The various crises in housing in Ireland has been a constant focus of the media since the start of the crash.

First, it was plunging house prices, developers going bust, construction workers losing their jobs, and the collapsing of PPPs.

Then it was NAMA, vacancy, unfinished estates, pyrite-infected homes, Priory Hall and other poorly built estates, negative equity, and mortgage arrears.

Now it is rising rents, rising prices in Dublin, a shortage of homes in some locations, social housing waiting lists, rising homelessness, and probably from this summer on increasing numbers of repossessions.

Since 2007, all elements of housing, in all parts of the country, have been in crisis. For seven years we have effectively had no housing policy, no housing reforms, and no strong, proactive management designed to address the various problems. Rather, the government’s strategy under both the last regime and the present has been to tinker round the edges — site resolution plans, social and housing leasing initiative, a pyrite committee, minor reform to the Planning and Development Act, etc. None of it in a coordinated, holistic way.

With the exception of putting millions into NAMA to look after the banker and developer interests in an effort to try and salvage something from the disastrous bank guarantee , these are all low cost, minimal effort tactics to give the impression of doing something, but actually toothless and spineless and making very little difference on the ground. They were shamed into sorting of the mess relating to Priory Hall residents.

There has been no substantive investment in tackling various issues such as the 89,872 on the social housing waiting list, or the 96,474 in 90+ days in mortgage arrears, or rising homelessness. Investing in housing has not even to date been seen as a means of tackling two birds with one stone — creating jobs/investment in business and addressing various housing crises. Instead there has been massive disinvestment. For example, since 2008, the capital expenditure for social housing has been reduced by 80% (from €1.3bn to €275m) while there has been a 90% decrease in housing output from local authorities between 2007 and 2011.

The strategy in effect has been to try and muddle through to such times as the private sector and the market return to sort things out. At which point any state investment will be targeted at reviving market interests, with social housing continuing to be supplied through private development and rental supplement. In 2010, 97,260 families received rent supplement allowance to enable them to live in private rental stock due to a lack of social housing at a cost to the state of over €500 million per annum. In whose interest is such a policy? It is difficult to argue, unless you are a vested private interest, that it is the state’s or taxpayers’.

We will continue to have housing problems for a good number of years, especially in the absence of any holistic strategy and set of policies designed to try and coordinate and regulate development and how all aspects of the housing sector functions. That strategy needs to see good, affordable housing as a right; to see housing as homes rather than simply assets and investment vehicles. And it needs to get value for money for the state in terms of private services rendered.

That’s not to deny market interests’ profit, but that this profit is reasonable without being exploitative and does not rip-off both tenants and the state. Much of continental Europe manages to do this. Ireland, however, has swallowed the neoliberal mantra hook, line and sinker, and seven years of crisis has not led to any kind of re-think or change in vision or policy.

As the market returns and house and rental prices rise, in the absence of checks-and-balances such as rental control and adequate supply, affordability and the need for social housing and homelessness will increasingly become an issue, especially if local authorities remain emancipated of resources.

House prices turning and rents rising does not mean that that various problems of housing in Ireland are soon to be solved.  They signal the arrival of the next wave of issues.  Expect on-going housing crises for the foreseeable future.

Rob Kitchin


There is no official data regarding negative equity in Ireland in general, nor its geographical distribution.  By mid-2012, once house prices had fallen to 50% of their 2007 values Davy Stockbrokers estimated that more than 50% of residential mortgages were in negative equity.  Consequently, any house bought from 2000 onwards is likely to be in negative equity.

Negative equity is a significant issue because it creates a spatial trap that restricts mobility. Because the value of the property is less than was paid for it, owners cannot sell and move to another property without realising a loss.  This trap has three consequences.  First, it restricts labour market mobility.  Second, it keeps families in homes that may no longer be suitable to their needs.  Third, it restricts the pool of properties available to the market and limits any recovery to first time buyers, those prepared to realise a loss, those whose property is not in negative equity or have investment capital.  All three have social and economic consequences causing hardship and stress and slowing the recovery of the wider economy.

Negative equity is not evenly distributed because it is determined by the price paid relative to present prices and this is largely shaped by when the house was bought.  So where might this spatial trap be operating most perniciously in Ireland?

This is not an easy question to answer given publicly available data sources.  We have been looking at proxy measures and present one here, though it should be noted that it only captures one kind of property in negative equity – houses that were built post-2001.  It does not include secondhand houses in negative equity, nor buy-to-let properties in negative equity (though the latter can be estimated using a same method).

