Competition poses fresh challenges for buyers
While December's Budget brought good news for buyers, other ministerial announcements raise questions as to whether the Government is serious about assisting people to buy their own homes or is just helping NAMA to get rid of its vast property portfolio.
On the one hand the Budget announced that home buyers are to get extra mortgage relief -- provided they buy their home before the end of this year. But the incentive period for investors is even longer.
This class of buyer is being offered an even longer window of opportunity in which to buy -- until the end of 2013 for a new exemption from the profits tax which would apply to any increase in the value of a property over the following seven years.
Admittedly at present home owners don't pay any such profits tax, or CGT as it is known. Nevertheless this CGT measure could see more investors competing in the market.
Consequently in more sought after areas families seeking houses face tougher competition from investors who had been practically shut out of the market for the last three years.
And this competition from investors looks set to intensify even further. Justice Minister Alan Shatter this week announced a new Immigrant Investors Programme which will encourage those seeking to live in Ireland to buy NAMA property worth more than €500,000.
Such immigrants need to invest either more than €1m in a NAMA property or alternatively at least €500,000 each in both a property and government securities.
Even before the Budget there were signs that first-time buyers and cash buyers were no longer having a clear run when making an offer on a house.
Now the combination of pent-up demand from families trading up from apartments to houses in mature neighbourhoods, as well as house hunters who can secure mortgage funds, has added further to some bidding competitions.
Not alone do the low interest rates on savings make it more difficult for home buyers to save for the deposit on a house but the Budget measure to increase DIRT to 30pc adds to such difficulties at a time when some banks lend 92pc or less and are insisting that the buyers need to have saved 8pc or more.
In contrast, the combination of increased DIRT and low interest rates make it less attractive for cash-rich investors to leave funds on deposit, especially at a time when the combination of stabilising rents and cheap property prices are enticing investors with the prospect of 10pc plus gross yields.
Already property auctions have shown that such cash-rich investors are buying a substantial proportion of the properties going under the hammer.
Even before Mr Shatter's Immigrant Investor Programme, international media has been prompted to highlight investment opportunities in the Irish market.
Next Saturday, February 4, Sherry FitzGerald will host a property show at the Copthorne Tara Hotel in London highlighting properties which will appeal to smart investors and those wishing to relocate to Ireland including investment properties, new housing schemes, holiday homes, second-hand homes, public houses and commercial property.
According to its representative, Triona Gorman, close to 10pc of traffic browsing the agent's website is coming from the UK.
"Last year we had almost 60,000 visits via 859 locations in the UK -- 37pc from the greater London area alone -- indicating a significant level of interest in Irish property from the UK.
A consolation for Irish home hunters is that many investors, especially those from overseas, are willing to include apartments on their shopping list as their prices have fallen more sharply than houses. This may make it easier for families to sell their apartments and move to family size houses but such sellers face competion from NAMA's flat sales.
Nevertheless the Government needs to consider carefully whose side it is on when it comes to housing and develop a clearer policy for home buyers rather than one which favours NAMA.