Belfast Telegraph

In Dublin, the market for homes is gradually going crazy

One of Cairn Homes’ new housing developments in the Republic
One of Cairn Homes’ new housing developments in the Republic

By Richard Curran

The housing market has gone truly mad. Not good mad or even bad mad. Just a bit crazy. There is huge demand for housing. Homes are in short supply as they cannot be built quickly enough.

So surely this should be good news for any developers building homes and for banks lending mortgages to all these punters looking to buy.

Yet figures from the Irish Banking and Payments Federation show the number of buyers approved for a mortgage in January was down 3.2% on the previous year.

This is because not enough people are qualifying for mortgages due to the very restrictive lending cap rules enforced by the Central Bank.

The rules are there for a good reason - to stop the banks from lending recklessly again.

Developers like Michael O'Flynn are now starting to say the market is totally dysfunctional because not enough people can get a mortgage.

They question whether the rules are too restrictive.

This leaves the market wide open for cash buyers or what are known as institutional or non-household buyers.

These include private equity funds and state-backed housing charities trying to house people.

AIB and Bank of Ireland have a lot riding on the future of the mortgage market.

For them it is a big part of their growth strategy in an economy which is growing at a rapid clip with falling unemployment.

AIB's share price fell by 7% last Thursday while Bank of Ireland's was down 4.6% as many Irish stocks took a pounding.

Cairn Homes, which reported a very strong set of profit figures on Thursday, saw its share price tank by more than 3%.

Lots of things just don't add up. There are buyers for homes being built but they are not the traditional ones.

Even the number of standard cash buyers has fallen as the demand from private equity investors and the likes of housing bodies grows.

Many people with a lump of cash to invest have already bought.

Cairn reported a huge boost in pre-tax profit to €37.6m, compared to €6m in 2017.

This was expected as the group has been ramping up its delivery on development sites.

Last year it closed 804 sales at an average price of €366,000, compared to 418 sales in 2017 at an average price of €315,000.

Housing demand is good for developers like Cairn, but weakening mortgage demand is bad for banks.

The real issue is a wider picture of a shift away from home ownership which is taking place.

Market conditions, mortgage caps, housing shortages and a more conservative lending environment is making it tougher for first-time buyers to purchase a home.

If Irish society is being funnelled into long-term renting on a model similar to continental Europe, then tenants should be able to enjoy the kind of rights they have as tenants in those countries.

They should also have access to the kind of housing which is suitable for long-term family renting. Neither of these things are happening.

Not enough houses are being built and Cairn and developer Glenveagh say they do not see supply catching up with demand for several years to come.

But that is only good news for them as long as the institutional and non-household purchases keep coming.

In theory, if more houses are built then prices will stop rising. But the cost of building houses is getting higher and the capacity of the industry to build at a fast-enough pace poses another challenge.

It is extraordinary to think that state-funded housing charities are back in the market buying houses at current prices when the value of homes has gone up by around 83pc in Dublin since the bottom of the market.

Surely, there has been a monumental waste of public money by not seeing the problem sooner and buying (or building) at cheaper prices.

Equally, rent supplement has had to go up rapidly to support more families because rents were allowed to go so high.

There is no quick fix, they say, to the housing crisis.

One wonders if it is being fixed at all. The mistakes are somewhat different this time round compared to the early noughties, but the value to society and the economy of having a relatively affordable roof over your head has still not been grasped.

Belfast Telegraph