For many years Northern Ireland has been seen as a place apart, not always for the best of reasons. However, as the province enjoys some normality after more than 30 years of disruption our housing market distinguishes us as different again, and certainly unlike our nearest neighbour, the Republic of Ireland. The rise in property prices in the Republic has been well documented. A basic three bedroom-semi in a Dublin suburb will set you back about £270,000. Mainland UK prices continue to grow fast attracting investors as well as homeowners with sharp rises north of the Midlands and in the North East.
And Northern Ireland? It's a case of steady as she goes and has been for many years. Prices grew by a steady 8.6% in the year to April 2004 and whereas some places have shown much greater increases (Mid-Ulster and Enniskillen are outperforming Belfast) the underlying fact is that house prices over the past 20 years have grown at an average rate of 6.4%. Unlike most of the UK, Northern Ireland did not go through a boom and bust in the late 1980s/early 1990s. Negative equity is not a term used here. Mortgage arrears and repossession levels are among the lowest in the UK.
So we have a stable housing market that shows consistent growth and a level of normality in our society not seen since the early 1960s. We also have the youngest population in Europe, most of whom are well educated and skilled, and one of the highest homeownership ratios in the world.
Taking all of this into account, this little place (population less than two million) would appear to be a lender's dream. So why do so many mortgage providers refuse to lend here – and those that do restrict access to certain products? From em-financial's lender panel alone, GMAC-RFC, Kensington and SPML do not lend here. We hear all kinds of reasons; land registry delays, implications for securitisation, possible civil strife etc. How come the many lenders who trade here can overcome these problems and report profitable business? Almost as frustrating are the special terms under which some lenders trade. Despite entering this market over four years ago Platform still will not advance 95% in Northern Ireland-the only part of the UK so discriminated against.
These issues should also be of concern to the many networks who wish to attract new members from Northern Ireland.
We see our Northern Ireland office as crucial to providing a proper and full service to the local broker community. We look forward to the day when all lenders have a similar attitude.
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