This week's decision to double down on Covid restrictions is likely to ensure demand for new homes remains at record levels.

But the bad news for first-time buyers is that banks are pulling bank on mortgage offers for fear that a return to lockdown and continued Covid chaos including mass unemployment will lead to a drop in house values.

Local house-hunter Betty Johnston (28) says she and her boyfriend had identified a house in the mid-Falls that suited their needs and after having an offer accepted, applied to their Ulster Bank manager for a mortgage.

"The staff were more than helpful but finding an offer which could suit us proved impossible," she said. "We had enough savings to put down a ten per cent deposit but we were told they could no longer offer us a 90 per cent mortgage. I had thought of borrowing from family and the credit union to put down more but my financée works is a chef and we are worried that he may lose his job if the lockdown returns."

Redundancies doubled in the North over the past year to 9,000, but economists warn things could significantly worsen if Chancellor Rishi Shunak makes good on his pledge to end the furlough scheme at the end of October. Around 200,000 workers here are still benefiting from the scheme which, by end of next month, will cover 60 per cent of the wages of employees who are furloughed. 

Added Betty Johnston: "I'm very confident about the future and also certain that I want to live in a tight community which is close to the Glider and, indeed, within walking distance of the city centre and the Falls Park. In fact, I'm confident enough to put down even more money if the bank can't give me a 10 per cent deal but my problem is that I can't take the risk but the banks are in the business of risk so it's disappointing that they are pulling back."

 Meanwhile, the release of 59 new apartments on the site of the former Ballynafeigh police station on the Ormeau Road is expected to be the biggest fillip to the South Belfast market since the 2008-2009 crash. Prices have been increasing steadily in the Ballynafeigh area — one of the most diverse and mixed neighbourhoods of the city — due to a lack of available properties in the area. However, the release of the much sought-after apartments post-Christmas is likely to sate demand from the young professionals who have transformed the Ormeau area into a burgeoning, authentically Bohemian hideaway for the city's creative class. 

FROM SWORDS TO PLOWSHARES: Ormeau apartments on former RUC site

FROM SWORDS TO PLOWSHARES: Ormeau apartments on former RUC site