People have prioritised their homes during pandemic

'It doesn't seem like people have been deterred much from decorating and improving their homes in recent months. Anyone trying to get hold of a tradesperson of any kind to do work will probably vouch for that.'

Home-owners in the north spent an average of more than £2,600 improving their property last year, with kitchens having the most money invested into them
Samuel Dickey

LAST year home-owners are said to have spent on average over £2,600 on improving their property - significantly higher than the year before - due to being housebound during much of 2020.

Kitchens and gardens had the most money invested into them, with an average of £435 and £392 being spent, whilst gardens and home offices saw the biggest uplift in expenditure year-on-year.

This gives us some insight into the way people have prioritised their homes during the pandemic, with home improvements, decorating, and moving house all high on the agenda for many people.

Interestingly, the latest report from RICS Building Cost Information Service shows that painting and decorating prices have increased significantly. Due to the resource cost increases for painters and decorators (ie the cost of things like paint), the general trend has seen trade prices rise by around 3.17 per cent, with individual rates varying between 1.86 per cent to 4.82 per cent.

Despite these price rises though, which consumers will have felt, anecdotally at least, it doesn’t seem like people have been deterred much from decorating and improving their homes in recent months. Anyone trying to get hold of a tradesperson of any kind to do work will probably vouch for that.

There is also little sign that ongoing house price increases are deterring potential homebuyers. Last year, RICS highlighted with some research that people were increasingly looking for more space, gardens, and access to local parks and rural areas, and that this was driving some to move house.

In my experience, this has continued in early 2021 and indeed, there is also a real trend of people in rented accommodation looking to buy their own homes; again for more space and the flexibility to decorate and improve.

Indeed, the number of Northern Ireland home sales rose for the eighth successive month in February and at a stronger rate, according to the latest RICS and Ulster Bank NI Residential Market Survey.

A net balance of 72 per cent of respondents said that there was an increase in the number of houses sold last month, the sharpest rate since July whenever the first lockdown was eased.

Surveyors also remain confident about the outlook for sales activity, with a net balance of 29 per cent of respondents saying that they expect the number of homes sold to increase over the next three months.

Anecdotally, some respondents cite measures announced in the UK Budget such as the 95 per cent mortgage guarantee as a potential catalyst for further sales activity. The Chancellor also of course extended the stamp duty holiday.

In addition to a rise in sales last month, there was also an increase in the number of properties becoming available for sale. A balance of 35 per cent of respondents said that there were more instructions to sell in February than in the previous month. This has been something of an issue in the Northern Ireland housing market in recent years, so more supply will be welcomed by many.

When it comes to prices, there continued to be upward pressure, something that surveyors expect to continue over the three months ahead. Some 73 per cent reported rising prices in February, whilst 34 per cent expects rising prices between March and May.

My own experience – and I hear this from other surveyors and agents too - is that the ability to work from home has led some people to reconsider their lifestyle and options.

Some are opting for living in Northern Ireland where they can afford a much bigger home whilst working in jobs that would traditionally have been done in and around London for bigger salaries than are available here. The best of both worlds enabled by working from home.

Sam Dickey is NI residential property spokesman for RICS, the principal independent body representing professionals employed in the land, property and construction sectors.

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