#ReachingRuralNI a joint initiative from NIFHA, NIHE and Rural Communities Network, is taking place this week. It’s a fantastic opportunity to raise the profile of rural living in Northern Ireland and this year it feels different. The pandemic has changed so much in our lives – not least how we view property and location. writes David Little, Co-Ownership.
Many rural dwellers are keen to remain and set down permanent roots to take advantage of more affordable housing than cities. In addition, how we are living and working has changed in the last 18 months, and now many buyers are looking for more space and the opportunity to be closer to a rural environment.
As working from home becomes more common, proximity to urban and city-based offices is no longer essential for many employees. Potential buyers are realising that they no longer need to be based in commuter areas, paying high rents due to unaffordable house prices in high demand locations. As a result buyers are beginning to look further afield, expanding their house searches to include rural areas right across Northern Ireland.
But is the grass greener? What does life in a rural area offer?
The case for rural living is solid, especially when it comes to personal gain and wellbeing. Clean air, peaceful surroundings and a slower, more enjoyable pace of life all pique buyers’ interest. Rural residents also report feeling a strong sense of community, and in some cases are closer to family, both of which hugely important to our mental health. Many are deciding to return from cities in GB and Ireland, and having the opportunity to spend more time with family is a pull factor.
With the range of property types available, homes in rural areas can offer better value for money by comparison to urban housing, by providing more indoor and outdoor space. However rural buyers need to consider cost of living – commuting costs may reduce, but limited public transport availability will mean vehicle ownership is still necessary for family life. Seasoned city dwellers may find the sounds (and occasional smells) of rural life disconcerting. In GB it is widely reported that incomers to attractive rural areas have driven up house prices to the extent that locals cannot afford to buy there, causing considerable resentment. This is unlikely to become a significant issue here.
Northern Ireland is fortunate to have many high calibre housebuilders who can meet the demand for new homes in their areas, often of a scale which the larger developers find too small to be of interest. Availability of, and investment in, infrastructure – high speed internet, water, sewerage, transportation – will determine where attractive new rural housing can be provided. Area Plans currently being developed will hopefully encourage building in, or adjacent to, existing settlements rather than the multitude of ‘one off’ new rural homes which have been permitted over recent years.
Rural areas are defined as areas with a population of just 5000 people and in Northern Ireland that equates to some 600 or so villages and small settlements. We see that the benefits go far beyond personal wellbeing, with migration to these communities helping to regenerate local economies. Local schools, cafes, shops and services – all will benefit from increased population.
Our customers regularly share with us that being close to family, and having the ability to choose the type of property they want to live in, are strong motivators for choosing to buy their own home. We also know from our Social Impact Report, carried out earlier this year, that feeling financially secure is a key outcome of homeownership.
Co-Ownership supports around 10% of first-time buyers’ market each year, and in its 40-year legacy in Northern Ireland has supported 30,000 people into homeownership. Our data indicates that first time buyers are becoming increasingly interested in homes for the long term, rather than starter homes which they will move on from. The rural offering fits the bill, especially as there is more than one way to buy a home.
For instance, our Co-Own product allows successful applicants to buy a property up to the value of £165,000, sufficient for a high-quality, spacious home in many areas. Our model eases the financial burden on first time buyers as they can commit to a smaller share of a property (between 50% and 90%) with one of our partner lenders. Co-Ownership covers the cost of buying the remaining share and co-owners have the option to increase their share gradually, if they wish.
#ReachingRuralNI is a hopeful addition to the calendar this year as there is clear indication of growing interest from first time buyers as a result of how the pandemic has shifted priorities and how we work. It will be illuminating to see how this trend develops between now and when #ReachingRuralNI returns in 2022.
For more information on Co-Ownership, visit co-ownership.org