Why is it taking us so bloody long to buy a house?

House Hunter: We were very naive starting out, and didn’t cop that the sums appearing on the property price register were for houses advertised up to a year previously

House prices rose in November by 11.6% year on year – down from 12.1% the previous month – according to the latest figures from the Central Statistics Office. Photograph: iStock/Getty Images

House prices rose in November by 11.6% year on year – down from 12.1% the previous month – according to the latest figures from the Central Statistics Office. Photograph: iStock/Getty Images

 

Attempting to make space on my phone last week, I came across a text to my mother from last January, linking to a myhome.ie ad for a house my partner and I had been going to view that weekend, one of the first.

There have been many, many more emails and texts and ads and photos of houses sent between us since. Way too many. Deleting them all felt very cleansing.

Each time we have lost out on a house to another buyer, we felt like we were back to square one again, with nothing whatsoever to show for the sweat and tears we poured into our bidding efforts.

But the Christmas break gave us time to refocus. Two months with very few houses to see has helped us reflect on the whole experience so far, what we’ve learned from it, and why it seems to be taking us so bloody long to buy a house.

We were very naive starting out; we thought we would get a lot more for our money. We didn’t cop that the sums appearing on the property price register for the areas we were interested in were for houses advertised up to a year previously.

Looking back, we berate ourselves for not going for some of those early properties we let pass us by, thinking they were way too expensive. Given the prices they would get now – €30,000 more at the very least – they were bargains, and are probably now out of our reach. Even the burned-out two-up, two-down I wrote about a few months back, which sold eventually for €365,000, seems like a reasonably good deal.

All those viewings we’ve been to – close to 80 at this stage – have armed us with knowledge. We are much clearer about what our priorities are, and more realistic about what we can afford.

More discerning

We’ve certainly become more discerning in the properties we bother going to see now, too. It took us a while to figure out what a certain floor area felt like and where we would draw the line size-wise, and that going to view houses way out of our budget purely out of interest only makes us envious and frustrated. It took a lot of dud viewings to figure that out.

Another glimmer of a silver lining is that we have also managed to save a bit more money over the past year, to add to our original budget. It is nowhere near matching the rise in prices in that time, but it certainly helps.

The latest property price figures from the Central Statistics Office, published last week, “indicate a slight moderation in annual price growth”. Prices rose in November by 11.6 per cent year on year (lower in Dublin, at 11.3 per cent), down from 12.1 per cent the previous month.

It seems ludicrous, really, but this was probably the most positive news I’ve read about the Irish housing market in recent months. I almost felt relief. Any suggestion that the market is slowing down, even by just a tiny bit, and I’ll cling to it.

It rings true with what we’ve been observing in our own hunt, too. In the first six months of last year, the rising prices were clearly evident with each new house that came to market in the Dublin city areas we had our eyes on. It was quite frightening, frankly. We – along with many other househunters like us – were beginning to panic.

But in the second half of the year, things did appear to be slowing down a bit. Supply was very low, but the bidding wars didn’t seem quite as frantic, and some properties we had our eyes on – and a few we bid on ourselves – sold below the asking price. Some significant price drops were also advertised, and other houses we saw last summer are still for sale, with the highest offers tens of thousands off the asking price. The owners, obviously in no rush to sell, have the luxury of waiting for a better bid to come along.

Year of two halves

Daft.ie economist Ronan Lyons said last week that this “year of two halves” for the market was down to the loosening of Central Bank rules in early 2017, whereby the deposit required from first-time buyers was reduced from 20 to 10 per cent, which greatly increased the number of buyers in the first half of the year.

Davy Stockbrokers estimates that Dublin prices will go up by a much more modest 6.6 per cent this year as affordability limits bear down on buyers, and fewer mortgages are permitted to breach the 3½-times-income restriction set by the Central Bank, thanks to a recent tightening of the lending rules. Hearing news like this takes the pressure off a bit, and we don’t feel so panicked to buy quickly.

The first week in January, email alerts started dropping into my inbox with houses that have piqued our interest, and we’ve a growing list of ones to view this weekend. We’ve high hopes for the next few months, but we’ve pledged to be patient: we’re waiting for the right one.

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