North Coast property boom pricing families out of market

Portrush woman Katrina O'Bryan always believed she'd plan her dream wedding from her own home, but Katrina is one of the victims of a North Coast property boom that's priced many local families out of the market.

For Katrina and her fiancé Kris Mills, the hunt for a starter home is proving frustrating.

The couple have spent 18 months searching estate agents and property websites, chasing up leads, making bids, and almost, almost sealing the deal.

But every time Katrina sees the price spiralling upwards and beyond her reach.

She says: "We got engaged about four weeks ago, we'd love to be planning a wedding, but I never thought I'd do that whilst living with my mum.

"Just going forward in life we would like to be doing it all from our own home. I just feel like life's been put on hold at the moment."

Katrina is one of hundreds of families in the Portrush and Portstewart area who are finding the local property market too hot to handle.

On the North Coast, house hunters have to act fast or they risk losing out, but all too often prices are simply inflated by people from other parts of Northern Ireland who are looking to buy a holiday home or invest in a rental property.

Independent Assembly Member Claire Sugden says Stormont has to act: "We need to look at limiting second homes and we have seen examples of this across the UK.

"Speaking with constituents this isn't just second home owners, it's second, third, fourth, fifth home owners. So it does demonstrate that their interest isn't entirely here.

"We don't have enough houses for the people that want to live here, and the people that want to buy here only want to live here part-time."

Katrina O'Bryan says the seemingly never ending search for an affordable home is sapping her morale.

"It's soul-destroying, it's heart-breaking," she says. "We're losing out constantly to homes that should be within our budget. It's heart-breaking.

"If history's taught me anything it's that houses on the north coast can go within five days, and it's just making it impossible to get on the ladder."

Property prices on the North Coast are rising faster than other areas.

The average Northern Ireland house price went up 10.4% in the past year, but the increase on the north coast was almost half as much again at just under 15%.

Claire Sugden says: "Families need to be near to the people who live here, who they grew up with, and they're not able to do that.

"They're being priced out of the area and it's a very real issue."

Demand long ago outstripped supply on the North Coast and it's easy to see why - beautiful beaches, world class golf, and good transport links mean that for decades it's been a magnet for house-hunters and property developers.

But in recent months a new phenomenon has entered the market - the huge rise in the number of people working from home since the pandemic.

Hundreds of them are selling up in the cities, looking to start a new life at the seaside, and they're coming as cash buyers.

Katrina O'Bryan says it's hard to compete: "The market is full of cash. Mortgage advisors I've spoken to say they've never seen anything like it before."

Meanwhile, Claire Sugden warns that pricing young families out of the local market can have an adverse impact on services.

For instance, if families with children go elsewhere it could threaten the future of some schools as pupil numbers decline.

Outside cash may be driving the boom, but Claire Sugden says it's local families who're losing out.