This month I’m looking at Stranmillis – particularly those streets closest to the Ulster Museum, sometimes called Stranmillis Village - including Chlorine Gardens, St Ives Gardens, St Albans Gardens and Sandymount Street, across to Ridgeway street and all the way back again to Landseer Street.
This area has generally been considered more upmarket than, say, Botanic (see last month's Area Profile) and property prices certainly reflect this. Higher ground, proximity to the Lagan, perhaps that bit leafier and - crucially - a stalwart element of permanent owner occupiers have kept Stranmillis interesting, quirky and fashionable.
Typically houses in Stranmillis don’t stay empty for long and investment properties are no exception. Belfast estate agents can get a flavour of the property market for the year ahead by following how quickly properties in this area are seen to shift. If there’s money in the economy, this is one of the first places you see it spent.
Upmarket apartments and HMO (houses of multiple occupancy) student houses are the main offering for the investor in this area. Returns are squeezed, especially compared with other areas of the city, but capital appreciation remains healthy.
Worth noting this is home to one of Belfast’s most active Residents’ Associations, The Old Stranmillis Residents’ Association. Planning applications do not escape their attention; especially those that fall outside their definition of “sustainable development”:
“OSRA would query what is meant by sustainable development and whether it will include such issues as parking, over-exploitation of urban land, excessive stress on services and other residential amenity.”
Perhaps due in part to the scrutiny of this venerable group, the area is that bit more attractive and arguably retains more character than say Rugby Road or Eglantine Avenue.
This, in turn, tends to mean that those developing sites in this area are the more professional outfits, as they have the array of professionals able to navigate the bureaucracy and allay the real objections that a formidable group like this can present.
In general, these developers are going for planning permission for apartment blocks but sites are running low – how long before we see the fronts of these terraced houses retained and blocks of modern apartments in filled? Demand for this accommodation is certainly running high so not long at all is our view.
HMO investors considering buying a large house in this area and hoping for large rents should remember there’s a difference between a house that’s HMO registered and one with planning permission passed to operate as an HMO.
The former has been NIHE approved as being safety compliant; the latter has had Belfast Planning Service planning permission granted.
One does not beget the other as many a seller has discovered too late when asked to show planning permission as part of a conveyance. Think of it like this: your car may have an MOT but if you don’t have a licence – you can’t drive it.
Residents’ groups are highly likely to oppose such an application and may cite the existing concentration of HMOs as reason enough for the opposition.
Does this mean those who are in are in and those who are out will stay out forever? The pattern over the last few years does suggest this.
Our view is this arc is going to go full circle – in the 1980s this was the place for ‘yuppies’ (remember them?) to live – it was fashionable, close to the fun and filled with like-minded souls.
30 years later, this bracket wants a designated parking space and the additional security afforded by a modern apartment block rather than the terraced houses on offer in the past.
What certainly has changed is the appetite and the seeming readiness of available funds for renting/buying the dream apartment – it’s for this reason that we tip apartments in this area for capital appreciation.
10 St Albans Gardens
A 2-bed terrace right in the heart of Stranmillis Village for £115,000. A little modernisation could make this an incredibly attractive prospect for the upwardly mobile young professional. Rental income of up to £650 gives this a maximum potential yield of 6.78%.
Image © Copyright Albert Bridge and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Finally, development work has started at the former site of the Belfast Wine Company. Planning permission was granted in December 2011 for 130, 132 and 133 Stranmillis Road and 1 and 3 Ridgeway Street for eight two-bed apartments, including two of those all-important car parking spaces and on-street parking. We would expect these to rent for £700 per month, and £725 for the flats with parking spaces.
31 - 33 Chlorine Gardens, the old Stranmillis Dental Surgery, has just sold for a little over the asking price of £330,000. It will be interesting to see how this site is developed, but we’d be very surprised if we don’t see more apartments going up in this prime spot.