Irish housing — bubble,boom or burst
By John Corry
Ireland has practically led the world in house-price inflation since the start of its economic boom in 1996. On average, house prices have spiraled by 18 percent per year since 1996. The skyrocketing in prices has been mainly caused by Ireland's high economic growth of over 8 percent per year. The explosion in growth over the last 10 years has drawn large numbers of people to Dublin, inevitably ensuring that the demand for housing far exceeds supply.
As in any boom in price levels there have been winners and losers in Irish society. Currently, those drawing the shortest of short straws are those who are in the unfortunate position of trying to buy their first home. Their difficulty is that although the prices of houses in Dublin have increased threefold since 1988, salaries have not kept pace.
Those facing the chasm between salary and house prices are mainly people in their mid-20s who cling to the increasingly impossible dream of owning a house.
The Irish tradition has always been to build or buy a home and set down roots within a community. Levels of home ownership in Ireland are very high for Europe. Over 85 percent of Irish people own their own homes in comparison to France, which has an ownership rate of 55 percent.
Owning a home is seen as providing security, but given the rampant acceleration in prices it is unlikely that this will remain a realizable goal for young Irish people in the future.
Gerry Quinlan, 28, works for Intel on an annual salary of 32,000 euros (¥3.74 million). His girlfriend Aine, 27, is a primary school teacher and earns 26,000 euros (¥3.04 million). They are saving to get married and to buy a house, but they are caught in the rent trap with no quick or easy way out. Gerry points out, "We've tried all the banks but the biggest mortgage they'll lend us is 110,000 euros (¥12.85 million), and you wouldn't get a kennel in Dublin for that money."
Aine is depressed by the incongruity of their situation: "It's all really discouraging. You see, our rent is 950 euros (¥111,150) per month but if we bought a house the mortgage would only be 850 euros (¥99,450) per month."
Like many young Irish couples, Gerry and Aine are faced with the prospect of delaying their wedding for at least two years, moving back with their parents while they save as much money as possible and pray that house prices will fall.
Many parents are now re-mortgaging their own homes in order to help finance the house purchase of their children.
Padraig McManus, 29, managed to buy his first home two years ago: "I have a good job but I still had to borrow 25 percent from my parents, and I'll have to rent out a room to pay that loan back at the same time as paying the mortgage."
The average price for a secondhand home in Ireland currently stands at 200,000 euros (¥23.4 million). Today this would be sufficient for a three-bedroom semidetached house in a Dublin satellite town. Relative to Japanese property prices, this seems a bargain, but when compared with the average industrial wage of 29,000 euros (¥3.39 million), it poses a problem. This is a ratio of almost 7-to-1 whereas the last generation had only to contend with a ratio of 3-to-1.
Another result of higher prices is that communities in Ireland are being broken up because the younger generation has to seek lower-priced house in different areas. In Dublin, young couples are moving out to satellite towns where they often find themselves cut off from their families and the communities in which they grew up.
In my own case, I now live over an hour and 30 minutes from where I grew up. Barring the simultaneous deaths of several rich uncles there is no way that I could afford a house in the same area.
Just as there are losers, there are also winners in the property game. Eric Pomares, who came to Dublin five years ago and is shortly to return to Paris, bought a house in Dublin for 127,000 euros (¥14.86 million): "I am very content as my estate agent expects the house to sell for 225,000 euros (¥26.33 million), so I have a very nice bonus for my future."
Recently banks are warning investors that the Irish property market now faces the imminent danger of collapsing because the large surges in prices are unsustainable. However, this won't stop young Irish people from desperately trying to get on the first rung of the property ladder.
The scare-mongering regarding a collapse has been issued every year for the last five years, but still the prices are rising. It is certain that prices cannot continually rise, but until the supply of housing exceeds demand, there can be no real and effective price adjustment. For young Irish men and women, the wait for affordable housing may yet be considerable.
Shukan ST: May 17, 2002
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