Friday 27 April 2018

House price gains beyond Dublin are 'all over the place'

The housing market outside Dublin couldn’t be more uneven — rising in Cork, Limerick, Galway but falling in Sligo, Longford and Roscommon
The housing market outside Dublin couldn’t be more uneven — rising in Cork, Limerick, Galway but falling in Sligo, Longford and Roscommon
Richard Curran

Richard Curran

The focus of house price growth is finally moving away from Dublin and towards the rest of the country. Yet the housing market picture outside Dublin couldn't be more mixed and uneven. It isn't that long ago the price of a house in Dublin was rising at a rate of 24pc per year - in the summer of 2014 to be precise. The annual rate of growth has slowed to around 7pc and is expected to slow further again.

Asking-price surveys are a good indicator of where things are going to go. One survey by, published during the week, showed that asking prices in Dublin actually fell by 0.1pc in the three months to September. It suggests that by the end of this year Dublin house prices will have grown by around 5pc in the year.

But outside the capital, asking prices continue to rise in some areas. In Limerick they are up 4pc. They are up 5pc in Cork, and 5pc in Donegal. These are much more realistic and sustainable price-level increases and there are several reasons behind them.

The Central Bank's mortgage-lending caps have certainly done their job in controlling house price growth, especially in Dublin. The capital city had lots of cash buyers in 2014 who helped drive up prices by 22pc and 24pc, but there isn't the same value for them now.

They are looking elsewhere. Rents have been growing rapidly in Dublin but are also up sharply in Cork, Limerick and Galway. Investors who want to buy in these regional urban areas may find a better picture from their point of view.

In the second quarter of this year rents in Cork and Galway were up 10pc and by nearly 9pc in Limerick. The typical rent for a house in Cork or Galway is around €889 or €818 per month, well below Dublin's €1,368. But there seems to be growing demand for places to rent.

After the crash, house prices in Dublin kept falling until around January 2013, a full year before they stopped sinking in the rest of the country. So house prices have not climbed as much in these regional cities.

Some cities are seeing jobs growth. I was in Limerick during the week, where there have been 5,600 jobs announced by multinationals and indigenous firms in the last two years. Hotels are doing well and they say corporate business is picking up a lot.

In the last two years, the total number of people in employment in Ireland has grown by around 88,000. The border counties have seen a rise of 10,000. The Southeast is up 19,000 and the Midlands is up 7,000. But the West employment numbers have been static and there have been only slight gains in the Southwest.

It has all become a very mixed picture on the jobs front and that is reflected more and more in the housing market. Asking prices for houses in Cork, Limerick and Galway are still rising - but they are falling in places like Longford, Roscommon and Sligo, according to the survey.

Asking prices in Donegal may be rising by 5pc - but they are still 62pc off their peak.

People trapped in negative equity in these locations won't be escaping it any time soon. People are following the jobs, and house prices are following the people. If the jobs market keeps fracturing along regional lines, so too will house prices.

Nama pulled off a great Northern escape act

Nama chairman Frank Daly must rue the day the agency took over around €5bn in loans secured on Northern Ireland properties.

He faced a grilling at the Oireachtas committee during the week which threw off a lot more heat than light about the controversial sale of Nama's Northern Ireland portfolio.

As the investigations continue, further details emerge of the goings on up North around the sale process and the complex web of links between business and politics. Daly is adamant that the agency conducted the sale process in a completely fair and commercial way and whatever may or not have gone on up North is nothing really to do with Nama.

He has a point. Yet, there are still niggling doubts about whether Nama sold too much property, too cheaply, too soon. And it never went public about the circumstances of Pimco's withdrawal from the bidding when it emerged that a success fee of £5m (€6.7m)would be due to former Nama adviser Frank Cushnahan. It was surely a point of public interest.

Part of the problem is that questions asked of Nama about its role in the sale of the Northern portfolio are mixed in with criticisms of the agency's overall approach to getting the best deals.

So in the same committee session that Frank Daly is being asked about the integrity of the Northern sale, he is being asked about whether they could have got more money and he is rebutting criticisms made by developer Johnny Ronan.

By selling the entire Northern portfolio at once, Nama got out of the North in one sudden swoop.

Given what we now know about the relationships between business and politics in Belfast, it would have been a nightmare if Nama had stuck around. It would have gone through that loan book, debtor by debtor and decided who to shut down and who to sell individual properties to.

Northern Ireland is a small place and the controversy around the Northern sale is just a glimpse of what it might have been like to go through borrowers one by one.

Questions do remain about Nama's valuation model and whether properties were under-valued. Cerberus, the buyer, looks to have got a good deal.

There is still no direct evidence that anybody north of the border infiltrated or influenced the sale process - but that doesn't mean there wasn't a whole lot going on by way of meetings and chat, in Belfast.

And, of course, there are questions about the £7m (€9.4m) in the Isle of Man bank account and what it was all about.

Daly must be relieved that the late Brian Lenihan declined Stormont's request back in 2009 to put a couple of Northern representatives on the board of Nama itself. Instead, they simply got an advisory board with little access to any real confidential information.

Imagine explaining this deal if there had been two Stormont representatives sitting at the Nama board table with access to all information and board decisions.

Government's transport plan going nowhere fast

The Government's long-awaited capital spending plan lacked a bit of razzamatazz. The roads spend will go mainly on maintenance and upgrades.

It isn't exactly the most exciting building programme ever announced. The lack of a single big idea left it all feeling a little bit bland.

The amended proposals for Metro North, which is not scheduled to open for another 12 years - yes, that's 2027 - gave transport minister Paschal Donohoe something meaty to include. But you have to wonder how much of the plan will actually see the light of day.

Road upgrades and maintenance spend will definitely happen - but I wouldn't hold my breath for the Metro. It is all too far down the road to really predict whether it will come to fruition.

Three basic questions are hard to answer from what was announced.

How much of the €27bn plan is over and above what was already scheduled to be done anyway?

Where is the expert analysis and criteria used to decide which projects got the go ahead and which ones did not?

What are the new systems in place to ensure these projects are actually delivered on time and within budget?

Given the poor track record of a multitude of previous governments on capital spending, there just aren't enough assurances that expensive mistakes of the past will not be repeated.

Sunday Indo Business

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