The great homecoming: Estate agents see influx of buyers moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland

Estate agents are seeing a spike in people moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, spurred on by the realisation that they can work successfully from home – wherever in the country home might be.

Thursday, 19th August 2021, 7:00 am
Gordon Robinson

The market is so hot right now that a Fermanagh estate agent told the News Letter of having just sold a countryside house to a woman living in England, without her even coming to see it first.

This week a University of Ulster study found that transaction levels (that is, people buying and selling homes) were the highest for around 20 years.

And whilst prices remain far below the peak of the property bubble in 2007, they are rising fast (though they remain far below GB prices, as the attached graph shows).

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The latest ONS house price index (released 18-08-21)

COUNTRYSIDE HOMES ESPECIALLY SOUGHT-AFTER:

Gordon Robinson, who runs his eponymous estate agency in Lisnaskea, Fermanagh, has been in the business for about 35 years.

“We’re getting a lot of people, a large influx, from England,” he said.

“And the main reason they’re coming is probably Covid – getting away from the cities and into the countryside.

“[These are] people from Northern Ireland moved over to the mainland 30 or 40 years ago.

“They bought a flat, sold it, got a lot of money, came into Co Fermanagh because they had some ancestors or relations there, and then find they can buy something for £150k-£200k, and leave £200k in the bank.

“There’s a lot of people coming back from England, Scotland, and Wales.”

His Lisnaskea agency had handled 15 to 20 sales of homes to people moving from GB to NI in the last two months.

Of those people, he estimated 60% had Ulster connections... but 40% were “completely blank”, in that they had no such connections at all.

He gave an example of a recent sale, where he sold a countryside home surrounded by a couple of acres of land to a woman from England.

“She didn’t even want to come and see it,” he said.

“We sent her a video of it. Yes – that actually happened.”

The skyrocketing rates of people working from home has shown that having an office doesn’t count for “a hill of beans” anymore, he added.

But could all this worsen so-called bungalow blight, where green fields are replaced by inelegant, hastily-built new homes?

“I suppose that’s a possibility,” he said.

“We’ve been here before. We saw this in the boom days.

“Fingers crossed, that doesn’t happen again.”

PATTERN ECHOED ON OTHER SIDE OF PROVINCE:

Meanwhile Judith Gilchrist, director of Templeton Robinson in relatively urbanised north Down, has noticed the same GB-to-NI exodus.

“We have people coming back from England, people who had roots in Northern Ireland, wanting to come back and make Northern Ireland their home,” she said.

The reason is simple: “Because people can work from home, they don’t need to be in their office.

“And employers are happy for that to happen, and realised life goes on, and they’re still able to do their job.

“I think people are wanting to upgrade their homes, because obviously they work from home, they need a bit more space.

“Being in lockdown, maybe they’ve realised the house isn’t quite right for them and they want their kids to be out in a bigger garden. They want to move away from city centres.

“Even down the Ards peninsula, houses there are in demand, because you get so much more for your money, you get so much more space.

“If people were living in an apartment during the first and second lockdown they’ve realised: My goodness, there’s not much to do here.”

She gave the example of a semi-detached house in Ballyholme village.

She had put it on the market only on Tuesday, and by the time the News Letter spoke to her mid-afternoon yesterday, 22 people had been booked in to view it.

“Even the rental market – it has gone wild as well,” she said.

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