Northern Ireland saw a slight increase in house sales and a modest hike in prices in the last quarter of 2013, it has emerged.
In a further sign of the troubled property market beginning to turn around, new figures revealed in the latest University of Ulster quarterly house price index show the number of transactions rose from 1,706 to 1,758 in October, November and December.
The report also found that the overall average price of residential property in the final quarter of last year, at £132,999, represented a 2.7% rise over the preceding quarter.
While the increase in sales was slight – up just 52 since the third quarter – property deals were at their highest since the market peak in 2007, supporting "the general view of greater vibrancy in the Northern Ireland market".
Although the average price was still down on a year previously, the report said the quarterly rise suggested that price levels were starting to respond to growing demand in the market.
Authors Prof Alastair Adair, Dr John McCord, Prof Stanley McGreal and Dr David McIlhatton said: "A further rise in transaction volumes and evidence of rising prices in the final quarter of 2013 would suggest we may be witnessing an end to the effects of the lengthy downturn in the residential market in Northern Ireland, although there remain significant variations across the region."
Northern Ireland now has "a highly affordable price structure", according to the findings, with four in 10 houses selling at £100,000 or below. And 70% of sales during the quarter £150,000 or less.
The report is produced in partnership with the Hous- ing Executive and the Bank of Ireland.
Alan Bridle, economist at Bank of Ireland UK, said the latest survey offered further evidence that 2013 was "the year of 'bottoming out'".
He added: "There is a healthy momentum for Northern Ireland as a whole in 2014, with the outlook for transactions, average prices and mortgage volumes more favourable."
Richard McCulloch, from Stanley Best Estate Agents in Cookstown, said there was a case for "cautious optimism".
"We're still just exiting the crash and just starting to see signs of recovery," he said. "Transactions are up, but that's because prices are much lower than they have been."
The report comes as Danske Bank, formerly the Northern Bank, recorded its first year in the black since 2008 in what is seen as a reflection of a recovering property market.
FACTFILE: PRICES BY REGION
Northern Ireland (all) £132,922
Belfast (all) £136,830
North Belfast £89,800
South Belfast £170,717
East Belfast £139,370
West Belfast £116,970
North Down £171,829
East Antrim £119,390
Antrim/ Ballymena £118,772
Coleraine/North Coast £124,361
Fermanagh/S Tyrone £116,828
Mid Ulster £106,139
Mid and South Down £125,456