Housing experts in Northern Ireland have said they believe the trend for relocating to the North, which began during Covid-19 will continue.
Samuel Dickey, a director at Simon Brien Residential in Belfast, said while the numbers coming were “less, and will continue to be less”, people were “still coming, they haven’t stopped”.
He said his firm was currently working with two buyers from England who were purchasing £800,000 houses. “The transition to working from home has facilitated this and been the catalyst for it, and I think a lot of people realise that the quality of life here is better,” he said.
“We saw a massive influx in the last 18 months and of course that’s going to dissipate and get less but it hasn’t stopped.”
The greatest interest, he said, was from Britain, and he was surprised at the lack of buyers from the Republic of Ireland.
“I don’t see too many southern buyers. I saw an article yesterday, hundreds of people queuing for hours for a place in Dublin to rent, mental. I thought, why are they not living in Newry and commuting down?”
Paddy Gray, emeritus professor of housing at Ulster University, said that while the numbers seeking to move back to Northern Ireland had “cooled down”, there was still an appetite for relocation.
“Many people are still being given the opportunity to work on a hybrid basis, half from home and half in the office,” said Prof Gray.
“My experience is that there is still a demand from people who want to move into better housing [with] better space in areas that would be more attractive for them, and with a part of the house they can work in as well.”
Pushing up prices
However, Stephen McCarron, the president of the representative body for estate agents in the UK, NAEA Propertymark, and a director of Donnybrook estate agents in Derry, said in his experience those who wanted to move back home had now done so.
“It’s cleared out of the system now, I think,” he said. “Whoever’s decided to come is here and has purchased their homes.”
The demand from people seeking to relocate to Northern Ireland was among a number of factors which pushed up house prices once the housing market reopened after the first Covid-19 lockdown.
According to the latest figures from Ulster University’s Northern Ireland Quarterly House Price Index, released this month, the average price of a house in the North is now just over £205,000, an increase of £30,000 in two years.
In December, Derry City and Strabane District Council (DCSDC) launched a Come Home to Us campaign to encourage people originally from the area, or with a connection to it, to relocate.
Rosalind Young, investment manager with DCSDC, said campaigns had focused on specific sectors such as digital creative technologies and life sciences, and though specific figures on uptake were not available, anecdotally they had received strong feedback from both employers and potential employees, and had interest from the Republic of Ireland, Britain and elsewhere.
“We’re seeing a lot more people come back who had been remote working for companies they previously worked for,” she said.
“[Pharmaceutical firm] Almac recently set up a hub in the northwest and one of their recent recruits has come from South Africa to take up an opportunity here, so it’s about career opportunities as well, it’s not just people who have a connection to here.”
She also said the area’s position on the Border was seen as “very attractive” because “people can come here and they’re not just tapping into employment opportunities in the North but on the southern side as well.”