In his opinion piece on Tues, 3rd April in the Irish Times, Kieran McGowan of Property Industry Ireland makes the case that to attract FDI there needs to be investment in the commerical property sector: “Without the accommodation, we won’t get the FDI.”  His argument is that: “There is a view that there is an overhang of completed buildings across all parts of the property sector.  This is wrong, particularly in relation to buildings for firms entering the market in key urban centres throughout Ireland.”  He does not provide one piece of data to support this view, only assertion.  The reason for this is that the data available tells a different story.

Savills ‘Dublin Office Market in Minutes’, Q3 2011, report notes that 23% of Dublin office space is vacant.  In the prime locations of Dublin 2 and Dublin 4 the vacancy rate is 16.1% and 23.5%.  Moreover 18% of vacant offices are defined as Grade A.  To put this in context, the amount of empty office space in the city is equivalent to over 200 Liberty Halls (also see the Andrew MacLaran’s post on IAN on the Dublin office market).

The Society of Charted Surveyors Ireland recently reported that the office market had little to no activity with rents/yields falling.  The same was true of the industrial and retail sectors, both with large volumes of excess stock.  In fact, they report that the only part of the property market that is functioning near to normal is agricultural land. 

This is the industry’s own data and is reflective of patterns nationwide.

Whilst I agree that the strategic use of construction will help Ireland recover from the present crisis – particularly in relation to public infrastructure that will serve the general population and industry – we need to be careful not to misrepresent the true nature of the dire position of the Irish property market and the levels of oversupply within it across all sectors.  There is plenty of office stock to deal with most of the needs of FDI, with some minor strategic investment in upgrades or new build (we only need to build new stock for specialist facilities or where the investment is so large that there is no suitable existing empty office space – in both cases this will be for a handful of companies).

As with the housing market, there is a need to harmonize the supply and demand of commercial property in order to reduce oversupply and put a floor in the market.  Unnecessarily building new stock will work to keep the market either falling or flat.

Moreover, rather than overly relying on FDI to get us out of our present slump we urgently need to grow Ireland’s indigenous sector – the sector we should have been investing in when we were ploughing billions of euro into property speculation. They are our ideal tenants of the future.

Rob Kitchin

The Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland and RICS have published their annual property report for 2011.  This report used to be a joint venture with IAVI (Irish Auctioneers and Valuers Institute) before it merger with The Society of Chartered Surveyors.  The report is based on a survey of 319 chartered surveyors who work in the commercial, industrial and residential property sectors.  It therefore reflects the opinions of members, as opposed to being drawn directly from sales/rental databases.  Nevertheless it does give us insight into what is happening in the market from the perspective of an informed group of actors.  The report provides both a sectoral and regional analysis, with year by year changes in prices for 2009, 2010 and 2011, but no detailed data on overall change since the peak of the market.

The report argues that the property market has now become geographically and sectorially specific in how it operates, with locales and types of property performing differently as the pressure of the crash has come to bear on it.  For example, they argue there is a notable urban/rural difference in rents and prices of residential properties, and whilst development land has plummeted by up to 95% in value, agricultural land has not fallen to the same degree and has risen in many areas last year.  They argue that the largest factors impacting on the property market have been the lack of mortgage credit for the residential market and the lack of capital finance for commercial purchases, along with fears over unemployment and pay cuts, and weak sentiment.  Notably there is little discussion of oversupply, negative equity, mortgage arrears, and immigration of household formation-aged population.

In terms of sectors, the report details:

Residential new houses – very low levels of activity characterised as ‘non-existant sales’; apartments falling in price more rapidly than houses; cash buyers dominate where sales are occuring (mainly in and around Dublin).

Residential secondhand houses – very low levels of activity; prices continue to fall, but influenced by location; falls generally in-excess of new homes; homes not coming onto the market unless absolutely necessary; very little trading up; some pick up in sales in Q3/Q4 but mainly for houses <175K; cash sales typically 60% from peak

Residential rental market – solid levels of activity; rental prices holding up with little fall in price over year; reports of no overhang of rental property and a shortage of family home stock in some areas, notably Dublin.

Offices – demand very low, weaker than 2010 and characterised generally as ‘no activity’ and rents/yields falling; city centre Dublin slightly better in activity but terms under pressure and rents falling; rents nationwide typically down 50% on peak.

Retail – sales ‘dead in the water’; rents down nationwide by 50-60% from peak; notable move to short leases.

Pubs and hotels – continued closure of pubs; no sales; banks won’t lend to the sector; Dublin faring slightly better than elsewhere; NAMA has unrealistic expectation re. hotel sales

Industrial property – sales almost non-existant; high levels of vacancy in small units; falling rents

Investment property – sales almost non-existant in commercial and residential property (except for limited cash sales)

Development land – prices down 95%; market not anticipated to pick up any time soon; NAMA set to dominate any activity

Agricultural land – described as the only functioning market, with prices rising in 2011; rents also rising

Price drops across sectors is generally much larger in Ulster/Connaught than Dublin, Leinster and Munster; and generally larger in rural areas than urban areas.

The report highlights that many chartered surveyors find dealing with NAMA very frustrating and that they anticipate NAMA will be a feature of the property landscape well into the medium term.  The forecast for 2012 – residential will remain weak, commercial to start to pick up in the second half of the year.

That analysis all seems pretty reasonable to me, though I’m not convinced that the commercial market will pick up to any great degree unless economic activity does likewise, especially a rise in employment that requires space. And there is a lot of vacant commercial space across the country that means that supply massively outstrips demand that will work to keep prices depressed for some time.  For office space in Dublin, vacancy is >20%, and in some parts of the city >40%.

What this report, and others from the property sector, highlight is the need for high quality, independent and public, commercial property and land data re. sales and rents.  The emphasis to now has been on establishing a house price register.  We need the same for the commercial sector, so that local authorities and government departments know what is happening across the property sector when undertaking planning decisions.  It would also aid NAMA in its work and form a backdrop that would help banks make sensible decisions re. lending for development.

Rob Kitchin