THE Lower Ravenhill area of southeast Belfast is proving a popular hotspot for both house-hunters seeking to buy or rent.
Adjacent to the expansive Ormeau Park — Belfast's finest open space in the eyes of many — and close to the Ormeau Road café scene, the lower Ravenhill is also just a stone's-throw from the expansive Lagan and its delightful walkway.
Plans to build a pedestrian and cycle bridge from the Annadale Embankment at Ravenhill across to the Gasworks would only make the area more attractive to prospective house-buyers.
The once predominantly unionist, blue-collar area has changed massively in recent years and has morphed into something of a melting pot of diversity.
In July, flags remain a contentious issue - as seen in recent years with threats to those living in Global Crescent and Cantrell Close areas of the Lower Ravenhill.
While many find the flags daunting, especially in some areas they seem to fly from every lamp post, they do not reflect the reality of what is a fast-changing and increasingly bohemian district. In South Belfast, there are five MLAs, with just one unionist among that number. In a constituency once dominated by unionism, that trend is only set to get stronger in the time ahead. Nowhere is that more evident than in the lower Ravenhill where the newer residents have moved far beyond flags and the arguments of Belfast of yesteryear.
Nevertheless, the area remains popular with newcomers to the city as well as with former students who have left uni (and the Holland) behind and are setting out on a professional career. Indeed, many of their starter jobs are a short walk or cycle-ride away in the software sector which has made the nearby city centre its nexus.
Jonathan Blackadder, an estate agent with Property Sales and Lettings NI says the location is key for many people seeking a house in the lower Ravenhill area.
"There has been significant investment in the area over the last number of years, including with social housing developments," he explained.
"It is a great location for people in Belfast, close to the main arterial routes in and out of the city and with proximity to the train station."
Jonathan says first-time buyers make up a large proportion of this new generation of Ravenhill dwellers.
"We are also seeing a lot of first-time buyers which is due to the fact that a lot of properties have been bought, renovated and sold on," he said.
Such is the pace of home-owners and renters new to the area that social housing agencies dub the area bordered by the Ravenhill Road, Albertbridge Road and Woodstock Road as the fastest-changing postcode in all of Belfast. And that, of course, can create tension.
"During certain times of the year, flags has been a contentious issue in the area," says Jonathan.
"Culturally, East Belfast has been a predominantly Protestant area but there has been in influx of foreign nationals and people from the Catholic community moving in.
"I think the area has softened, therefore, in its approach to outsiders. I feel the neighbourhood has become very diverse. Many areas will suffer from anti-social behaviour and trouble across Northern Ireland regardless of creed, colour or religion."
Jonathan says the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the housing market means potential homeowners will pay that bit extra for a house in the area.
"House prices have increased with the pandemic. People have saved a bit more money having been stuck in their house for 18 months and that has prompted a huge increase in the market," he added.
"The housing market has enjoyed a profitable time because of the pandemic. With stamp duty being extended, it has helped increase confidence in the market. My problem is that some properties are achieving 10 to 15 per cent above market value which is not sustainable.
"In my opinion, we are going to be hit with a recession in the early part of 2022. The government has handed out billions of pounds to prop up industries affected by the pandemic and the working community. Someone has to pay the bill and that will come in the form of higher taxes. However, If you are selling a property at the moment, you will have a big smile on your face because people are forced to pay that little bit extra."
One young woman (22), who recently bought a house in the Lower Ravenhill area said there was a number of factors which attracted her to the area.
"I am originally from South Armagh and work as a nurse for the Belfast Trust," said the recent arrival, who asked not to be named.
"I really liked the location because it so close to the city centre. It is a more affordable area than the Ormeau Road and I am still close to Ormeau Park, which I absolutely love," she added.
The average price for properties in the area is £85,000-£90,000 for a two-bedroom terrace house.