What with legal quibbles, unforeseen issues with dodgy plumbing, the emotional wrench of leaving a place you didn’t realise you loved so much, it’s a wonder we ever up sticks.
Weirdly, during the extreme stress of the pandemic, the property market confounded expectations; instead of collapsing during the crisis, it experienced something of a mini-boom.
The race for space reached fever pitch, with people reassessing how they want to live, with many switching city dwelling for rural living and others opting for a bigger property to accommodate home-working.
The latest statistics show that the average house price in NI has risen by six per cent since this time last year, with a massive increase of 34.5 per cent evident since the start of 2015...good news if you are selling, not so great news if you are a first-time buyer.
Figures from the NI Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) show Mid Ulster, North Down, Derry City and Strabane have had the largest increases in the first quarter of this year.
NISRA said the average price for a house in Northern Ireland is now £149,178 and ranges from £128,320 in Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon to £175,813 in Lisburn and Castlereagh.
It also notes that 6,732 residential properties sold during the first quarter of 2021, although this figure will increase due to late returns.
WHY THE BIG INCREASE IN PRICES?
Neil Templeton of NI estate agents Templeton Robinson said: “Quite simply, it’s the old supply and demand equation coupled with low interest rates and a changing perspective on what some people are now using their homes for.”
Asked if he would have expected to see such a strong increase during a pandemic and period of economic uncertainty, Mr Templeton said: “I don’t think anyone could have possibly predicted what has happened in the world over the last 18 months or so, never mind with the housing market. Personally, I did not expect a crash that some people predicted when we were coming out of the first lockdown but nor did I foresee the extent of the surge.”
And as for the types of homes people are looking for now he said more importance is definitely being attributed to the likes of outside space and home offices.
“Properties with a versatile layout have always been popular but even more so for those now working from home.”
His advice to buyers and sellers at the moment is this: “As ever, sellers need to ensure they get good advice from professionals as to marketing and asking prices etc. You want to ensure you are taking advantage of the number of buyers currently looking in many areas across the province.”
He added: “I would envisage the likes of the current rates of price increases will slow a little with the end of the Stamp Duty holidays etc. However, given the scarcity of available properties and the number of buyers the likes of Templeton Robinson would have on their books, I don’t expect prices to fall either.
“It’s certainly a very good time to sell and take advantage of the strong market and improving economic picture as we are hopefully through the worst of the pandemic.”
POPULAR HOUSE TYPES
Tanya McGeehan, managing director of MCG Investments said at the beginning of the pandemic last March, she was very concerned and didn’t expect to see the increased levels of activity in the market or any price increases of the current scale.
“If anything, I expected activity to fall. To be honest, I didn’t know what was going to happen as the world was in a very unpredictable state. Recession seemed more likely than a mini-property boom! The best economists in the world couldn’t have predicted the activity and trends the market has experienced over the last 16 months.”
Ms McGeehan has found detached four and five bedroom home have seen the biggest growth in interest and sales, “experiencing the biggest percentage increase in both demand and actual sales.”
“This is different than pre-pandemic, as traditionally the three bed semi was the most popular house type and size.”
Her advice to buyers at the moment is to “really crunch your numbers and know your absolute “walk away” budget limit and don’t surpass it.”
“Sales are regularly surpassing asking amounts and cause potential buyers to get carried away in the heat of the moment and end up bidding more than they can afford. That is not a good start for the buyer as they are over-stretched and for the seller sometimes results in delays or sales falling through as mortgage applications are not approved.”
To buyers she says: “Stop procrastinating and get your house on the market now, if you genuinely want to sell and move on. It is a sellers’ market right now and you will achieve maximum value in this climate. This market and activity won’t be about forever so make your move now.”
She added: “I would also advise investing a little money into freshening up your home before putting it onto the market as you will get it back again in the sale if done properly. Tips I would give include declutter, repaint and tidy the garden and set out some nice plants.”
Ms McGeehan believes the price increase will continue into next year, but at a slightly lower pace.
“I don’t think we will see the kind of ‘manic’ activity we have seen over the past year. But demand still outweighs supply and the cost of borrowing is still very low and there is still a lot of liquidity in the economy - all of this together should suggest that this trend is set to continue,but I don’t have that crystal ball.”
Estate agent Simon Brien added: “From needing a home office to wanting a house with a garden, we have seen buyers more decisive and focussed on their preferences following the lockdown.
“There has also been a large increase in people returning from England, and further afield, to Northern Ireland due to the better work life balance and more affordable cost of living.
“One of the key considerations to maximise appeal to buyers and in turn to optimise the value, is presentation. The buyer’s first impression at a viewing is key to the success of a house sale. Key considerations include having the house and gardens well presented, having the house de-cluttered and tidy. Keeping pets offside during viewings is also a good idea.”