News Analysis

Saturday 30 August 2014

The smart, ballsy guys are buying up property right now

Brendan O'Connor

Published 29/07/2007 | 00:00

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SO THE sky is falling in again. The Irish stock market is apparently in meltdown, because of the housing market, which is also apparently in meltdown. The level of property horror stories is at an all-time high and everyone is tripping over each other to predict even greater gloom than the next guy.

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Tell you what, I think I know what I'd be doing if I had money, and if I wasn't already massively over-exposed to the property market by virtue of owning a reasonable home. I'd be buying property. In fact, I might do it anyway. You don't even need money to buy property these days. Imagine if you walked into the bank and said, "Listen, guys. I want to gamble a million on the stock market. I have 100 grand myself, will you guys lend me 900 grand at really low rates and I'll pay you back over 40 years? In fact I won't even pay off the principal, I'll just pay off the interest." They'd laugh you out of it. But substitute gambling on the property market for gambling on the stock market and they'll fall over themselves to give it to you.

So why would I be buying property right now if I could? Well, for starters, property is good value these days. It's certainly cheaper than it was six months ago. While the official figures on aggregate surveys are talking about drops of two to three per cent in property prices, anyone who is out there in the jungle will tell you that it is a buyer's market bigtime.

If you're smart and you have balls and you're dealing with the right buyer you can knock 10 per cent or more off the price of a house these days. And that could well be a house that has already been reduced in price by 10 per cent or more in the last six months. Because while the big picture suggests a 3 per cent drop, the big picture is made up of lots of little pictures and you don't knock 3 per cent off the price of your house if you can't sell it. Individual house prices fall in substantial chunks.

John D Rockefeller famously said that the way to make money is to buy when blood is running in the streets. Buying into a boom is kind of a mug's game, and, as we know, anyone can do it. The really smart and ballsy guys are the guys who are buying when no one else is. The guys who made real money on property in Ireland were the ones who bought property before everyone else, when it was unfashionable. They were in a minority. Most people who bought property bought it recently, in a seller's market, for top dollar. Which makes no sense when you think about it. When you think about it, it makes sense to buy property now. Though of course some people say it always makes sense to buy property. There is no such thing as a good or a bad time to buy. It's always a good time to buy.

Anyway, there is blood on the streets, or at least an impression of blood on the streets, and it's time to buy. You can be guaranteed that's what the smart guys are doing. Every smart, rich bloke (the two can, in fact, occur in the same guy) I've spoken to for the last few years has been, to some extent, hoarding cash, waiting for this. And now they're around picking up bargains. Some of them might be waiting a little while more, in the hope that we haven't reached the bottom yet. But lots of them know that the trick is to buy and sell stuff a little bit too soon. Lots of guys have gone broke waiting for the actual top or bottom of the market.

Not only is property better value now than when everyone was barrelling into it a year ago, it also provides better returns. Rents are booming right now. It doesn't take a genius to figure it: right now you can buy property for less and it will yield you more. That's a better deal than six months ago.

Money is also still cheap. OK, interest rates aren't 2 per cent any more, but 5 per cent is still cheap money in anyone's books and everyone seems to agree it's not going to get much dearer.

This is not to say everything is rosy in the garden, but then you know that. The vultures of doom who have been circling for years waiting to be right eventually are having a field day.

It was another week of gloom and doom in the headlines.

After years of willing it, journalists who didn't buy property when they should have think they've finally got what they wanted. And they are wallowing in the mire. They also know that bad news is good news and a headline that's going to scare the crap out of people is more fun than one that just says things are still OK.

But reading between the headlines, a more balanced picture emerges.

For example, Jim Power of Friends First was credited with giving a gloomy outlook for the economy and housing last week. In fact, Power was relatively upbeat about property. Is a 2 per cent drop in the market overall really going to kill us? Is that not a soft landing? And did Power not predict that prices would start to rise again next year due to less supply, more mortgage-interest relief and stabilising interest rates? If that's what we regard as gloom these days, then clearly we're spoilt.

The Central Bank's version of gloom last week was to say that growth will fall this year - to 5 per cent. As falling growth goes, 5 per cent ain't bad.

Unemployment is going to grow too - from 4.5 per cent to 4.75 per cent. It's hardly the bad old days, is it? Four or 5 per cent unemployment constitutes practically full employment when you take into account frictional, structural and voluntary unemployment - the unemployment that always exists even if there are jobs for everyone.

And, yes, the Iseq is down 6 per cent this year, but balance that off against the 30 per cent it gained last year. The 6 per cent fall doesn't even fully cancel out its gains of last December.

So, you know, maybe the sky is falling in, but maybe you should think twice before you follow the Chicken Lickens of the media into Foxy Loxy's dark cave.

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