Wednesday 18 January 2017

Home truths: Shortages rearing in regional towns

Published 22/01/2016 | 02:30

The Central Bank's lending threshold may be reached by houses outside of Dublin.
The Central Bank's lending threshold may be reached by houses outside of Dublin.

It's a sum ranging between €200,000 and €240,000 - depending on who you are talking to and where they are located.

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This is the magic price threshold at which building a house becomes economically feasible in Ireland today. Builders and estate agents will tell you that unless you're getting more than €200,000 for the sale of a new family semi, you're not making a living as a builder.

If you're based in Dublin or Cork City, the price of land, labour and materials is obviously more expensive, so that sum is usually more than €220,000.

We tend to forget that since the property crash we've introduced a slew of changes to our building regulations which have greatly increased the standard of the homes which we are not building.

Much of these higher standards relate to insulation and energy usage. We'll certainly get much better homes as a result of the new regulations and they'll likely pay the buyer back that money in spades over a 20 year period in energy saved.

But the extra €30,000 it costs to provide such improved homes means that in many parts of Ireland, another year or two has been added before brand new semis become economically viable again to build.

In Dublin, the upper €240,000 threshold has been reached in most, (although surprisingly not all parts) of the city and suburbs. The same is true in parts of Cork and Galway cities and in parts of north Wicklow. The problems in these locations with supply of homes now lies with planners seeking high-density builds where buyers want family abodes.

But almost everywhere else in Ireland it will take years before home-building becomes economically viable again. In faster-recovering locations, property prices are now 60pc of what they were before the crash, but in other less-populated counties, prices are still running at less than half of what they were. The gap between average prices and viability is massive.

In tomorrow's Irish Independent, we publish our annual 64 page property price guide: How Much Is Your House Worth? 2016. In it, we will show that property professionals in almost all of Ireland's medium to small towns are highlighting the growing shortage of family-sized homes as a matter of urgency.

What our price guide will also show is average home prices, in regional towns especially, are currently falling a long way short of that ¤200,000 barrier.

What it also shows is double-digit percentage annual inflation has kicked in around most regional towns as a result of scarcity.

In Ennis for example, prices have increased by 10pc through the last 12 months. However, despite this kind of inflation, it takes the cost of an average property to just €145,000.

At this rate it will take four more years of 10pc price increases to make new home building plausible again in the town. Now work out the math for Longford where the average home price is €65,000.

But young families are back in regional town markets and looking to buy homes again because (a) they have to and (b) because the banks are starting to lend again and they can now get a loan after many years of mortgage drought.

With an economic recovery of sorts taking place in most locations, these buyers are now also competing in the regional towns with growing numbers of returned emigrants, coming home to the economic uplift with dollars or sterling in their pockets.

Even in the worst-hit locations where ghost estates abounded until recently, shortage is emerging as the key factor when people talk about the property market.

While it might have slowed things up (first-time buyers are now seven years older) the recession years didn't stop the few thousand living in every medium sized town from falling in love; it didn't stop them getting married and having children.

Life has continued even in those towns (there are many) where the recovery has yet to land and half or more of the commercial mainstreet remains shuttered down.

But can Ennis wait four years to provide enough new homes to house it's emerging young families? Can towns in Longford really look at the prospect of no new homes being built for the foreseeable future - other than the traditional 'one off' abodes that farming families tend to build on their own lands?

More prosperous towns, which have key employers or multinational firms expanding locally or new ones looking to set up shop, now have nowhere for the new workers to live.

To outside observers it might plausibly seem Ireland Inc has gone out of its way to create the perfect conditions for the prevention of home-building. Because if by some miracle homes in Mayo, Longford Clare, Offaly and so forth do somehow manage to increase in value to €220,000 to make building plausible, well those new homes soon run straight into a new threshold - the Central Bank's mortgage lending restrictions.

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