Is it just me, or is there indeed a shortage of commentary on what strategy Nama should be taking? Thank heavens, then, for Isabel Morton, The Irish Times’ ‘buy property, please’ champion. In her latest column, Morton asks, pertinently, “Are we likely to see a glut of repossessed homes coming on the market in 2010 or will Nama and the banks sort through the properties and decide on which to stockpile for the future and which to sell immediately?” Spot on. That’s what we should all be asking. What is Nama’s spatial strategy? Is it dump the British portfolio while the market there rises (temporarily); flog the Dubai flats before prices really hit the floor there; and fire sale everything in the Midlands (so the Namacrats, pity them, don’t have to go beyond the M50), etc.?

Well, Morton’s answer says a lot about her view of Ireland’s geography and it’s probably a view shared by many of her peers. She says, “I’d be inclined to put all of the commuter belt houses on the market immediately, along with the glut of suburban apartments (at bargain basement prices)” – in other words, dump the junk, take some early losses, and flood those homeonwers out there with another wave of negative equity. The message: screw you lot, what’d you expect would happen when the boom ended? And do you think Nama cares about ye? Ha. Forget it.

So there’s Part One. For Part Two of the strategy, Morton comes up with what, to a renter like me, seems almost like a decent idea. She says, “I would set up a Nama in-house letting agency to rent out the ‘mid range’ properties at competitive rates, which would of course undercut those currently being charged by hard pressed landlords.”  This would, she reckons, and she might very well be right, make Nama “a tidy sum” – off the backs, of course, of the country’s already-squeezed tenants. But then, Nama’s finances isn’t really their business, now is it? And if Nama isn’t a particularly good landlord, sure it wouldn’t make much difference, given how bad tenants have it already. Forget about the ‘tenant’s market’ nonsense, please!

Now then, thankfully, because her readers must have been wondering, Morton proceeds to clarify where the higher-quality, (somewhat?) higher-valued homes and properties in Nama’s basket of [ahem] ‘assets’ fit in her strategy. She says, “I would of course [of course, yes, of course!] have already made sure to cherry-pick the “trophy” homes and set them aside [for who, the Namacrats? Their pals? ]. After all, even on their reduced salaries and with a ban on bonuses, the top brass bankers [ha! Them again!] are probably going to be the only ones left who could afford to buy them.” Phew. Well thank goodness for the surviving banking class who will be the only ones who can come charging to Nama’s rescue and buy up all those trophy homes. Isn’t Nama on a fine footing.

Continuing on, Morton then points out that, “Neither the banks nor the Government want to lose any more money, therefore the likelihood is that they will adopt the ‘save the best and sell the rest’ policy rather than dump everything on the market immediately […] The banks will bide their time until their institutions have stabilised, been refinanced and have recovered sufficiently to enable them to lend again. At which time, they will reap large rewards by selling on the best examples of repossessed property into a rising market. And you may be sure, like the phoenix, it will rise again.”

Now we must pause here. Morton’s known for having made a few outlandish claims: a good one is “Buyers are the ones being greedy these days” (Nov 12, 2009). But I suppose the property market must rise one day. But like a Phoenix?! From the ashes, soaring high, to the sky and beyond! And her source? “According to the property website myhome.ie [surely, a trusted, impartial observer!], there has been a marked increase in active sales leads to estate agents via their website when compared with last autumn. Apparently it wasn’t just a case of people who were snowed in over the holiday season with little else to do but search the internet, as estate agents confirm the increase in enquiries and indeed, good viewings, despite the inclement weather.”  No, it must just have been a case of people, listening to barmy advice from property gurus, who think now’s the time to buy. God help them. God help us.

Alistair Fraser

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