Friday 18 January 2019

Home truths: Queuing up to make sweeping judgements

This week's queue at Hansfield in D15 complete with foldables and blankies. Photo: Kyran O’Brien
This week's queue at Hansfield in D15 complete with foldables and blankies. Photo: Kyran O’Brien
Mark Keenan

Mark Keenan

Aside from the guaranteed 'Back to the Madness!' headlines, the absolute best bit for media covering a queue of hopefuls huddled at a new home scheme, is that the subjects stay put. They aren't going anywhere. They can't...or they'll lose their place in line.

Unlike the Notorious McGregor who can go to the mattresses after trash binning a bus, or the Taoiseach, who can excuse himself for an urgent engagement to cut pesky questions short; the poor sods in the home-buying queue are caught in perma camera focus, fielding endless vox pop prods until the story dies, or some estate agent finally puts them out of their misery and gives them a holding ticket.

Witness the photos of the sheepish-looking young buyers-to-be at the Hansfield scheme in west Dublin this week. The H-bomb could have gone off and they'd still have kept their rear ends fixed to the foldables. Sheltered by blankies and armed only with flasks, the local kids could have come out to use them as football target practice and the poor sods would have had to stay put, eyes on the prize.

And so everyone pointed at the weary line of queue troopers this week and shrieked about the "return of the madness". The foldably fixed are the harbingers of doom, the harpies of coming property meltdown armageddon!

Okay so let's put some context on this.

Since four people famously lined up for homes at the Miller's Glen scheme in Swords in 2014, there have regularly been queues. Today perhaps half of all Dublin schemes have had lines on them. The difference is that we don't see them. Because just as soon as the flasks and foldables brigade appear, the estate agents do the humane thing and run down and issue them all with tickets - so they can go home. Queuing at new schemes in Dublin has been the norm for at least three years.

So why do they queue in the first place? What we have on our hands in Dublin and many other cities and towns is a shortage of mortgage-affordable homes, not of homes, per se. Since the Central Bank brought in its 3.5 times income lending regime, many pockets in which family-sized homes priced at €300,000 and below have become the subject of a type of localised panic buying. This price appears to have become a definitive upper limit of sorts for average-income couples with maximum mortgages, attainable savings and with family donations in tow.

What tends to happen is that buyers whizz into an area suddenly to hoover up the 'affordable' family homes in one area in a spend frenzy that sends prices soaring. Once prices for family-sized homes hit that €300k threshold, they move off to the next best spot in which sub-€300k homes are available. When starter homes go over that price, the local market calms again. The ceiling-sensitive localised price boom moves like a cyclone, taking hold, swirling up starter-home prices to €300k, and then it leaves. The reality is (according to the latest Irish Independent REA Average Home Index) that where homes are less affordable, price rises have levelled off or are rising more slowly. In South County Dublin for example, the index recorded a zero increase in prices of average semis through the first quarter of this year.

Some of the homes in the Hansfield scheme are priced at that magic €300k threshold. But even there, these homes are not scarce - D15 is one of the few areas where plenty of new schemes are being developed. In D15 at least 300 new homes are coming onstream. At Hansfield itself, more phases are due. Consider that at Miller's Glen in 2014, despite the queue and the fanfare, the scheme did not sell out. This is because house queuers, like those who camp outside department stores on Christmas Day night, are after a specific target.

The camp-out Christmas sales queues comprise people who want that particular tv set (three only at half price) or that new coat (10 only). In the same fashion most home queuers get in line not because they are afraid they won't get a house, but because they are worried they won't get the specific one they want. An agent who has specialised in new home sales for many years adds: "They might want a particular home facing a green or a corner property or a south-facing property. They don't mind sitting out because they'll be living with the house they get for years to come." And there's an unexpected benefit to queuing. He adds: "They watch each other's places, they talk all night, discuss families, aspirations and they become friends. And this is the beginning of the new community." So queues at new schemes? It's nothing new and not so much "there goes the neighbourhood", but "here comes the neighbourhood". Return of the madness is right.

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