How much are rents falling around the country?

The latest Daft.ie Rental Report is out today. It shows that rents across the country fell by more than 5% in the first three months of the year. The national average rent now stands at €840 per month, compared to just over €1,000 per month a year ago. Nationwide, rents have now fallen for 14 consecutive months. The fall since the peak early last year has been faster than the rise before that, and with rents 17.5% lower than the peak in early 2008, rents are now back mid-2005 levels.

The largest falls in rents have been in the cities. In Dublin and Limerick, rents fell by up to 6.5% in the first three months of the year. In Waterford and Cork cities, rents fell by 5.3% and 5.1% respectively. In Galway, the fall in rents was smaller, at 4.3%. Rents in Dublin’s commuter counties and in West Leinster (i.e. Laois, Longford, Offaly and Westmeath) – presumably an indication of their role as Dublin’s outer and further-outer commuter belts – have fallen by about 6%, more than the national average. At the other end, South-East Leinster (Carlow, Kilkeny and Wexford) and the counties of Connacht and Ulster have seen rents fall by less, typically by about 3.5%. Rents in Leitrim and Roscommon fell by less than 1.5%.

The county-by-county changes are outlined in the map below. As you can see, it’s the extended Dublin area that’s being hit most. For the full details on average rents by county and how much they’ve fallen in the last three months and in the last 12 months, check out the Manyeyes visualization here.

Change in rents by county, 2009 Q1

Change in rents by county, 2009 Q1

The reason for all this is clear – the rental market is feeling the brunt of too much supply and not enough demand. On the supply side, the number of properties available for rent is now over 23,000 – an all time high, certainly compared with the 5000-6000 range we saw on the site up to 2007. This means that landlords are having to fight for tenants, pushing down rents – and rent-a-room income – pretty much everywhere. Add to this falling demand, as Ireland’s most footloose workers head off to pastures new, and it’s pretty clear that the pressure on rents throughout 2009 and maybe into 2010 will be downward pressure.

This report’s commentary is provided by Brian Devine, Chief Economist at NCB Stockbrokers. He highlights the challenges and perils of forecasting facing economists today:

In relation to the property market there have been plenty of forecasts regarding how far residential prices (ranging from -35% to -60%) and to a lesser extent residential rents (ranging from -20% to -35%) are going to fall from peak to trough. Some studies/views on how far prices will fall are based on historical comparisons with previous OECD housing busts. Others invoke the idea of a “fair value” for housing based on, for example, one or more of the following: income-price ratios, mortgage repayment burden, rent-price ratios, rental yield, credit availability, population growth, interest rates and growth in per capita disposable income.

The problem with trying to forecast prices/rents based on the concept of fair value is that prices overshoot and undershoot fair value. The magnitude of the overshoot/undershoot is ultimately determined by psychology. While the psychology of never ending price rises fuelled the market on the way up, economic/job uncertainty and the expectations of further price falls will be the important psychological factors on the way down.

Next week’s property market post will have a look at affordability, i.e. the maths of buying versus renting, based on these figures, and how yields have been affected by the latest falls in rents.

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How many months supply is sitting on the property market?

The US leads the way for many types of statistics – and in particular for their timeliness. The housing market is no different, with a plethora of measures such as prices and volume of transactions out every month.

In Ireland, though, we have to labour under a dearth of timely statistics on a range of economic indicators – including the housing market. Naturally, the Daft Report tries to make its contribution, publishing one week after quarter’s end so that people have the latest asking price and stock/flow information. One that I’m increasingly asked for is the number of months of supply currently sitting on the property market, a measure that’s well established in the US. It’s probably time we tried to put some numbers on it.

To do that, we need to answer two questions. The first is: what is a normal volume of transactions for the Irish property market? The second is: how many are on the market now?

On the first, the natural way to go about it would be to use the recent level of transactions. The only problem with that, though, is that the number of transactions has fluctuated wildly over the past four years, making that a somewhat erratic measure. To counteract that, the Department of the Environment have a long-run series on loan approvals, which for all intents and purposes tells us how many people are buying property every year. The numbers still vary hugely over the past two decades, in line with the vicissitudes of Ireland’s property market. In 1990, there were just 35,000 transactions – less than 3,000 a month – while in 2005, there were over three times as many transactions, 120,000 in total.

Taking the 2005 figure – or indeed anything since about 2000 – leaves open the accusation that one is deliberately underestimating the problem by overestimating the “typical” month. Then again, anything pre-1999 – and certainly anything close to 1993 – is probably not too appropriate either. To overcome this, one can view the last 15 years of Ireland’s property market as two stylized periods: a (relatively) healthy property market in the 1990s, where monthly transactions averaged 4,400, and a hyperactive property market, 2000-2007, where monthly transactions averaged 7,800.

Using the 2000-2007 figure gives us a lower bound, while using the 1993-2000 gives an upper bound. Given that Ireland is the guts of 700,000 residents bigger now than in 1993 (even allowing for outward migration), it probably makes sense to use the average of the two figures (about 6,000 transactions a month) as some sort of post-2007 reasonable estimate of what one could expect would pass through the market in a healthy post-crunch Ireland.

To answer the second question, how many properties are currently on the market, I’ve taken the daft.ie series of stock of property for sale. An adjustment has been made, given the way new developments are listed on the site, to make sure that vacant new builds are better captured than the raw figures may suggest.

