Ulster is bright spot in stagnant housing market

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THE HOUSING market in Northern Ireland appears to have become one of the first beneficiaries of the IRA ceasefire.

While prices in the rest of the UK were flat or falling throughout the third quarter of this year, prices in the province rose by more than 8 per cent, according to the latest index from Halifax Building Society.

Gary Marsh, a spokesman for the society, said the relatively small size of the Northern Ireland housing market meant the figures for the province tended to fluctuate and no firm conclusions could be reached on the basis of one quarter's figures.

However, there was evidence that the number of transactions had increased and confidence had risen following the beginnings of the peace process, he said.

'The market is dominated by Belfast and you would expect given what's happening there that confidence would be improving and that would show in the economy, especially the housing market.'

During the troubles, house prices in the province have slipped well behind those in the rest of the UK.

Ten years ago the average property in Northern Ireland cost pounds 25,715, much the same as its counterpart in north- west England or Wales. It now costs about pounds 43,538 - a fifth less than its English equivalent.

The overall picture provided by the index during the third quarter is of a stagnant housing market, with any movement in prices confined to southern regions and Scotland.

During the quarter, prices rose by 0.8 per cent in the South-west and South-east, and by 0.7 per cent in East Anglia, Greater London and Scotland, but fell by 1.7 per cent in the North and by 1.6 per cent in Yorkshire and Humberside.

However, Halifax says the contrasting performances of the northern and southern regions are neither large enough nor prolonged enough to conclude that the market is returning to the traditional north/south divide.

Overall, house prices were flat in the third quarter; on an annual basis prices were unchanged. On a monthly basis, prices in September rose fractionally, by 0.1 per cent, compared with a small fall of 0.5 per cent in August. That still left prices in September 0.7 per cent lower than in the same month in 1993.

House prices are unlikely to end the year much changed on 1994, and homeowners will have to wait until next spring for any significant recovery in the housing market, the society concludes.

'Even this will require some upturn in general consumer confidence, which is not helped by speculation about higher interest rates,' adds Halifax, which attacked last month's rate rise as completely unnecessary.

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