At the onset of the pandemic last year, the property market went into hibernation and there were forecasts of prices falling, possibly by up to 12%.
How wrong that assumption turned out to be.
Figures published by the Central Statistics Office this week showed that property prices continued their ascent in June.
Transaction prices were almost 7% higher than they were in the same month last year and the spread of price increases was countrywide.
It was the eighth month in a row of annual price rises and the increase in June was the highest in two and a half years.
It marks a sharp bounce back from the recent low point of 0.9% contraction in prices recorded last August.
What’s behind the growth in prices?
In short, it’s down to classic supply versus demand which KBC chief economist Austin Hughes referred to as a ‘perfect storm’ for upward pressure on house prices.
“It is clearly the case that the supply of properties for sale in Ireland at present is inadequate to meet demand. While the shortfall in supply has been aggravated by the pandemic, the reality is a demand-supply imbalance has been a persistent feature of the Irish property market,” he explained.
And indeed, the pandemic hit to supply when it comes to the construction of new homes has perhaps not been as bad as expected.
Despite a lengthy shutdown of the construction sector last year, the total number of units completed almost matched output from the previous year with just shy of 21,000 units in total.
However, according to estimates from the Central Bank, we would need to be building up to 35,000 units every year to meet demand.
A report from the property industry group, Irish Institutional Property, published this week, which carried an analysis from Trinity College economist Ronan Lyons, suggested that the need could be as high as 50,000 units a year across all tenures and types.
And we’d have to be meeting that output for around 30 years to cope with demographic changes and the shift towards smaller households, he concluded.
What about the existing stock of houses?
The situation is just as acute on this front.
According to the property website, daft.ie, the volume of second-hand homes coming onto the market did improve as the summer months approached this year, but it remains very weak compared to the situation before the pandemic struck.
It calculated that over the first five months of 2021, just over 20,000 homes were listed for sale.
That was 22% lower than the average for the same period between 2015 and 2019.
“That is almost 5,600 homes that ordinarily would have come onto the market but didn’t,” the report noted.
The Institute of Professional Auctioneers & Valuers believes that the supply shock is in turn exacerbating the problem itself.
“Supply is so tight that in some cases would-be sellers are not putting their homes on the market, lest they may not be able to find a suitable property to buy or that by the time they do, prices may have moved beyond their budgets,” Pat Davitt, IPAV Chief Executive said.
“Unfortunately, the divergence between supply and demand is enormous and is unlikely to change in any meaningful way in the near future,” he said.
And in that market, prices are only likely to go in one direction.
So, it’s rising prices for the foreseeable future then?
That looks to be a safe bet.
The property websites daft.ie and myhome.ie publish property price figures every quarter based on the prices that would-be vendors are seeking for their homes.
While they can sometimes capture the aspirations of an overly-confident house seller, they are generally a reliable indicator as to how the official property price statistics are likely to go.
In their most recent figures, both pointed to annual property price inflation of 13%.
The latest figures from the CSO appear to suggest that what they were capturing some months ago is now translating into actual transaction prices.
“That would suggest that residential property price inflation is set to rise towards double-digit territory by September or October before settling back towards our forecast for 8% by December 2021,” Conall MacCoille, chief economist with Davy, who compiles the report for myhome.ie, said.
Should I just sit it out and wait for prices to level off or fall?
This is a question that Joey Sheahan, Head of Credit with MyMortgages.ie is asked every day.
Overall, while it depends on individual circumstances, if you are in a position to buy, then it makes sense to do so, he believes.
“Rents continue to financially cripple those in rental accommodation, so, in the vast number of cases, the cost of repayments on a mortgage is going to be smaller than what people are shelling out on rent,” he points out.
IPAV, in response to the latest rent price figures from daft.ie this week, pointed out that repaying a mortgage on a three-bedroom home is now less expensive than paying rent in nearly every region in the country.
Only in the two most expensive areas to buy property – Dublin 4 and Dublin 6 – is repaying a mortgage more expensive than paying rent, it said.
“I think when people hear of prices rising, they get nervous – immediately thinking of the crash that shook the country not so long ago,” Joey Sheahan said.
“But this isn’t the same market. The rises aren’t as meteoric and bank lending is much more prudent. If you only borrow what you can afford to repay, don’t stretch yourself too much financially and purchase a property that suits your needs, then you should be confident that your step on the property ladder is a well-thought out one,” he advises.
I’m not in a position to take that step. What needs to happen to get me into my own home?
Supply is key. The government is due to publish its ‘Housing for All’ plan in the coming weeks.
It won’t be a quick fix as it will take time to bring houses to the market.
However, as well as addressing supply, observers say the government needs to address areas like planning and costs – which will be quite a challenge at a time of soaring construction price inflation.
The other area where attention is focused at the moment is on the Central Bank’s caps on mortgage lending.
They are currently pitched at three and a half times earnings together with certain deposit thresholds, which are dictated by whether the potential buyer is entering the market for the first time or not.
The regulator is conducting a review of the rules and has been seeking public submissions.
Among those looking for changes to the rules is Brokers Ireland.
It believes the current loan to income ratio is ‘a crude and unfair way to determine affordability’ and proposes that the rules move away from a multiple of gross salary to a percentage of net disposable income.
“This would be a fairer mechanism and would help single applicants in particular borrow more while still being affordable”, Rachel McGovern, head of financial services at Brokers Ireland said.
The regulator will publish the outcome of its review next year but has already indicated that, while there may be changes, the caps will remain in place.
The Deputy Governor of the Central Bank recently said relaxing the rules could fuel another credit bubble.
It’s safe to conclude that there’s not likely to be much give on the credit side of the equation at least.