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Greens turn their back on cheap land of opportunity

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What part of cheap land does the Green Party not understand? The Green Party values the land we walk on, not in the way Fianna Fail does, not for its price but for its value. And the cheaper our land is, the more value it has for the collective good. The more expensive the land is, the more value it has for individual owners.

If the Green Party is really interested in the collective good, it would never support a proposition which prevents land from falling in value.

This goes to the core of the NAMA debate. In Ireland today, we have an opportunity to "lock in" the huge competitive gains that falling land prices give us. Cheap land, commensurate with our sparse population density, is the one thing that will ensure that we never blow the resources of the State on property speculation again.

The Greens are trying to impose a windfall tax on property speculation in order to dissuade people from speculating. However, the best way to prevent people from speculating on land again is to make sure that the collective memory of the land bust is so agonisingly painful that we never touch the stuff again.

If the Greens walked away from NAMA now, the price of land would fall quickly and dramatically and, in the process, we would achieve huge competitive gains which otherwise will have to come from higher unemployment or less capital investment.

And this is the issue. If we are to build a 'green economy' as the Greens say they want, then we have to be attractive to outside investors. We have to reduce or eliminate any impediments to investment in Ireland's brainpower. This means that we should be trying to make permanent the falls in land prices because every percent fall in the fixed cost that is land and the variable cost that is rent is one extra euro to be spent investing in our people.

By supporting NAMA, the Green Party is supporting the land and banking oligarchy whose interests are anathema to practically every Green voter that ever donned bicycle clips.

The Greenest policy that the party could follow would be to see the fall in land prices and the collapse of the old regime as a brilliant, once-in-a-generation opportunity to achieve a real change in the way Ireland runs. This is something that they have always purported to believe in. The way the leadership is going, they risk losing not only the general electorate but their own members as well.

The best gift any middle-aged politician could give the young of this country -- the generation coming now into the labour force, looking for work and accommodation -- is cheap land and houses. Interestingly for the Greens, this is the way the market is going,, so why put NAMA in the middle and try to stop this and in the process bail out the oligarchy?

Think about where the property market is heading now. We have a credit crunch and there's a property tax on the horizon, as well as rising unemployment and falling tax revenue, which will only be plugged by more taxes and a reduction in government spending. So house prices are heading only downwards. Not only are the Greens supporting the reflation of the property market through NAMA, the party is guaranteeing that we overpay for the assets no matter what the haircut, because we clearly are nowhere near the bottom. Let's do a little calculation to see how far house prices have yet to go and, consequentially, how much NAMA is likely to overpay for land and give us the bill.

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So how low are prices likely to go? The best way to answer this crucial question is to start with the premise that the age of property speculation is over. There can be no more 'hope value'. There can be no more belief in the notion that there will be a big capital gain in buying a property, any more than there will be capital gain in buying a sofa.

The value of the asset will have some relation to the yield the asset returns. In houses, the yield is the rent. So let's take a yield of 7pc as being a reasonable return on an asset that costs money to update and is not generating a significant capital gain. This 7pc would be a long-run average yield, particularly as government bonds which form the benchmark for yield of other assets are on their way back up to that figure.

Using this 7pc yield idea we can value a house at some multiple of the rent it generates. Typically, the value of a house was calculated at 12 to 14 times its annual rent. (The 12 to 14 times equates to a yield of around 7pc.) This relationship has held in the US for over 100 years. There is no reason to believe that this shouldn't be the way to value Irish houses.

This is a normal price/earning ratio that we would use in the stock markets to assess value. What the US valuation model is saying is that, over time, property should trade on a price/earnings (P/E) ratio of 14 times.

So, let's see where Irish houses will end up. Take a typical house in a commuter town. On daft.ie there are hundreds of them. Let's take Newbridge in Co Kildare, a typical deckland suburb where unemployment has tripled in the past year. You can buy a new three-bed house for €335,000. This is a steal, according to the ad. Beside the house is yet another predatory ad from AIB saying that it will finance the house for €995 per month.

According to the same website, the average rent for a three-bed in Newbridge is between €950 and €1,000 a month. This house, if it can be rented, will yield €11,400 a year. This implies that, applying the US valuation to the asset, the house should be valued at €159,600. However, in Ireland, we are expecting the house to sell at €335,000.

The Irish house, at a "bargain" price of €335,000, is still way overvalued. It will have to fall by almost half again to make the sums add up.

The real fair value means that, in a world where house-price speculation is over, Irish house prices in commuter land will have to fall on average by 50pc from where they are today to be worth buying. Madly, even after a year of house price contraction, the P/E for the average Irish house stands at over 29 times -- twice the historical average for property -- and the yield at just over 3pc, which is still far too expensive. And this is before the likely property tax is slammed on houses at a rate of 1pc of the average value of the house.

So, let's snap out of it. Why can't we just mark down prices to where they should get to, take the bankruptcies and move on? Why should we be any different in coming to terms with the new reality?

The Greens could help achieve this competitive bonanza and protect future generations from being conned by the land and banking oligarchy again. It is their decision.

www.davidmcwilliams.ie dmcwilliams@independent.i e


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