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Jargon, missing digits, errors: Navigating the Residential Property Price Register

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Database has improved transparency in the market but has flaws

The Property Price Register has undoubtedly given a much-needed quantitative insight into the Irish property market – but it has its flaws. Photograph: Getty Images

It was hailed as revolutionary when introduced in 2012 and has undoubtedly given a much-needed insight into the Irish property market.

No longer do residential property buyers and sellers have to second-guess what an estate agent is telling them about sale prices; now it’s there in the Residential Property Price Register.

But errors and inconsistencies can make it hard to use – and almost impossible to find some properties. Prices can be missing a digit or two. Placenames have different spellings. And some are entered in Irish. So how is it actually compiled, what does it contain, and what does it omit?

“The register is a useful tool, as it provides a lot of transparency in the market and is helpful to agents and the public alike,” says Paul Murgatroyd, director of research and business development at DNG.

However, while its introduction has undisputedly been a very welcome development, some seven years on the quality of the data still leaves a lot to be desired, as does people’s understanding of the way the data is presented.

As Murgratoyd notes, there is scope for some “improvements” in the data collected.

What’s included?

According to the Property Services Regulatory Authority (PSRA), the information it receives comes directly from the Revenue Commissioners, and Revenue itself gets the data from stamp duty returns filed by solicitors. These stamp duty forms include the date of sale, the sale price of the property, its address, as well as further details on whether it includes VAT or not; if it’s the full market price; if it’s new or second hand; and a simple guide on its size.

According to the PSRA, the data is not cleaned at this point, so the quality of the data comes down to the quality of the information input by the solicitors.

“The PSRA does not in any way edit the data. It simply publishes, in a fully transparent manner, the data from the declarations which are filed with the Revenue Commissioners. If the data filed contained typographical errors then those errors will appear on the register,” it says.

And as anyone who has used the register will know, the quality of this data can vary.

When Kennedy Wilson acquired 274 apartments at The Grange in Stillorgan, south Dublin, it came up as just two apartments “Apt 1 Jade” and “10 Quartz” on the register

The PSRA of course isn’t the only public body that tracks house sales. The Central Statistics Office also gets this same stamp duty information from Revenue to compile its house price index. However, a spokesman for the CSO says that it uses the stamp duty returns as just a starting point, and matches the dataset to others, including BER certificates and Geodirectory data. It also “works” on it, to identify duplicates, unusually high value transactions and other errors.

What’s excluded?

Because the information comes from Revenue, this means that only properties on which stamp duty has been paid to indicate transfer of ownership are entered into the database.

But as there are a number of exemptions and reliefs from stamp duty – it is not always necessary to file a stamp duty return to claim these reliefs – it means that certain property transactions won’t appear on the register.

According to Revenue, these include the creation of a joint tenancy between spouses/civil partners; a transfer of assets related to a specific type of merger; the sale, transfer or lease of a house or land to a housing authority; sales and leases involving Nama, Nama subsidiaries and participating institutions; as well as certain types of lease.

Why are some car spaces/land sales included?

One apparent quirk of the price register is that sometimes car-parking spaces and land of less than an acre will come up on the register. For example, back in 2017, 68 car-parking spaces at Northbank on the north docks showed up on the register as having sold for €1.1 million, or about €16,176 each.

But there is a reason for this. According to the Revenue, this arises when land qualifies as “residential property” for stamp duty purposes. This means it must meet the definition of “curtilage”, which refers to an area of land attached to a house, of up to one acre. This curtilage can include ancillary buildings, structures or areas, such as outhouses, a yard, a garage, a driveway, a garden, etc, which, Revenue says, “are usually enjoyed and used with the residential property”.

Similarly, a car-parking space which is acquired with an apartment will also typically be treated as curtilage, and therefore residential property, for stamp duty purposes.

On the other hand, not all car-parking spaces or land sales will be included on the register. If they’re not associated with a particular house or apartment, then they won’t be regarded as residential property for stamp duty purposes.

How often is the register updated?

Typically the PSRA gets data from Revenue on a Tuesday, and the information is input on a Wednesday, so it’s a tight turnaround time.

Of course there will be a lag in the stamp duty returns; many agents say that it can now take up to six months for a sale of a house to close, which means that the data input to the PSRA will lag. In addition, solicitors must submit the transaction details to Revenue within 44 days of the transaction execution date, so this might cause further delays.

What does the ‘Not Full Market Price’ field mean?

One of the particular quirks of the price register is the field for “Not Full Market Price”. Rather than state “Full market price” and have a yes or no answer to this, the way the register has chosen to phrase this can confuse. But, if you remember your rule on double negatives, you can deduce that a “no” answer to this question can be translated as meaning that the sale actually was the full market price. For example, last year out of more than 56,000 transactions, there were only about 3,000, or about 5 per cent, that were sold for below market price.

