A property register


WHY HAS it taken so long to implement a change first called for in 1974? Mr Justice Kenny, in his landmark report on the price of building land, then found it impossible to compile accurate national statistics for land prices and property-related transactions.

Later this month, and after nearly four decades, we should finally see some improvement. The newly established Property Services Regulatory Authority (PSRA) will publish a national register of house and commercial property prices, which the public can access and search online. The database will enable anyone to discover easily and quickly prices paid for properties sold in Ireland from January, 2010: they will be published within a month of sale date. The property register will provide buyers and sellers with a service they have previously lacked; accurate and up-to-date price information on the market value of individual properties.

In recent years price transparency in the Irish property market has made it difficult for buyers and sellers to make informed investment decisions. In a depressed property market, where house prices have collapsed and where no accurate information on property sales exists, there is little investor confidence. And certainly not in an opaque property market where sale price data is not publicly available. In recent years under data protection legislation, publication of house price sales – except those held at public auction – has been illegal.

But as most house sales in Ireland are by private treaty, the sale price can only be published where buyer and seller both agree. And they rarely do. Guide prices provided by vendors and auctioneers for house sales are no substitute, and have little public credibility. In Britain, a similar privacy law restriction was amended to permit publication of house price sales; Ireland, belatedly, has followed suit. The detail made available on the property register will, however, be limited. The data will not include details of the size of the property sold, and so will not serve as a valuation database for houses.

The new register is just one of several responsibilities of the PSRA. The new authority’s main purpose is to set and enforce standards for property service providers, including auctioneers, letting agents and others, and to ensure the consumers of these services have adequate protection. What is not easily explained is why reform in this area, long overdue and so often promised by successive governments, has taken so long to achieve.

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