Friday 28 April 2017

Let's not forget the human stories behind the hoopla at 'distressed' property auction

Properties at last Friday's auction weren't owned by the rich but by ordinary people struggling to cope, writes Celia Larkin

Celia Larkin

Whether all of those who marched in through the Shelbourne's revolving front door were genuinely interested in buying or were satisfying their curiosity is anybody's guess. I suspect Pareto's 80/20 rule applies: that close to 80 per cent of those attending any auction are there for the vicarious thrill of watching other people engage in a dynamic that eggs everybody on to spend money in public.

But, one way or the other, Allsops Auctions and Space Real Estate must surely have been happy with the end result. Apart from the odd exception, like the four-bedroom house on Raglan Lane in Dublin that sold for €550,000 -- €50,000 under the guide price, prices were actually higher than had been expected. About 30 per cent greater. Each price, nonetheless, was still a fraction of the price of property at the height of the boom. Those present on Friday must have realised that they were witnessing a vivid exemplar of the meltdown -- a perfect example of the Bonfire of the Vanities.

In all the excitement of the day it would have been easy to forget the human story behind the sales. The distress that shattered dreams, pushed people into humiliating climbdowns, caused endless sleepless nights. It's not hard to imagine the endless months of worry on the part of the original owners that preceded the repossession. If they were wise they stayed away on the day, rather than witness the appalling speed at which the quintessential symbol of their earlier success story was sold for a fraction of what they paid for it. Heart- breaking. These were not massive properties like buildings in the hands of Nama or blocks of unsold apartment built by overzealous developers. These were private homes and small commercial and investment properties. Five years ago, being rich was a legitimate aspiration. Today, being rich, in the past or present, is to be a stereotype -- a caricature with a 2005 Ferrari they can't shift. But the properties sold in the Shelbourne weren't owned by those kind of people. The owners tended to be private individuals caught by the downturn. Ordinary people who have lost their jobs or businesses, or have taken such large cuts in income that to maintain the repayments became impossible. The scary bit is it could be you or me tomorrow packing up our belongings and closing the door on an empty house.

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