Give Me A Crash Course In . . . falling house prices

Prices fell by 1.4 per cent nationally in January. Is that good or bad news?

House prices haven’t started falling again, have they?

Oh yes they have. In fact last month they fell at their sharpest rate in three years.

That sounds bad. Is it?

Prices fell by 1.4 per cent nationally in January, with the decline in Dublin put at just under 2 per cent, according to the Central Statistics Office, the official keeper of the prices. In cash terms, that means that about €5,000 was wiped off the price of the average Dublin home in just 31 days – that works out at €6.70 an hour.


So it is bad, then?

That depends on whether you’re a buyer or a seller, really – and the numbers have to be put into perspective. When it comes to houses, January is a woeful month. It also seems unlikely that recent rule changes by the Central Bank, which mean that people need a down-payment of at least 20 per cent – or 10 per cent in the case of first-time buyers – have had any impact yet. People buying today already have mortgage approval and that lasts for six months, so the new rules won’t really starting making a difference until June. A more meaningful picture can be painted by looking at the year-on-year price differentials.

What do they tell us?

Property prices are higher than they were this time last year. In fact, residential property prices nationally are up 15.5 per cent over the past 12 months, while the average home in Dublin will cost you 21.6 per cent more now than it did last year. Forget percentages.

Can you give me that in cash terms?

The average selling price of a home across the State is now about €205,000 – €28,000 more than last year. In Dublin, prices have climbed even more dramatically year on year and the average home will set you back €276,000, up almost €50,000 in a year.

So this isn’t another crash.

Who knows? The reality is that when it comes to predicting what is going to happen in the Irish property market, nobody – not politicians, not bankers, not economists and not even journalists! – have covered themselves in glory over the last 20 years.

Where do this week’s figures fit in to the historical picture?

That’s easier to answer. Residential property prices across the State are now 38.5 per cent lower than they were at their peak in early 2007. House prices in Dublin remain 36.9 per cent lower than their peak, while apartment prices in the capital are still 44.4 per cent lower than their highest point. Outside Dublin, residential property prices are 41.9 per cent lower than their highest level in 2007.

That doesn’t sound great.

Again, it depends on where you are standing. It is very bad for people who bought property in 2007. In fact, according to new research from the Central Bank, half of all mortgages taken out in that year were still in negative equity in the middle of 2014, with the picture almost as grim for those who had the misfortune to buy a home in 2005 and 2006.

Anything else I need to know?

The property market here is still kind of banjaxed. Just 2 per cent of Ireland’s housing stock of 1.9 million properties changed hands last year. In a normally functioning market, a turnover rate of 4 per cent would be expected, suggesting the market is still far from being right.