Talking Property


The market has bottomed out but money is hard to come by says ISABEL MORTON

MANY HAVE hinted at it over the last couple of weeks, but I’m just going to say it: THE PROPERTY MARKET HAS REACHED THE BOTTOM!

Yes, it just had to be said. And out loud. And, now that it’s done, all those who have been carefully circumnavigating the subject, can relax. (You’re all off the hook now, as I’ll be taking the blame.)

At least I know that I can hardly be accused of being in receipt of brown envelopes from estate agents, suitcases of cash from property developers or discreet offshore accounts from the Bold Brians given that they haven’t a brass farthing between them.

Anyway, back to the subject in hand, the property market, which has been crawling along the bottom of the seabed since mid-December is now hopping up and down in anticipation, waiting for the banks to lift them out of the murky depths and get them swimming again.

There has been a subtle shift in mood of late, as it has dawned on many that now might be the time to buy. It started with an increase in the number of hits on internet property sites over Christmas, then by mid-January estate agents noted an increase in viewing figures and over the last few weeks potential purchasers have been testing out the banks to see if they really are as “open for business” as they claim to be.

And all this was going on quietly against a backdrop of bank scandals, economic and political chaos and an unprecedented increase in unemployment. But then, owning one’s own home is, and always has been, of high importance to most Irish people.

But before you cheerfully charge off to your bank to avail of the lowest interest rates in history, there are a number of caveats to consider: you must have a deposit of at least 10 per cent (but ideally 15 per cent or more); must be buying the property for your own personal use and with the intention of living in it for a minimum of five years; and must have a secure job and/or source of income. In other words, no more 100 per cent mortgages, no buy-to-let investments, no “flipping” and no risk of failing to meet your monthly repayments.

On the presumption that you can comply with these conditions, then, and only then, should you consider approaching a bank, prostrating yourself before them and begging for a mortgage.

You will then be put through the rigours of their recently rewritten stress tests and will be required to provide details of your great-grandparents credit history, as they try to establish whether or not your gene pool is prone to defaulting on loans. You must then tolerate a wait of a couple of months while your loan approval is rubberstamped by at least a dozen nervous wrecks on the credit committee.

If you survive all that, then you are ready to benefit from probably one of the best times in recent history to buy a property.

It has never been cheaper to borrow money and interest rates are predicted to drop even further. Property prices have also reduced considerably from their peak in spring 2006, in some cases by as much as 50 per cent.

Serious vendors have pitched their asking price realistically and are going to be flexible and open to offers.

However, not all vendors come under the 3Ds (death, divorce and debt) category.

Those who have their minds set on trading up are not in any great rush and, although they know that any financial hit they take on the sale of their existing home will be well covered by the savings they make on their next purchase, they will bide their time and wait for a reasonable offer.

And, as can be judged by the huge increase in the number of properties on the rental market, there are numerous investors who are under no pressure to sell at all and are quite prepared to wait for property prices to start lifting again.

As a result, estate agents instructions are down 50 per cent on last year and, of those properties, only 1.2 per cent are for sale in the Dublin area. Competition for well-located housing stock may increase quicker than previously expected as, despite lower rents, it is now becoming cheaper to buy.

Some estate agents suggest that we are now experiencing a seesaw effect, as property prices have overcorrected of late. But then again, given that house prices are covered by the Data Protection Act, estate agents are the only ones who actually know what prices are being paid for property these days.

So, you can’t say that you haven’t been warned. And I’m going into hiding, as messengers are being shot for a lot less these days.