Our solution is to use two Census 2011 variables at the Small Area level. The first variable is the ‘% of housing units built post 2001’.  The second variable is the ‘% of outstanding mortgages in an area’ (i.e., the property has been purchased not rented privately or from a local authority or voluntary body).  These variables are not perfect, but when combined do give us, we think, a reasonably good proxy.

The figure below is a density smoothed scatterplot of the two variables for all 18,488 Small Areas in the country.  Each Small Area has approximately 80-130 households.  We have divided up the scatterplot into four quadrants, one of which is subdivided based on the clear pattern of points, to create six categories that denote different levels of negative equity (category 1 has very low rates of both post-2001 build and outstanding mortgages), which we have then mapped from the country and for Dublin.

negative equity



It is important to note that all the Small Areas potentially have some households in negative equity, but that some areas have greater concentrations than others.  In broad terms, categories 5 and 4 are likely to have similar levels of private residential negative equity, but we have left them separate to denote their different characteristics.

When these categories are mapped the pattern that emerges is perhaps what one would expect.  The areas with the highest concentrations of negative equity are in the outer suburbs of the cities and the fringes of commuter towns.  These areas experienced high rates of newly built properties and new household formation all through the boom, but especially in the latter years when the inner suburbs became too expensive for first time buyers and those trading up to a family home.

This pattern is very clear around Dublin, Cork and Limerick, but is slightly different around Galway, where a number of rural Small Areas are highlighted where there was a lot of one-off housing and small nucleated settlement.  This pattern is repeated for many smaller rural towns.

Owner occupiers in these areas are more likely to be spatially trapped, though as noted any individual household in any part of the country could be suffering such a fate.  It is also likely that the same areas will have higher concentrations of mortgage arrears, given that negative equity and mortgage arrears are related.

Whilst further research is needed to refine this analysis it does give a proxy measure of one kind of negative equity in the absence of detailed data from mortgage providers.  We would be interested in any feedback about the approach taken.

Rob Kitchin

Perhaps not unsurprisingly the start of 2014 has been greeted with a number of commentaries in the media concerning the Irish housing market, specifically about the upturn in the Dublin house prices and the possibilities of the start of a new price bubble, and the development of a two-speed housing market between Dublin and the rest of the country.  Part of the impression being given is things might return to ‘normal’ in the capital if issues of undersupply of family homes can be resolved, though the situation elsewhere is less certain given oversupply, demographics and labour market conditions. 

The reality is that housing in general is far from normal across every indicator there is both in and outside Dublin and a rise in house prices in the capital, whilst welcome for those in negative equity, is a symptom of these problems and a lack of a housing strategy to deal with them.   Prices will almost certainly continue to rise in the capital during the year, but it is only when all the other indicators – such as mortgage arrears, housing waiting lists, etc – start to be righted that the market will start to resemble a normal one.  That is likely to take a number of years given the depth of problems at hand.

Here’s the present state of play:

House prices (CSO): Nationally: increased by 5.6% Nov 2012 to Nov 2013 – 46.5% lower than its highest level in 2007; Dublin: increased by 13.1% Nov 2012 to Nov 2013 – 49.2% lower than February 2007; Rest of country: decreased by 0.6% Nov 2012 to Nov 2013 – 46.9% lower than February 2007

New mortgage draw-downs Q1-Q3 (Irish Banking Federation).  2006 (83,860); 2010 (14,289); 2011 (7,907), 2012 (8,582); 2013 (8,711)

Cash sales (industry anecdote): c.50% in 2013

Mortgage arrears for principal residences up to Q3 2013 (Central Bank): 141,520 (18.4%); of those 99,189 (12.9%) are over 90 days in arrears.

Mortgage arrears for buy-to-let (BTL) up to Q3 2013 (Central Bank):  40,426 (27.4%); of those 31,227 (21.2%) are over 90 days in arrears.

Negative equity (Davy Stockbrokers): c.50% in 2012

House building (Dept Environment): 2006 (93,419), 2010 (14,602), 2011 (10,480), 2012 (8,488), 2013 to Nov (7,425).  Of houses built in 2013 (to Nov); 4,274 are one-offs, 2,383 scheme houses, 768 apartments

On social housing waiting list (Dept Environment): 2008 (56,249), 2011 (98,318)

Housing Supply (CSO, Census): Oversupply of property outside of Dublin, with high levels of vacancy (10%+) in all but five local authorities; undersupply of family homes in some parts of Dublin.

