House prices in Northern Ireland increased by 2.9 per cent to reach an average of £207,010 (€242,534) in the final quarter of last year, according to research from Ulster University.
The findings from the latest Northern Ireland Quarterly House Price Index show prices remained stable and continued to edge higher throughout 2023. This trend continued in the last three months of 2023 as the average house price increased by 0.4 per cent.
The research also shows signs of slowing market activity with transactions at their lowest level over the year, decreasing 26 per cent on the previous quarter.
“While the seasonal effects of Christmas and New Year traditionally see a slowing of market activity, a slight dip in buyer confidence remained in the last quarter of 2023 as the uncertainty of interest rates acted as a key factor for mortgage holders and prospective buyers alike,” the report noted.
“Encouragingly, the recent decision to keep the interest rate stable at 5.25 per cent is seemingly paving the way for more attractive mortgage deals.”
The data also shows minor declines in the cost of fixed, variable, and tracker rate mortgages during the final quarter of the year, indicating this trend could continue softening rates throughout 2024.
“Lenders are motivated to build their loan books and attract customers, meaning that new borrowers or those remortgaging during 2024 may benefit from appealing deals and rates available,” the report said.
Separately, Northern Ireland has been named as the fastest-growing region in the UK for newly registered companies in 2023 in a new index from Ulster Bank and Beauhurst.
The boom in the number of start-ups was noted in the New Startup Index which found that Northern Ireland gained 14,000 new companies in 2023, which was a 59 per cent increase on 2022.
Belfast was hailed as the fastest-growing council area in the UK by number of newly registered companies, with a 123 per cent increase in the number of new businesses.
Causeway Coast and Glens, and Lisburn and Castlereagh also made the top 10 by growth in the number of companies incorporated, with the number of new businesses growing by 61 per cent and 54 per cent respectively since 2022.
The retail sector was responsible for the largest rise in the number of new businesses in Northern Ireland with 3,605 new companies set up.
Mark Crimmins, head of Ulster Bank, said: “These new ventures are predominantly small businesses, owned and run by local people, which will play an important role in supporting the growth of Northern Ireland’s economy.”
The rise in new businesses in Northern Ireland is a trend that is replicated across the UK. Some 900,000 new companies were incorporated in the UK in 2023, making it a record year for new businesses.
At a UK-level, the growth in female-founded businesses also continues to increase year on year, with a record 164,000 companies incorporated by women in 2023, up 4 per cent on 2022 and taking growth in the five years between 2019 and 2023 to 26 per cent overall.
Nyasia Casey has learned the hard way where to spend money during a home renovation — and where to save.
Her first project — renovating a rental property that she purchased in 2021 — took three months and cost her $45,000 but, looking back, she says it could have been done in three weeks on a $36,000 budget.
“I cringe where I overspent on things,” the native New Yorker, who invests in Baltimore, told Business Insider. “I added some electric that I didn’t need to add. I added hard-wired smoke detectors, which are not needed at all.”
Additionally, there were some improvements she skipped that ended up costing her down the line.
“Always change the plumbing,” she emphasized, noting that the one issue she’s had from this particular rental was when a pipe burst, flooded the basement, and cost her $5,000 in repairs. “I was too worried about the stuff that you could see and not as worried about the stuff you couldn’t see, thinking it would be fine.”
Casey has learned a lot since that first deal, which, despite costing more and taking longer than it should have, turned out to be a cash-flowing “slam dunk”: She’s profiting $1,100 a month from the rental, which Business Insider verified by looking at a copy of her monthly mortgage statement and a rent agreement with the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, as she rents to a Section 8 tenant.
She’s done three more deals in Baltimore, including one flip: a short-sale home that she purchased for $90,000, according to a settlement statement viewed by Business Insider, and sold for $245,000, according to Redfin.
“I didn’t spend very much on renovations, but since I used a hard money lender and a private money lender to give my down payment, I had many lender fees,” noted Casey, who estimates she put $35,000 worth of work into the home and walked away with $68,000 in profit.
Renovating a rental property versus a flip
How to most effectively spend your renovation money depends on the type of property you’re working with.
“It’s different if you’re doing a flip versus a rental,” said Casey. “For example, if you’re keeping the house, the roof should be as close to new as possible, especially if it’s a house you plan on keeping long term.”
However, “if you’re selling the property and the roof looks OK, don’t spend the money doing the roof.”
Casey has learned that you shouldn’t go into a flip expecting to renovate top-to-bottom.
