Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland's Progressive mortgage lending up 18%

Northern Ireland-based building society The Progressive said low interest rates helped it boost its mortgage lending last year.

The Progressive increased new mortgage lending by 18% in 2012 to £125m.

It said this was driven by increased activity in the market and competitive mortgage deals.

The building society made a pre-tax profit of £3.1m in 2012, down from £3.3m in 2011.

The figures for mortgage lending tally with other evidence of increasing activity in the Northern Ireland property market.

Prices have fallen by more than half since their peak in 2007 and homes are therefore more affordable.

With prices now low enough, buyers don't need to borrow as much to buy a home. The current ratio in Northern Ireland is 2.89 times income compared to an average of 3.26 across the UK.

The number of first-time buyers last year, according to recent figures from the Council of Mortgage Lenders, was 5,100, up by 400, or nearly 9%, on the previous year.

This increasing activity is also reflected in the property index produced by the Department of Finance. It shows the last quarter of 2012 as having the highest number of transactions since the same quarter in 2007.

Sales are now 43% above the low of 2009, but still 68% below the 2007 peak.

While low interest rates have been good for borrowers they remain a problem for savers.

The Progressive maintained the value of is savings book at £1.47bn, but noted that it had been a "frustrating year" with continuing record-low Bank of England interest rates.