Planning permissions (CSO): 2013 up to Q3 – Dublin: 3,116 (houses), 807 (apartments) [3,923] – Rest of country: 6100 (houses), 1035 (apartments) [7,135]; 2006 first three quarters – Dublin 6,482 (houses), 7,153 (apartments) [13,365] – rest of country 87,426 (houses), 8,397 (apartments) [95,823]

Land supply 2013 (Dept Environment): Dublin 2,575 hectares for 132,166 units; Rest of country 11,132 hectares for 262,191 units

Unfinished estates (Dept Environment): 1,258

Pyrite-infected homes (Dept Environment): 74 estates, consisting of 12,250 units.

As I’ve argued previously, we need of a coordinated strategy to deal with all the issues affecting housing in Ireland, including long-term plan of future need, and this needs to be part of a wider National Development Plan/National Spatial Strategy aimed at cross-sectoral recovery.  At present, we just seem to be hoping that the various problems will somehow be corrected through the market or piecemeal, ad hoc or limited schemes, rather than taking a more proactive, coordinated approach.

Rob Kitchin

For the last couple of months there have been a number of media pieces suggesting that the Irish housing market is turning and house prices are starting to stablise more broadly and rise in parts of Dublin.  It certainly seems from government data and industry and buyers that for some types of property (family homes), in some select places (desirable parts of Dublin) house prices have levelled off and are growing marginally.  The proffered wisdom from these observations is that house building needs to start again.

There are two points to note, however.  First, any stabilisation and recovery in the market is highly segmented by type and geography.  Apartments are still in the doldrums, as is just about everywhere outside the M50.  Secondly, and more importantly, concentrating on house price rises and the shortage of family homes in South Dublin deflects attention away from the much more serious set of housing crises in Ireland.  They include:

Oversupply: The 2011 Census shows that there are 289,451 vacant units in the state, with an oversupply of c.110,000 (plus 17,032 under-construction units on unfinished estates) on a base vacancy of 6% and excluding holiday homes.  This oversupply has been very little eroded over the past two years.

Unfinished estates: In 2012 there were 1,770 estates that still required development work, with 1,100 of these estates in a ‘seriously problematic condition’ and only 250 estates (8.5%) active.  These estates suffer from a number of social issues.

Mortgage arrears: At the end of Q1 2013, the Central Bank reported there were 95,554 (12.3 per cent) private residential mortgage accounts were in arrears of over 90 days and 29,369 (19.7 per cent) of buy-to-let mortgages were in a similar position.

Negative equity: In 2012, Davy Stockbrokers estimated that over 50% of residential mortgage accounts were in negative equity.

Social housing shortage: the Dept of Environment reports that 98,318 people on the social housing waiting list in 2011 (65,643 of whom can’t afford the accommodation they are in).

An over-reliance on unaffordable private rental stock: In November 2011, the Department of Social Protection reported that 96,100 households were receiving rent supplement.  Much of the rental stock is sub-par in standards.

Stalled regeneration: Regeneration projects have largely halted leaving hundreds of families living in substandard and unhealthy accommodation whilst they wait for projects to restart.

Pyrite-infected homes: The government recognises that there are 74 estates, consisting of 12,250 units, whose foundation hardcore is contaminated with pyrite, though it seems clear that there are other infected estates.

Build quality: There are a number of estates affected by build quality issues, the highest profile of which has been Priory Hall.

These are all serious issues which are largely being ignored by the government and media beyond acknowleding occassionally that the issues exist.

Housing policy and the market in Ireland is largely broken.  New housing in South Dublin is not going to fix it and rising house prices is not evidence that things are getting better.

I’m not saying that there should be no new housing in South Dublin.  If there is sure-fire demand, then fine, the market and investment capital can supply.  Nobody is stopping anybody from developing such housing, certainly not the government.

Government investment, however, needs to targeted at sorting out the issues above, much of which has the potential at creating construction work and economic growth, whilst addressing serious social need.

What would be really nice to see is a comprehensive, integrated housing policy that puts together a five to ten year action plan that recognizes that all these issues are interrelated and need to be tackled in concert rather than in a piecemeal, ad hoc fashion.  Now why can’t the media and property professionals focus on persistently arguing for the need for that?  A cynic might think that it’s not property supplement friendly.

