IN spite of all the uncertainties young people are confronted with in Belfast and across the north more generally – from Brexit to political instability, to the alleged ‘brain drain’ effect and the looming threat of recession – many still choose to set down long-term roots here. The combination of a growing younger population, gently rising property prices, and some of the lowest housing costs in Ireland or Britain means that Belfast is a hub of activity for younger people in the property market.
In order to gain a greater insight into the experience of these first-time buyers in the local property market, the ATN spoke to two young couples that recently bought their first homes in Belfast as well as real estate expert Colin Moran of Property People. Our goal was to investigate what motivates young people out of the rental market towards purchasing, as well as the factors involved in choosing their first property.
Fionntan Smith (28) of Ladybrook, and his fiancée Ciara (29) recently purchased their first home, a semi-detached four-bedroom house with a back garden, in Gransha, in the heart of Andersonstown. They said their purchase was a reflection of their two main priorities: an advantageous location and the space to start a family.
“Before we purchased we were both living at home with our parents and saving money: we weren’t keen on getting into the rental market and always having that insecurity over your head,” Fionntan said.
“Once we knew we wanted to start a family together we looked at a number of locations and homes. I suppose we could have looked at something cheaper down the road, or a more modern home further out in the ‘commuter ring’, but we decided that our priority was the advantages of living in such an older, settled, well-established area like Gransha.
“There’s barely any crime here and being in the middle of West Belfast gives you’re the proximity to the city centre, pubs, public transport, the shops. At the same time, we have plenty of rooms and we have a big back garden, which allows us to raise a family.”
Chris Campbell-Palmer (29) and his partner Yvonne (28) on the other hand, decided to purchase their first property – a three-bedroom terraced house – just off the Ravenhill Road in Southeast Belfast after eight years of co-habiting in rented accommodation.
“We took the step of getting our first home because ultimately we were sick of moving so often, sometimes due to poorly-maintained properties and disputes with landlords,” they told the ATN.
“Financially at the end of the day it is more expensive to rent and that isn’t sustainable. We looked at flats first but there’s a real lack of affordable apartments in Belfast, so that’s when we expanded outwards to look at houses in South and East Belfast, where prices are affordable for first-time buyers.
“Even though it’s an older property which needs a bit of work, the house we settled on has more space than a typical terraced house, so we can have friends visit or maintain a lodger. Even if the area is new to us it’s only a mile walk to the Ormeau Road where most of our friends are as well as being close to the city centre for work.”
Director of Property People, Colin Moran, concurred with both couples’ choice to move out of the rental market and into owning their homes.
“Purchase every time would be my advice. Despite the flexibility of renting, is in my opinion not a good long-term housing option,” he said.
“Owning your property gives you much more stability over the future of your home and an asset that can be sold or passed on to future generations. As far as location and the features of the home you settle on, buying a property is very exciting and provides the buyer the ability to choose their home to reflect their personality, life choices, and future. For different people that will mean different things but the priority is to make sure your home fits your life as it is much more than just the building itself but how it can enhance your life.
“In terms of professional advice, I would urge people to get on the property ladder at an affordable entry point, and aim for a 10% deposit as you have plenty of time to pay it off,” he added.
“In terms of an investment, a good investment property is in a location that will be desirable for tenants to ensure occupancy, be of a good standard or at price that reflects any refurbishments. The numbers have to work in terms of rental yield as well, and that is key to bear in mind and somewhere were buyers should seek advice from an expert.”