“To be profitable, you have to leave some things,” she said, noting that prospective buyers should keep that in mind: “A good friend of mine who’s also an investor says he would never buy a flipped house because you don’t know what’s behind the walls.”
For example, “There are some flippers who would leave plumbing that’s bad if you’re not going to see it in an inspection. But if you’re keeping that house, you better fix that plumbing because you’ll be the one who has to take care of it.” Especially if the home has cast iron plumbing, replace the pipes, she emphasized.
As for where to cut back on rentals, you don’t necessarily need to add a washer-dryer and a dishwasher. Leave the space for these appliances. That way, you can install them if you eventually want to sell the property, or your tenant could provide their own, she said.
As a rule of thumb, if you’re keeping the property, focus on the big-ticket items that could cost you down the line.
“Yes, you want things to be pretty, but as a rental, you should really pay for the things that could cost a lot upfront, as opposed to coming out-of-pocket for it two or three years later when you haven’t recouped your money yet,” said Casey.
Another learning lesson was that you’re not completely at the mercy of your contractor; you have some control over the renovation timeline.
While Casey’s first renovation dragged on for three months, her flip took just 14 days. She was able to speed up the process partly by being more hands-on. She would drive to Home Depot to buy materials, for example, so her construction team could stay on-site during the entire workday — and partly thanks to her personality.
“I don’t lack confidence, No. 1, but also I’m impatient,” she said and made it clear to her contractor that she was on a timeline. “We don’t have time to waste. I want to get back home to New York. We need to finish the house. I think I’m a good motivator so that definitely helped get things done quicker.”
Know the value of your home
When Casey was wrapping up the renovations on her flip and preparing to sell, she was determined to list it for $220,000 at the very minimum and thought she could get $235,000.
Her agent and hard money lender thought otherwise.
“My agent said, ‘maybe 215,’ and my hard money lender said, ‘200,’” recalled Casey. “I said, ‘Listen, I did well on this property.’ I over-renovated it, technically, but because we were coming into the spring-selling market and I knew other things were going to come on the market, I wanted to outshine the other properties, so I spent another $5,000 that I didn’t need to spend. But the property really stood out among everything else.”
She stuck with her gut and listed it at $219,900.
Casey received 14 offers in five days. The property sold for $245,000, which wasn’t even the highest offer.
“But it was the cash offer with closing in 13 days, no inspection,” she said, adding: “My hard money lender was blown away.”
Ultimately, that attribute led the 44-year-old to a career she never imagined: a real-estate agent and investor.
“All I wanted to be when I grew up was a lawyer,” Casey, who graduated from SUNY Albany in 2001 with criminal justice and psychology degrees, told Business Insider. “I had no other plans.” Until she started her first job as a paralegal at one of the biggest law firms in New York City, that is.
The job was demanding and often required 18-hour work days.
“There were times when I slept in the office,” she recalled. A particularly intense case that went to trial and relocated her to Florida for two months prompted her to reevaluate her career path. “That case just killed me. I gained 20 pounds, I never saw my friends, and when you’re in your early 20s, you want to have a little bit of a life.”
At the end of the case, which her team won, Casey gave her two weeks’ notice and walked away from a comfortable salary.
Draining 6 months’ worth of savings and becoming a real-estate agent
Casey didn’t have another job lined up when she quit, but she had about six months’ worth of expenses set aside.
“Because I worked so much — and when you’re on trial, after a certain time, you get double time — I just saved my money,” she said, but her savings went fast in a city as expensive as New York. “I just needed to really destress, and that’s what I did.”
Additionally, she spent time thinking about what she wanted her days to look like. For starters, she wanted more flexibility: “I wanted something where I wasn’t sitting in an office, and I wanted something where I can control the income that I could make,” she said.
Becoming a real-estate agent satisfied both of those criteria. Plus, she hoped it would set her up to one day invest in properties.
“I grew up in New York City. I’ve seen the changes as far as property values go,” said Casey. “So yes, becoming a real-estate agent was about time freedom, but the major factor was I was going to learn how to be a landlord and do leases and figure out how to get a building.”
She executed the first part of her plan and got her real-estate license in February 2006. Over the next 15 years, she worked on the leasing side of the business while pursuing various side projects in her spare time, from Amazon FBA to launching a YouTube channel — but she didn’t buy an investment property.
From agent to investor: Buying her first property in her 40s and cash flowing $1,000 a month
Casey spent her 20s and 30s in no rush to become a real-estate investor.
