House sales have had their biggest quarterly drop
The number of house sales in Northern Ireland during the first three months of 2008 dropped to its lowest in almost 25 years, a new survey has revealed.
There were 896 transactions between January and March compared to 2,120 over the same period a year ago.
The University of Ulster quarterly house price index report said some of the 120 estate agents surveyed reported no sales at all.
However, the average price of £230,908 is still 7.5% higher than a year ago.
But they still fell by 4.6% in the first three months, which according to the report, demonstrated the continuing correction in the housing market.
The number of sales was the lowest since the survey began in 1984.
The report's authors, Professor Alastair Adair, Professor Stanley McGreal and Mrs Louise Brown insisted, however, price levels had not collapsed.
But they warned: "However, the short term quarter figures suggest a weak market during the first three months of 2008 which, if it continues into the second and third quarters of the year, may well see annual rates of change move into negative figures."
According to the university's research, price falls largely applied to properties worth less than £250,000. Higher priced properties fared better and appeared to be less exposed to the current market downturn.
The economist Alan Bridle, head of research at Bank of Ireland which produced the survey in partnership with the university, said the local housing market was "technically in recession" for the first time since the early 1990s.
"As an observation we may have something of a stalemate, with vendors looking to sell at 2007 prices and potential buyers deferring purchase in anticipation of lower prices and easier access to credit later in 2008 or 2009," he said.
"It is not certain how this will play out over the coming quarters but the risks to prices remain on the downside."
The Housing Executive's Head of Research, Joe Frey, said although the fall in house prices at the lower end of the market would be welcomed by first-time buyers, it did not necessarily mean homes are becoming more affordable.
Some banks and building societies were taking a much more risk-averse approach to lending.
"It is important therefore not to take our eye off the ball, in terms of putting the policies and practices in place which will facilitate the delivery of affordable homes in the longer term," he said.
Belfast's average price was £254,011 - 22.4% higher than a year previously but on a quarterly basis the average price for all property types fell, with the exception of detached houses. South Belfast is still the city's highest priced region.
North Down - Average of £250,678 was up 10.7% over the year and 3.1% on the the quarter
Lisburn: Average of £257,190 was down by 0.7% over the year and by 9.8% on the previous quarter.
East Antrim: Average of £211,662 was 12.6% higher but down 2.4% on the last quarter of 2007.
Antrim/Ballymena: Average was £188,147, a fall of 9.9% over the year and down by 10% on the previous quarter.
Coleraine/Limavady/North Coast, Average price of £264,055 which represented a small annual increase of 3.1% but down 5.7% on the previous quarter.
Derry/Strabane: The average of £218,979 was still 21.1% higher than a year before and showed a 4.6% rise over the quarter. However the volume of sales continued to be very low.
Mid-Ulster: Average of £200,942 was down by 7.9% over the quarter and by 17.7% over the year - a response to the unsustainable high rates of growth seen the early part of last year.
Enniskillen/Fermanagh/South Tyrone: The average of £228,917 was up 7.2% over a year and by 8.6% over the quarter but the sample was small reflecting the continuing low levels of transactions.
Craigavon/Armagh: The average of £172,644 showed a sharp correction falling by 24.2% over the quarter and by 22.4% annually.
Mid and South Down: The average price of £259,570 was 18.2% higher than a year previously and was up by 1.3% on the quarter mainly because detached properties continued to perform strongly.