WHEN we think of the put-upon first-time buyer, most of us tend to have a composite picture in our heads. Most probably imagine a fresh-faced young couple - perhaps newly weds starting out.
Most likely we think of them being somewhere in their mid to late 20s - the traditional age at which Irish people have tended to acquire their first home. These days in a modern society we might even think of them having a young child or two in tow - they might not be married yet.
Those of us who are already home owners tend to feel a twinge of sympathy whenever FTBs are mentioned in media - because we remember what is was like to buy our first home.
So we might also imagine them sitting in at weekends, scraping pennies together for their deposit and eating beans on toast. We know that with rising prices and faster increasing rents, things have gotten much harder for aspiring first-time buyers.
I bought my first home back in the middle 1990s when I was 27-years-old. By that time I had already been renting quite happily for eight years. Indeed it was only the prospect of the landlord selling the house where I had rented that prodded me on to the first step of the housing ladder. I borrowed the deposit from the Credit Union.
When I bought my little terrace house, which had previously been a family home, it cost me less than two years of the average industrial wage at the time.
It was bought with one salary, because I wasn't married and at the time I had no children. Even though the media wrote about "hard-pressed first-time buyers" in the 1990s, it actually wasn't that hard at all. From paying the equivalent of €400 rent a month, I ended up paying a mortgage of €480. That monthly mortgage payment represented just under a quarter of the monthly pay packet earned on an average industrial wage in that year.
My parents' generation fit that traditional Irish first-time buyer composite snapshot even more snugly. They bought their first house back in 1970 when my father was also 27 and my mother was 25. They were already married and with a young family. It too was bought with one salary because women of that generation were expected to give up work when they got married.
The house they bought was also a smaller-sized family home from which they would trade-up a decade later. For them it was four times more affordable that my purchase because the price they paid in 1970 was the equivalent of just half a year's average industrial wage in 1970. So for the pre-boom generations, it was possible to buy an average house in your 20s and on one salary.
But back to our composite picture of modern FTBs.
We certainly don't imagine someone flecked with a little grey hair or going bald. But first-time buyers have been getting steadily older since the property crash kicked in. By 2010 the average first-time buyer had hit 30 years of age (ESRI). By early last year that had increased to 33 (Bank of Ireland) and by this year it has moved up to 35 (Savills).
And there are good reasons to believe their ages will continue to shoot up from the middle of this year - at least in our cities where the Central Bank's new lending restrictions will have most effect and where the fallout will begin to kick in when last year's six-month approvals (those dating from before the measures) begin to expire.
The bank measures have been put in place to curb runaway inflation. And since the beginning of 2013, house prices in Dublin have risen by a cumulative 41pc while at the same time, average earnings are still actually falling in real terms.
It means that our modern aspiring first-time buyers are the ones most likely to be affected. They might have a special exception on the 20pc deposit stipulation (they have to raise 10pc) but the 3.5 times loan to value ratio requirement will prove beyond their reach in cities. Not since 1999 has a Dublin home cost 3.5 times an average salary. Today average homes in the capital are priced at between eight to 10 times an average salary.
And unlike when I and my parents bought our first homes, rents are actually now significantly more expensive than mortgage repayments.
In North County Dublin it costs €1,300 to rent a three-bed, but a monthy repayment of €950 to buy it on a loan that so many aspiring first-time buyers won't qualify for anymore.
It is now predicted rents will rise again precisely because of this, and because few new homes are being built. In turn, the higher rents will make saving more difficult and push out the period before they can acquire their first home even further.
And unlike the case for previous generations, relative house price inflation has meant that since the boom it has been almost impossible to buy an average city home without two average pay packets.
Now we have couples getting their very first step on the property ladder at an age we would more usually expect them to be trading up.
And at the current rate of increase the Irish first-time buyer will turn the grand old age of 40 by 2020.