“I’m single, no kids, so I definitely have a different lifestyle and a different timeline than other people,” she noted. Since she plans to adopt, “I have never been on a clock. Being single has really helped me, but also hindered me: I can do whatever I want at any point, and so that’s helped me in leading a very stress-free life, but it has hindered me because I’ve always thought, ‘I’ve got so much time, I got so much time, I’ve got so much time.'”
Her mindset changed when she turned 40.
For Casey, who has been self-employed for most of her career and doesn’t have a traditional 401(k) plan, owning real estate has always been synonymous with retirement. When her 40th birthday rolled around, she realized that taking out a 30-year mortgage would mean she’d be 70 when she paid it off.
“I don’t want to retire at 70; I want to retire at 55, maybe 59,” she said, “So I was like, ‘Wait a minute, now that I’m 40, I need to get it into gear.'”
She decided to pause the serial entrepreneurship and dedicate the next three to five years to buying real estate. Specifically, she aimed to build a $5 million portfolio.
It was a number that felt like “enough,” she said. “As long as I have my retirement set, that will allow me to feel more comfortable jumping around from thing to thing.”
Her first step was to find an affordable market. New York City, where Casey has lived her entire life, was out of the question. She had about $40,000 in savings. While that wouldn’t go far in her home city, it was enough to get started in Baltimore.
Casey settled on Maryland’s largest city after researching various markets online. One of her strategies was to follow real-estate content creators on social media and pay attention to where they were investing and their returns. After selecting her market, she contacted a Baltimore-based investor she followed on YouTube, Charles Blair, and asked for a consultation.
At the time, she’d never set foot in the city she intended to invest in.
Blair put her in touch with his agent, and Casey was off to the races. She bussed back and forth between New York and Baltimore for about six weeks before finding her first property. It was an off-market deal she found on a real-estate wholesale website.
“I put in an offer, and that was that,” recalled Casey, who used a hard money lender and personal funds to close on a $105,000 single-family home in December 2021. “When I make a decision, it’s go time. What are we waiting for? Does this look good? Do the numbers make sense? That’s it.”
The purchase nearly wiped out all of her savings, she said: “Because I was a first-time investor, I had to put down 20%, three points to the lender. Including all closing costs, it was around $37,000, almost every dime I had.”
The property also required renovations.
“When you get a hard money loan, they give you 80% of the purchase price and 100% of the renovation. But it’s in draws, so you have to front the money first, and then they refund you,” explained Casey, who used business credit cards to start the renovation project. It ended up taking three months and cost her $45,000.
“I definitely made quite a few mistakes,” she said, noting that the renovation could have been done in three weeks on a $36,000 budget. But at the end of the process, she’d converted a four-bed, one-bath into a five-bed, two-bath with a fully finished basement in an emerging Baltimore neighborhood.
A tenant placement company helped her fill the rental with a Section 8 tenant. Casey started bringing in $2,350 a month, which the government covered for her tenant. Her mortgage was $1,433 at the time, she said, meaning she started profiting nearly $1,000 a month. Insider verified her property ownership by looking at a copy of her mortgage statement and confirmed the rental price by looking at a letter from the Housing Authority of Baltimore City. She profits even more now, as rent has increased and her mortgage has decreased.
Using creative financing to expand her portfolio and focusing on appreciation over cash flow
After draining her savings to acquire her first property, Casey decided: “I don’t want to spend my money on properties anymore. It’s not really scalable using your own money.”
She started researching creative financing strategies and how investors buy properties without tapping into their own savings.
Casey bought three more properties in Baltimore over the next year and a half, including one flip, using subject to financing (when the buyer takes over the existing financing) and seller financing (when the seller acts as the lender and provides a loan).
She considers her first deal a “slam dunk,” she said. “To get $1,100 right now in gross cash flow on your first deal in a low market is really, really good, especially in Baltimore where the average is $300.”
But cash flow has never been her main objective. For her, real estate is a retirement plan. She’d rather focus on long-term appreciation.
Her latest deal, which she purchased for $250,000, was purely an “appreciation play,” she said. She had to convert it into a rooming house just to cover the mortgage, but she’s bullish on the neighborhood: “I took the chance because I’ve seen the property values just in the last two years go from $300,000 to $500,000, $600,000. The property around the corner sold for $570,000.”
The way she sees it, going for big appreciation will help her get to her $5 million goal faster.
“I don’t need the cash flow. It’s nice, but that’s what working is for,” said Casey, who documents her real estate journey on YouTube and is aiming to buy her first multi-family property in 2024. “Also, I’m the type of person that, when I have a lot of money, I’m less motivated to do things, so I try to keep myself as poor as possible.”