Choices must be made to create vibrant and sustainable futures housing market

More must be done to support people and families into affordable home ownership through building more homes and providing a helping hand through co-ownership and other initiatives
Mark Graham

NORTHERN Ireland has had something of a steep learning curve when it comes to the housing market, a matter that has been reflected on this year, given that it marked a decade since the infamous property crash really took hold. Prices dropped over 20 per cent in 2008 alone, according to some reports.

Indeed no other region of the UK has ever experienced anything like the price rises and falls that this part of the world encountered between 2005 and 2013.

House prices here doubled in just two-and-a-half years before falling over 41 per cent in the subsequent three and finally bottoming out in 2013 about 57 per cent below their 2007 peak. Transaction levels followed an equally up-and-down trajectory.

In terms of prices, 2018 will go down as a comparatively benign year, when set against 2008 or 2006, with a percentage rise in average house prices this year looking set to be in the mid-single figures.

But while we have been conditioned in the past 10-15 years to view the housing market through the prism of prices, with rises been presented as good, and falls presented as bad, the reality is that it's far from being that straightforward.

When we look at the latest figures, house prices this year have been rising at twice the rate of inflation. Combined with stagnant wages, this is far from being good news for any young person looking for their first home.

One major challenge is saving for a deposit. Indeed, according to UK Finance, the median deposit for first-time buyers in Northern Ireland is around £17,000. That's three-quarters of the median annual salary of a full-time Northern Ireland employee aged 25-34 years.

Not many in that age-bracket could access that sort of cash without assistance from the Bank of Mum and Dad. And the reality is that the situation isn't likely to change significantly in 2019.

Clearly part of the solution to dealing with the affordability challenge is building more social housing and creating a more secure, better quality and affordable private rented sector.

We also need to support people into affordable home ownership through building more homes and providing a helping hand through co-ownership and other initiatives.

Another focus needs to be continuing to educate people in Northern Ireland about house-buying and home-owning, including understanding what options are open to them.

Giving people the right information will support them to make good choices. Perhaps fittingly launched this year when we have been reflecting on Northern Ireland's learning curve regarding the housing market, the new website seeks to do this.

Supported and welcomed by a range of organisations, it provides potential purchasers, buyers and owners with a broad range of information including on deciding on a move, financing a move, making a move, and after buying. The housing market and society as a whole stands to benefit from an increase in this kind of knowledge.

So, as we move into 2019, the housing market will no doubt continue to attract much comment and debate. There will also be challenges to overcome.

But hopefully we will all continue to build our knowledge and understanding, and good choices can be made by all involved to create a vibrant, affordable and sustainable housing market into the future.

:: Mark Graham is chief executive of Co-Ownership

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