Saturday 21 October 2017

Charlie Weston: It may not be a bubble yet, but make no mistake there is trouble ahead

Commentators have blamed the loosening of Central Bank rules on the size of deposits first-time buyers need, and the Government's help-to-buy rebate, for the surge in lending. (Stock photo)
Commentators have blamed the loosening of Central Bank rules on the size of deposits first-time buyers need, and the Government's help-to-buy rebate, for the surge in lending. (Stock photo)
Charlie Weston

Charlie Weston

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble. Fans of William Shakespeare might forgive this journalist for twisting the "double, double toil and trouble" words spoken by the witches in 'Macbeth'.

Looking at the surge in the numbers approved for a mortgage and the leap in property prices, it is hard not to conclude that a witch's brew has again cast a spell on our housing market.

Property has an ability to control and influence people in this country like the magical powers summoned up by a witch.

The spell is causing immense toil and trouble again. And there is danger ahead.

New figures show that twice as many new buyers now have approval from their bank to take out a mortgage as there are new properties coming to the market.

Some 20,000 buyers, both first-timers and a small number of investors, were given the green light to borrow over the last year.

Around 18,500 houses will be built this year, according to calculations by Goodbody Stockbrokers economist Dermot O'Leary.

But most these are set to be self-builds that will not be available for new buyers and movers desperate to make a down-payment on a new home.

That means only about 10,000 new properties will be available for potential new buyers.

That situation will cause prices continuing to rise this year. They are already up 11pc in the past 12 months, according to the Central Statistics Office.

So this is a bubble, then?

Not so fast, say the experts.

The easing of Central Bank rules on the size of deposits for first-time buyers and the Government's help-to-buy rebate have been blamed for the jump in property prices and the surge in lending. Central Bank Governor Philip Lane denies we are in the midst of a new bubble.

A bubble is usually defined by loose credit. The Central Bank rule, where borrowers can get no more than three-and-a-half times their income in a mortgage, means credit is not too freely available.

One of the other classic attributes of a property bubble is a rush of investors into the market in the expectation that prices will keep rising strongly.

Only around 5pc of those being approved for a mortgage at the moment are investors.

A chronic lack of supply and the strength of the economy are driving prices up, rather than loose lending.

What all this boils down to is that we may not be experiencing a bubble in the classic economists' definition of it, but it certainly feels like one.

Our huge imbalance between supply and demand will remain until housing output is scaled up massively.

It may not be a bubble, yet. But we are certainly in trouble.

Irish Independent

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