Home ownership is the unholy grail in the United Kingdom. It is something we have in common with our counterparts in the United States of America who, like us, appear to be irrevocably wed to the concept. Indeed, our adherence to the supposed ideal of ownership may well be a cross-Atlantic import. Where Uncle Sam leads, very often we tend to follow. But not everyone in the USA – and certainly not in the UK – is an advocate of ownership; there are many who see it differently. Highlighting a slowdown in the rush to ‘buy’ (more of that later) homes in the States, famed American business leader and philanthropist Mortimer Zuckerman, has said: “The most critical factor subduing the demand for housing is that home ownership is no longer seen as the great, long-term build-up in equity value it once was.”
For that reason, renting rather than buying property once again is seen as a genuine option. A lot of Americans learned hard lessons in the wake of their nation’s real estate bubble having burst and many of them have not recovered from that double whammy to their pockets and egos. There are other factors, too, of course. Whereas in the past the reliability of the marketplace was regarded as being a given, events post-2008 saw uncertainty rush in to fill the resultant void. Here, too, we have inherited some of that new-found
doubt. And to that now can be added the difficulty first-time buyers face in trying to raise the deposit, plus the tougher rules when it comes to qualifying for a mortgage. The insistence on a bigger deposit and the tightening up on eligibility for mortgages are a direct result of the banks having loaned so freely – and at times recklessly – in the mid-2000s. Never has The Bank of Mum and Dad been used so much and so often as today. In addition, would-be purchasers continue to harbour concerns about a rise or rises in the base level interest rate. That has remained static at 0.5% since March 2009, so it is a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ there is an increase. This reality - and the fear to which it has given rise - is causing many to steer clear of borrowing a mortgage-size amount at this stage.
The reality of negative equity has played part, too, with numerous examples of that trauma there for all to see. In that situation, ‘home ownership’ is a meaningless term. Those unfortunate people are not ‘buying’ their homes;
currently they are just renting them from the bank. And if they have interest-only mortgages, they will still be required to stump up the capital sum which they borrowed at the outset. Each of those ingredients has caused people – particularly young people – to think long and hard about the advisability of committing themselves to a 25-year venture with no guarantees at the end of it and the probability of a few more unforeseen surprises along the way.
In the circumstances, rental property in Belfast is plentiful, with the demand for rented houses and rented apartments reflecting the current state of play in the market. Nor is this demand limited to the indigenous population; overseas speculators are much involved in buying up property to let.
But if Belfast is an inviting proposition for would-be landlords, it is no less attractive to tenants, not least because of the affordability of rental prices here in comparison with those in the UK’s other capital cities. The cheapest London borough is Beckenham, which is
some 10 miles – or 45 minutes – from the city centre. Here a two-bedroom property will on average cost £331 per week. Move in closer to the hub - Chelsea, Kensington or Westminster for example - and the average weekly rent for two-bedroom accommodation in those areas rises to £869, £851 and £703 respectively.
The average rent for a two-bedroom home in Edinburgh is about £1,100 per calendar month, while in Cardiff it is £772 pcm. Meanwhile in the Republic of Ireland the average monthly rent for a ONE-bedroom apartment in Dublin city centre currently is €1,227 (£950). The average monthly rent for a ONE-bedroom apartment beyond the city centre is €1,017 (£780). The monthly rent for a THREE-bedroom apartment in the city centre averages €2,216 (£1,717), while the same size of accommodation further away from the heart of the city costs an average of €1,688.64 (£1,308).
As is the case with cities anywhere in the world, Belfast rents vary considerably from area to area and in accordance with the property type. Obviously, then, a two-bedroom apartment in south or east Belfast will cost a lot more than a two-bedroom terrace house in the north or west of the city. For a ball-park figure, however, rents for a typical two-bedroom apartment in east (Castlereagh) or south Belfast (Lisburn Road/Queen’s University area) tend to be in the £470 to £650 per month bracket.
Belfast rent is a lot cheaper, therefore, albeit that disposable incomes here are significantly lower than elsewhere in the UK. If you want to rent in Belfast you are going to rely on an estate agent. Here again there is no shortage. To see one estate agent as being pretty much the same as another is to miss the point; that’s a bit like saying a Dacia Sandero, the starting price of which is £5,995, is pretty much the same as a the Mercedes-Benz CL65 AMG Coupe available for a mere £164,815. They are, after all, both just cars.
Point taken? Where estate agents differ is in their level of expertise regarding the market, the quality of service they provide, their willingness – or unwillingness – to go the extra mile for you, their reliability, their reputation and their integrity. Essentially it boils down to two questions: how good are they at their job and do they give genuine value for money? In that they offer more than others, Aria pride themselves on being closer to that Mercedes-Benz CL65 AMG Coupe. Crucially, however, this is not reflected in the prices they charge. There they are more like the Dacia Sandero. Aria show their tenant(s) the house, flat or apartment in which they have shown an interest and if there is any repair or maintenance work to be done to the property, that will be agreed before the move proceeds.
On the day of the move, Aria’s agent will meet the tenant at the property. Together they will complete a detailed inventory of what’s what. As well as that the tenant will be shown where the fuse-box, trip-switch, stop-cock and immersion heater switch are located. In-coming tenants are also shown how to operate the heating system. It’s amazing how many estate agents don’t bother with such points of detail…
In addition, any tenant moving into a property for which Aria are responsible is issued with all of the important legal documents – rent book, terms of tenancy, information on how the new resident’s deposit is held in a dedicated, registered account in keeping with recently-introduced legislation and, finally, a copy of the Tenant’s Charter. This explains the landlord’s responsibilities as well as those of the tenant and what to do in the case of an emergency. Aria provide a 24-7 back-up service which operates 365 days a year. In other words, in the event of an emergency, they take responsibility for sorting it out. That’s just another example of the sort of attention to detail on which they have built their reputation. As conscientious estate agents, Aria know that if a property is to attract a good tenant it must be in an good decorative state, within and without. To that end they ensure that the landlord completes any work he had promised to undertake before handing over the keys. In the world of real estate it makes no sense to have a property sitting vacant, losing money. By virtue of matching the right tenant to the right home at the right price, Aria aim to make sure that does not happen.