Repossessing a house in Ireland is not an easy thing to do. Banks and other lenders have to jump through many hoops before any judge will let them seize a family home. And rightly so.
In most cases, the properties repossessed by banks involve people handing back the keys, mostly by voluntary surrender as they are drowning in a sea of debt.
In the fourth quarter of 2019, a total of 102 private dwelling homes were taken into possession by lenders, up from 80 in the previous quarter, according to data from the Central Bank.
While devastating for those involved, it’s a relatively small number when you consider that about 27,000 families were in arrears of two years or more prior to the Covid-19 shutdown of the economy.
Last year, David Hall, who has done much good work as an advocate for the many thousands of homeowners who found themselves in arrears following the financial crash more than a decade ago, predicted a tsunami of repossessions coming towards us.
This was based in part on the number of non-bank lenders, often referred to as vulture funds, seeking to enforce their loans, having acquired the mortgages from banks seeking to get the non-performing loans off their balance sheets.
An interesting study of mortgage repossession cases from last year by NUI Galway shows that banks accounted for two-thirds of repossession cases.
Carried out by Dr Padraic Kenna, director of the Centre for Housing Law, Rights and Policy at the university, the study examined mortgage repossession cases listed between April and December 2019. The funds accounted for 34 per cent of these.
This was a point-in-time exercise, of course, and the numbers for this year could tell a different story. Sadly, the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the Irish economy might yet push many of those who are on restructuring arrangements back into default, along with a new cohort of property owners who purchased properties in recent years. Hall might yet be proved right, albeit for different reasons.