Thursday 18 July 2019

Property price register brimming with errors

8 Arbour Terrace, Dublin 7
8 Arbour Terrace, Dublin 7

LOCUS Insight is a research company which conducts large scale number crunching projects at home and abroad. Recently it released an extensive study of property sales in Dublin suburbs based on a gargantuan perusal of the national property price register.

"Dublin Property Insight 2014" presented a detailed analysis of the capital's property market on a suburb by suburb basis and is based on information gleaned from 28,000 plus property transactions on the register.

This level of exposure to the register led Locus to make two observations. The first was that the register actually contains very little data at all.

Every dwelling is listed quite simply as "Second-Hand Dwelling house/ Apartment." Aside from that you get an address and a price. That's your lot.

"The same solicitors who type in the entries could quite easily write in the size of the property, the number of rooms and what type of property it is," says Tom Hobson of Locus. "There could be a goldmine of data there for good research purposes?"

Secondly, unlike similar public sector managed data banks that Locus has analysed, the company says Ireland's property price register contains "a huge number of inaccuracies". Locus is currently engaging with the Australian state's register for a study on housing in Melbourne so it knows what it's talking about.

Hobson adds: "We found numerous misspellings, additional zeroes added to prices or missing from them, wrong addresses, addresses missing townlands and addresses which appear in the wrong places. There were other strange discrepancies, for example we found a load of County Kerry sales appearing as being registered in Dublin."

Indeed to deal with the numerous errors, Locus needed to deploy more than one specialist software to located inaccurate entries and to factor them into their searches. Of course the rest of us don't have access to these complex detective and corrective tools.

For its part the official line from the National Property Services Registration Authority – which administers the register – is that the data appears as it's entered.

That's that.

Therefore the NPSRA admits that we get all the mistakes – deliberate and otherwise.

The second biggest article on the Register's internet landing page (which is itself largely one great big disclaimer) is devoted to the nature of the mistakes you are likely to encounter within the listings and makes it perfectly clear that no one is bothering to check or edit the entries. The landing page also warns that the register is "not intended as a "Property Price Index".

As I've pointed out before in this column - surely that's supposed to be its whole purpose?

Neither are there penalties for deliberately or otherwise mislisting a property address or a price value. It's not an offence.

All of this essentially reduces the national property price register to nothing more than a great big data honesty box.

If you're not honest or if you're inept beyond belief, then you're free to enter what data you like.

So why would anyone want to hide sales transaction information?

Some might do it to prevent creditors, family or (ironically – given it was set up for tax assessment purposes) the Revenue Commissioners, from knowing what sort of money has just been spent by the purchaser - whose solicitor's job it is to make the entry.

And all you have to do to make a transaction "disappear" is to enter a typo of a single letter.

Although there is no suggestion whatsoever that it is a deliberate error – a key example of how misspelling an address can take you "off register" and out of sight is the State prompted sale of Woodside at 18 Shrewsbury Road in Dublin 4 in 2012.

Reckoned to be one of the best houses in Ireland's top two streets, it was reported as having being sold for around €8m. It was sold by the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland.

But you won't find it listed under "Shrewsbury Road". Instead you'll need to search for "Shresbury Road" where you'll see Woodside appearing with a sale price listed at a far more diminutive €1.7m. If they misspelled the address, could they also have accidentally mislisted the price?

We asked the Pharmaceutical Society if the amount listed as paid for the property was correct – and whether they could account for the errors in the entry.

They wouldn't tell us the correct price – their only response being to point out that the responsibility for the entry was the purchasers.

It was reported to have been bought by a venture capitalist.

And when Locus recently reported dozens of suspicious entries in Dublin showing inordinately cheap amounts for similar properties, he received the following email from the NPSRA:

"The Register is compiled from data which is declared, for stamp duty purposes, to the Revenue Commissioners. The declaration is primarily filed electronically by persons doing the conveyancing of the property on behalf of the purchaser. The Authority has no other information in relation to entries on the Register."

But on the register's landing page it states:

"If you notice any apparent errors in the data please let us know by emailing."

But when faced with this sort of response when you bother to point them out, then really, . . . what's the point?

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