Rob Kitchin

The general consensus amongst economists and property specialists is that the housing market is yet to reach its price floor.  Prices have fallen by 40-50% across the country and are expected to fall by c.60% by the time they are fully unwound.  There has been some speculation that the market might recover quite quickly, especially in the cities, with population growth cited as the prime factor to drive such a turnaround.  The hope is that Ireland might mirror the reasonably rapid recovery of the mid-1990s Finnish property crash, rather than the stagnation of the Japanese crash from the late 1980s wherein present property prices are still below those twenty years ago.  My own view is that the Irish crash will be nearer to Japan’s experience than Finland, with property prices unlikely to rise to peak 2007 prices for at least another ten to fifteen years, and longer for some parts of the country.  There are six reasons why.

1.  Still unwinding

As noted, Ireland is experiencing a steady but relatively slow unwinding of the property market, with property prices still falling.  They seem set to keep falling for at least another 12-24 months and possibly longer.  Until the market has fully unwound there will be no correction or growth.  And once it’s unwound there are a number of factors, set out below, that are likely to see the market flatline or only grow marginally for a number of years to come.

2. Oversupply

The property sector have tried to spin the data around oversupply every which way they can to make the issue appear better than it is.  Principally they’ve tried to focus on unfinished estates, arguing that oversupply is brand new, complete but vacant property.  They ignore the stock still being built on these estates and the vacant, brand new and under-construction one-off properties around the country.  They also largely ignore the vacant stock in the rest of the housing stock, principally on the argument that any property that is owned does not represent a problem, despite the fact that it can still be a part of the housing market and affect that market.  The Census 2011 preliminary results reported that there are 294,202 properties around the country that are vacant and habitable (14.7%).  Some of these properties, c.80-100,000 are holiday/second homes.  In any housing market one would expect some vacant stock, usually 3-4% (the Irish government uses a base vacancy rate of 6%).  Even in Dublin, vacancy is running at 7.8%, with a large oversupply of apartments in particular.  What that means is that there are c.200,000 vacant properties in the country excluding holiday/second homes, c.100,000 of which are in excess of expected base vacancy.  That is a substantial oversupply.  When supply exceeds demand prices fall or remain weak.  Until supply and demand are aligned, it is unlikely that prices will rise to any great degree.  For the last two years the property sector has told us that supply is running out in some areas and we need to start building again.  The data – either in terms of oversupply or units available to the market – does not yet support this assertion.  The property sector can try and spin oversupply estimates however they want but the evidence of vacant oversupply all round the country is plainly evident to purchasers.

3.  Weak demand

Demand for housing in Ireland over the past twenty years has been driven by two principle factors – population growth (net natural increase, net migration increase) and household fragmentation.  Basically, population grew rapidly (by a million people between 1991-2011) and the average household size fell.  The effect of the latter process can be quite profound, for example if the population remained the same size but the average household size fell then the population would need to occupy much more stock.  Whilst we do expect the population to grow over the next twenty years, it is tempered by two factors – emigration (there is presently net migration of -34,000 per annum) and age profile (the bulk of natural increase is accounted for by children under the age of five).  Emigration is primarily being undertaken by young adults (aged 20-40) who are at household formation stage; children under the age of five will not be at household formation stage for another twenty years.  Household fragmentation is affected by economic circumstance with children more likely to stay at home, parents less likely to separate, and young adults to share property to keep down costs.  These are often choices, not a compulsion, and until the wider economy recovers household fragmentation is likely to weaken.  One factor used to try and off-set these arguments is to focus on the social housing waiting list as evidence of pent-up demand.  In March 2011 the DECLG revealed that there were 98,318 households on the social housing waiting list.  However, 65,643 of these were in suitable housing, but they could not afford the rent and were receiving rent supplement.    The need for additional social housing stock then is c. 33,000 (still a relatively substantial need), though it’s fair to say that that much social housing stock is in need of replacement, though the State cannot afford such programmes at the moment.

4. Negative equity and mortgage arrears

Properly functioning housing markets require a mobile population.  It is estimated that at least one in three household mortgages in the state are in negative equity.  Regardless of whether they want to trade-up or down, or to move to another part of the country they are locked into their present property unless they are prepared to realise a loss.  The Central Bank estimate that over 50% of investor, buy-to-let properties are in negative equity.  When prices do start to rise at least one in three housing units with mortgages are largely precluded from moving until prices rise sufficiently that they can trade.  Moreover, 62,970 households (8.1% of mortgages) are more than 90 days in arrears on their mortgage payments and a further 36,376 have restructured their mortgages (and so far are not in arrears).  This is a substantial growth on the 26,271 households in arrears in Q3 2009 and looks set to keep rising as households struggle to meet debt commitments, and might well be joined by many investors on interest only mortgages if they are asked to start paying down the capital.  Further, 25% of properties have more than one loan secured against it.  What this all means is that a sizable chunk of potential movers/sellers are impaired and will be absent from the market for some time.

