Northern Ireland

Mortgage crunch props up Belfast rent prices

To let signs
Image caption Rents have been rising because of difficulty in obtaining mortgages

The cost of renting a home in and around Belfast has edged up in the past year.

Rents are still bolstered by a pick-up in demand from first-time buyers shunned by mortgage lenders and by those keeping well clear of the property ladder because of worries about the state of the economy, research showed on Friday.

According to the latest quarterly report into the private rented sector by leading online lettings company, Citylets, the average monthly cost across all properties was £571 for the three months to end-June - up from £564 a year ago.

Prices for two-bedroom houses, which account for the bulk of the property rented in Belfast, increased by 7.6% over the year from £432 to £465 a month.

However, despite the rises, privately renting a property in Belfast remains relatively cheap compared with the UK average of about £700 a month.

In Edinburgh, the monthly average cost of renting a home is nearly £200 more expensive, at £769, while renters in Dublin pay about £910 a month.

In London, private renters pay more than £1,000 a month.

'Current malaise'

"With the residential property market still in the doldrums, the rental sector is continuing to thrive - particularly in and around Belfast," said Citylets analyst Dan Cookson.

"Private landlords are benefiting from the current malaise in property prices because there are simply more people keen on renting.

"Those who would normally be looking to buy their first property after renting for a few years are waiting quite a bit longer, and the rental sector is benefiting from that.

"In Belfast, depending on the property and the area, the knock-on effect is that tenants are often extending their tenancies rather than moving out, so there is less movement within the existing rental stock.

"This means there can often be few properties to choose from."

According to the report, prices for a three or four-bedroom family home rose most over the year, increasing by 3.1% and 1.7% respectively, offsetting falls of 9.5% and 4.4% in the cost of renting one and two-bedroom apartments.

Lowest figure

Around a quarter of all properties are let within a month.

The average time-to-let now stands at 44 days, which is the lowest figure seen in the three years Citylets have been collating data on the Belfast rental market.

There also appears to be little chance of a downturn in prices - at least in the short term.

"Like the residential market, the rental sector in and around Belfast is at its busiest between July and September, as tenants jockey to move before the summertime ends," said Dan.

"As a result, we could see prices strengthen over the coming months, easing possibly towards the end of the year when things are traditionally much quieter."

Chris Smyth, partner at Ulster Property Sales' rental division, said Northern Ireland's rental market has never been busier.

"There are more people moving around than ever before and the market is responding to that," said Mr Smyth.

"There is still good value and good supply. However, the gap between the top end of the market - good quality homes in high-demand areas - and the lower end, where the quality is lower in less attractive areas, is widening.

"Overall, however, the standard of properties available has continued to improve, which is good news for the growing numbers of people who are choosing to rent until they are more confident about buying."

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