Property Investor

 

After a number of false starts, it looks like a Property Price Database will finally happen

AS THE DÁIL settles into a new session, the property market may be on the verge of a significant breakthrough at last. After a number of false dawns, and a lengthy lead-in period, it now looks likely that actual house and apartment sale prices will be published officially before the end of the year.

The property market, which is critical to the whole economy, has been starved of accurate information. Little wonder that it is skeletal and almost moribund.

It is true that until 2008 estate agents volunteered private-treaty sale prices to journalists for publication on the property pages in newspapers. But then exaggerations were uncovered and that was the end of that. So now nothing is published.

The Minister for Justice and Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter, now intends to expand the role of the Property Services Regulatory Authority to include publishing information on the sale of houses and apartments. It will not be trends, indicators or spin with graphs and figures, but actual prices and addresses.

So, it has finally been decided that the address of a sold property, the price at which it was sold, and the date when it was sold will all be published. The provisions will be included in the Property Services (Regulation) Bill, the long-awaited bill that is intended to regulate operation of the property market here.

The bill is at committee stage in the Dáil having completed all stages in the Seanad. Its progress through the final stages to enactment largely depends on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. The committee’s chairman, David Stanton, says that he is anxious that the committee stage be finished this Dáil session, which means before the end of the year. The bill will then go to the President for signing into law.

Publishing sale prices, addresses and dates of sale will give a significant boost to the property market. It will be a first in Ireland.

To see what we have been missing, go to mouseprice.com or directly to the UK’s Land Registry website, landregistry.gov.uk. We may finally catch up with Britain, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway and other European countries.

The Society of Chartered Surveyors, which incorporates the Institute of Auctioneers and Valuers of Ireland, has been seeking a prices register while Frank Daly, the chairman of Nama, recently said it was “high time” a property price register was set up.

But there may be problems ahead. Privacy is an important constitutional right in Ireland.

In the case on phone-tapping taken by former Irish Timeseditor Geraldine Kennedy and Bruce Arnold against the State, the Supreme Court held that the right to privacy was one of the fundamental rights of the citizen. Neither the Government nor the Houses of the Oireachtas nor the President can set it at nought.

So is this proposal by Shatter unconstitutional? Nobody knows.

Strong opinions may be voiced that it would be, or that it would not be, but nobody knows yet. While the attorney general is better placed than most of us to know, the Supreme Court, and only the Supreme Court, can decide.

The Commissioner for Data Protection, Billy Hawkes, suggests that transparency can be achieved by reporting sales results in a particular area over a period of time. He argues that sale-price information can be fed to the market without identifying each house sold or the actual price achieved.

The problem with compromise is that it may please nobody and it may be business, or indeed no business, as usual.

The Central Statistics Office’s property price index, which was first published last May, may be very helpful to statisticians and civil servants, but it is not much use to sellers and buyers of houses and apartments who are starved of local, reliable sale information.

Based on information from eight lending institutions, the CSO index measures the change in the average level of prices.

The CSO tries to accommodate the differences between individual properties, even on the same street, but it measures trends, not actual prices obtained.

The strength of the Property Price Database will lie in its individual property information. Vendors and buyers will be able to obtain accurate information and compare prices and properties, noting, of course, that no two houses are the same. But at least comparisons at ground level will be possible.

It has not yet been decided whether the details will be published monthly or quarterly. The source of information for the new figures will be the Revenue Commissioners, which gets its information from individual solicitors for purchasers. Even transactions within families are included.

Nervousness, hearsay and suspicions have been driving, or indeed not driving, the property market here for the past four years. They take over when facts are not available. Maybe now, that is about to change.


Pat Igoe is a solicitor in Blackrock, Co Dublin