5.  Downward spiral of the economy and accessing credit

The Irish economy has been severely weakened over the past four years and household income and access to credit is much reduced.  Austerity measures are biting through various tax increases and deductions.  Many are living with a radical change in financial circumstance through unemployment (14.4%) or underemployment.  An unstable Europe and general weak global economy is having a deadening effect.  The banks are reluctant to lend for mortgage credit.  What this all means is that even if a household wanted to purchase a property, their own reserves are depleted and their access to credit restricted.  This is unlikely to change until the wider economy recovers and the banks have worked through their corrections.  This is going to take a number of years, probably the best part of a decade or more.

6.  Confidence and caution

Confidence in the property market and the property sector in general is at an all time low.  Few at this stage believe what property professionals have to say regarding the property crash, housing need and construction.  They are seen as self-interested groups who are more concerned in their own bottom-line than the state of the nation.  People view the work of NAMA with deep scepticism and lack trust in the government and local authorities to address issues such as unfinished estates and taking in charge.  Issues around poor construction typified by Priory Hall and disputes concerning pyrite in concrete have weakened confidence further.   Investment purchases by individual households, a key feature of the boom (27% of mortgages in 2007), is likely to be much less prominent giving how badly burnt many investors have been by the crash. Combined with the issues above, it seems likely that confidence will remain weak and that buyers in future will proceed with caution.  Growth when it does occur then will be marginal and hesitant, perhaps after a short dead cat bounce.   Assuming the market falls 60%, at growth rates of 5% a year, which would be a good target to aim for, it will take 19 years to reach 2007 prices.  Even in the cities, where growth is likely to be the strongest, it’s going to take some time for confidence to return.

I would like to provide a more upbeat, positive assessment, but the evidence just doesn’t support that sentiment at this time.  Ireland’s property crash, aligned with the weak domestic and international economy, is severe.  For the reasons above, it’s my view that the market is going to be very slow to recover.  It will though recover as supply and demand align and the economy stabilises and starts to grow again.

Rob Kitchin

According to NCB Stockbrokers, as reported in the Examiner today, if house prices have continued to drop at the same rate as in 2009 then over 50 percent of all mortgage holders will be in negative equity by June of this year (this assumes that house prices are on average down 45% since the peak).  The same story reports that the ESRI predict that 53% of mortgage holders will be in negative equity if house prices fall by 50%, and that the Bank of Ireland report that 21.5% (40,000) of its residential mortgages are in negative equity, and that the average level of negative equity is presently greater than €50,000.   There’s clearly a significant difference between 21.5% (BoI) and 50% (NCB), and it’s likely that the true number in negative equity is somewhere between the two.

It is also the case that there are significant geographical variations in rates of negative equity for two reasons.  First, rates will vary in line with household growth, with some areas experiencing a large growth in new homes, and hence new mortgages, in the Celtic Tiger years.  For example, there was significant household growth in the commuting counties around Dublin – Meath (69%), Fingal (68%) and Kildare (57%) between 1996-2006, whereas growth in other counties was substantially less, such as Sligo and Monaghan (both 22%). In the high growth counties, a large number of new mortgages would have been in the 2003-2008 period (with house prices in Dec 2009 having fallen to April 2003 prices according to the PTSB/ESRI index).  Second, rates will vary in line with local housing markets., for example, report that asking prices have dropped between between 43% (Dublin city centre) and 21% (Limerick) between the peak of the market and Dec 2009, with more people in negative equity in those areas with the highest price drops.  It seems likely then that negative equity is likely to affect more people, with the size of the equity gap also larger, in the commuting belt around Dublin than in other places across the country.  What that means is that the consequences of negative equity, in terms of ability to move homes and consumer confidence, also varies geographically and may have additional effects on local trade.

Rob Kitchin

In the run-up to Budget 2010, many estate agents reported potential buyers holding off on purchasing a new home in the hope of some change or incentive to aid their investment.  While a significant number of Sale Agreed signs appeared in suburban neighbourhoods, sale completions were on hold pending the outcome of the budget.

Granted Budget 2010 extended mortgage interest relief for first time buyers to 2017, but effectively the budget did nothing to stimulate the housing market (more…)