012 was a strong year for us; we saw our transaction levels rise and in some cases bidding wars were experienced, in areas like Holywood and east Belfast.
"I agree that there won't be a seismic shift any time soon, but the market is certainly stabilising, meaning that 2013 is looking positive."
Will Miscampbell, a partner at Fetherston Clements, said affordability has improved.
"We are definitely seeing much more consistency in the market and have been doing so for some time," he said.
"Affordability across all market sectors hasn't been as good for a decade and purchasers in many instances are finding mortgage payments can be less than renting.
"There is a genuine feeling with those actively looking at the market that the tide is turning in relation to price and overall sentiment."