Then you might well ask, what does below market price actually mean?

Well, according to the PSRA, “not market value” arises when only a fraction or part of the property is being purchased, or in a very small number of cases, where properties are declared as being purchased in exchange for other property, stocks and shares, etc.

Purchase prices can confuse too. How about this one: 52 Mountpleasant Ave, Ranelagh, Dublin 6. It’s indicated as being the full sale price – but has a sale price of just €5,250

Revenue however offers a clearer guide, and includes the category which most people assume to be the case when “not full market price” is indicated, ie when the property is transferred either as an outright gift, and no money is paid at all, or when the property is transferred as a partial gift, such as can often arise between family members.

In addition, property sales will also tick this box, Revenue says, when a house is transferred in satisfaction of a debt, or where a debt is assumed.

Errors

The register is home to frequent errors, both when it comes to addresses used, and prices input.

Consider this one; “Apt 70, Eustace Court, Coolinor, Dublin”. So it has no postcode, no area of Dublin, and it’s spelt incorrectly.

We assume that it’s actually referring to the sale of a unit at Eustace Court, Cualanor, Upper Glenageary Road, Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin (sold for €400,882, if you’re wondering).

Or where is this? Apt 1 Butchers Shop, Main Street, Garristown, Dublin (sold for €85,000). Are there several butchers’ shops in the town?

And is it Kiltiernan or Kilternan?

The register is also home to some apparently injudicious uses of our native tongue. Would you be able to identify this property, for example, 60 ARDA CHOILL NA BEITHE, TAMHLACHT, BAILE ATHA CLIATH 24? Well you wouldn’t if you were searching for Birchwood Heights in Tallaght.

Or how about 36 AN DROM RUA, AN REABOG, LUIMNEACH? Again, you wouldn’t have found this if you were searching for Dromroe, Rhebogue.

According to Revenue there is no standard form for the address on stamp duty forms, and the address used will typically be the one that is attached to the LPT Property ID number, unless it’s changed by the solicitor when completing the return.

But it does beg the question why such obvious inaccuracies are not corrected by solicitors; one thing for sure is that it does make these properties more difficult to search for.

Where mistakes are identified, a spokesman for Revenue says that “they are followed up with the appropriate Revenue intervention”. Where a return is amended, the price register will then automatically update within a couple of days.

Incorrect prices

And it’s not just addresses that can perplex. Purchase prices can confuse too. How about this one: 52 Mountpleasant Ave, Ranelagh, Dublin 6. Now it’s indicated as being the full sale price – but has a sale price of just €5,250. It is unlikely however that the property was the bargain of the century when a neighbouring property went on the market for €785,000, so it’s likely to be missing at least two digits.

Or how about a four-bed bungalow in Malahide for just €8,000 – when a neighbouring property was on the market for €800,000? Or a property at the new development Stillorgan Gate on the upper Kilmacud Road for just €15,000?

We did wonder if incorrect prices also meant incorrect stamp duty bills being paid, and flagged this with Revenue, who answered that it draws on feedback from the PSRA in assessing non-compliance.

What about multi-unit sales?

It’s a frequent bugbear of the register; when multiple properties are sold, at the same time and to the same buyer, these often show in the register as just one property. For example, when Kennedy Wilson acquired 274 apartments at The Grange in Stillorgan, south Dublin, it came up as just two apartments “Apt 1 Jade” and “10 Quartz” on the register.

This is because for the purposes of the Revenue, the stamp duty return is about collecting tax – not necessarily data.

In other entries each unit is listed and priced individually.

While problematic for the average user, it’s also problematic for the CSO.

“It does represent a small problem to us in terms of extra effort, as we need to find out and code the correct number of dwelling units,” says a spokesman.

The future

While there is obviously much scope to broaden and enhance the information the register offers – never mind improving its accuracy – the PSRA says that this is not on the agenda at the moment.

Murgatroyd for example, would like to see the square footage of properties included on the register, as well as the type of property, ie whether it’s a bungalow, or semi-detached etc, along with an enhanced search functionality on the PSRA’s website.

“One easy improvement would be if you could search by new home or second-hand property,” he says.

The use of Eircodes would also be a welcome development and “would definitely help” the work of the CSO, a spokesman said, if all houses had a correct Eircode both on Revenue and BER datasets, and if all buildings had a BER certificate.

“This would improve the accuracy of the matching process and save resources in here,” he said, adding that extra variables, such as floor area, would be useful for their work too.