Covid-19 has led to a spike in house buying, including by returnees to Northern Ireland and first time buyers able to save for substantial deposits, according to a leading estate agent.
uyers are selling terraced homes in London and other cities and buying much larger detached houses here for less money, said Stephen McCarron, owner of Donnybrook Estate Agents in Londonderry.
Many are able to return because they can work from home going forward, said Mr McCarron, the vice-president of NAEA, the UK estate agent trade group.
Additionally, first time buyers are building up savings at speed and are able to throw down deposits of up to 20 to 25% as they have not been spending over the last year, the agent added.
“There is a lot of money in the economy and it is not being spent on meals out etc,” he said. “Ordinarily they would be spending their money and first time buyers may have 10%, but they are coming in with anything up to 20-25%.”
Following the outbreak of the pandemic, banks refused any mortgage application that did not include at least a 15% down payment, rules that have been eased in more recent months.
Mr McCarron said he will be amazed if 2020 fourth quarter house sale numbers, due for release next Wednesday, do not reveal an increase on those posted from July to September.
Approximately 4,630 homes were sold in the third quarter, compared to just 1,849 in the three months from April following the first lockdown, the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency reported in November.
Pent up demand, and the stamp duty holiday for homes worth up to £500,000, helped propel an increase in house sales across the UK.
But Mr McCarron, from his personal knowledge and information gathered from agents across NI, said returnees and first time buyers were the big drivers of sales here.
He cited the example of clients who sold a two-up, two-down in Manchester for £300,000 and were able to buy a four bedroom, three reception, detached property for £265,000.
The agent said the impact of the stamp duty holiday, introduced last July, was largely confined to those areas where property prices are higher, including north Down, parts of Belfast and south of the city.
A buyer of a house worth £500,000 saves £15,000, while it would be £250 on a £150,000 property. Stamp duty normally kicks in on properties over £125,000.
John Minnis, of John Minnis Estate Agents, agreed there has been a sharp spike in the number of sales to those returning to Northern Ireland, not just from England, but also the US, Dubai and other parts of the world.
People from England are also moving here in numbers, even buying second homes for grandparents.
Prices of houses combined with English wages and the education system are all huge attractions, Mr Minnis said.
“It was a trend happening with decent volumes, but we have just had a real spike,” said Mr Minnis, whose firm has offices in Belfast and Holywood.
Covid-19 and the dramatic lifestyle change to working from home has driven the increase, he added.