After all those preparations, where are we? The chart below shows the best estimate (orange) of the number of months property sitting on the market from early 2007 to April 2009 – alongside upper (red) and lower (green) bounds, based on whether one believes that the 2000-2007 level of transactions is ‘normal’ or in fact when everything dies down we’ll see a return to much lower 1993-1999 levels of transactions instead.

Estimated number of months supply on Ireland's property market

Estimated number of months supply on Ireland's property market

In a normal property market, one might expect to see three or four months supply sitting on the market – that’s about how long it takes for a property to go through the cycle of litsing, viewing, agreement, closure. The graph above – if you accept the middle ground presented – is that there has been a over a year’s supply of property sitting on the market since this time last year, compared to about 5 months at the start of 2007.

Good news? These days, good news is really just absence of new bad news! The good news is that while there is about three times as much property on the market as normal, this has levelled off – and indeed fallen slightly – in the last six months.

The first cut is the deepest – Dublin’s falls and Ireland’s property paradox

This week’s daft.ie report revealed some intriguing findings in relation to the current state and trajectory of Ireland’s property market. As was discussed yesterday, for example, while east peaked earlier than west, north has fallen further than south since the peak. One of the conclusions of both these findings is that Dublin and its commuter counties have experienced falling prices first and deepest.

This goes somewhat counter to conventional wisdom, although conventional wisdom hasn’t done too well in the last couple of years it must be said! Conventional wisdom would suggest that whatever about the Section 23 wastelands and ‘ghost estates’ of Ireland’s mid-West and elsewhere, the capital – as focal point for Ireland’s public and internationally trading sectors and their upstream and downstream employers – would be alright, at least in relative terms. In an Ireland where prices fell 20% in the crash, Dublin might be 15% or so while “somewhere else” would be worst hit.

While easy to mock, there is something in this from a long-term perspective. I have argued before on this blog – in December and again in February – that the ‘overhang’ of property looks a lot worse, even with just approximate calculations, in the mid-West than in the capital or indeed any of Ireland’s five cities. With stock falling slightly in the last six months, no harm revisiting the ‘overhang per county’ chart again, with stock levels taken from today.

Percentage of property for sale by county, Ireland, April 2009Again, the message is pretty clear – Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim and Roscommon have significant property ‘overhang’ compared to the likes of Monaghan, Kilkenny and Dublin and its commuter counties. The conclusion that I would draw is as follows: as it is home to the vast majority of Ireland’s top earners, to the extent that Dublin’s property market priced in expected future GDP and wage growth – i.e. confidence – it is to be expected that prices will fall most there, as confidence collapses from a high in late 2006 to a low in 2009. (The implication is that prices would be more likely to turn around faster, were confidence to somehow rematerialize.)

Taking a longer term perspective, though, unless prices adjust faster in places like Donegal, they face the prospect of longer peak-to-trough. Indeed already, some on theproperty.com are fretting about the future of places like Roscommon. On a thread entitled “Rents getting very cheap in the west“, mikewest’s message makes glum reading for property holders in Roscommon:

The house prices down here are still utterly crazy because something the developers never noticed is that there is shag all work in Co. Roscommon and if you dont have work then nobody wants to live there. People talk about the ghost estates in Longford and Leitrim but they don’t hold a candle to Roscommon. Every village and town has empty or virtually empty estates and / or apartment blocks…

There is another teeny tiny problem in the west. There are one or two houses too many in some towns right now so asking prices for rents are really more aspirational than actual but not quite as aspirational as asking prices for houses.

Irish house prices fall 4% since the start of 2009 – latest daft.ie report

Ireland’s property slump marked it second birthday today, with the news from the latest daft.ie report that asking prices for residential property fell 4.2% in the first three months of 2009. This latest drop in prices marks the eight consecutive quarter that prices have fallen.

As the official press release notes, the national average asking price now stands at just over €280,000, meaning that prices have fallen almost €70,000 from the peak in early 2007. What’s interesting to note at this stage is that Dublin was worse hit on average over the first quarter – in particular Dublin city centre, where prices fell by 11%. Other notable falls since the start of the year are Sligo and Waterford city, where prices fell by about 10% in three months.

The fall in the first three months of the year should not be underestimated, particularly as the year-on-year rate of change has now slid to -15.7%. Nonetheless, a graph of the quarterly change in asking prices gives some food for thought. The falls in house prices got worse and worse more or less every quarter from mid-2007 on – until now, as the diagram below shows. How much we can read into this, though, will have to wait until next quarter, when we can see if the trend continues.

Change in national average asking price from quarter before, source: daft.ie

Change in national average asking price from quarter before, source: daft.ie

Commentator for this report is Liam Delaney, a behavioural economics expert. He discusses the importance of psychology – and the value in terms of self-worth of things like owning a house or having a job – in current economic conditions. He draws an important distinction between public and private sector workers (or at least that’s how I interpret it):

This report – combined with the recent labour force figures – indicates considerable hardship for those in once solid middle-class jobs that are now facing a potential double-whammy. People will inevitably feel even worse when they see neighbours and friends who are in better situations. Consider the position of a college graduate who purchased in Dublin in 2006, based on the income from his financial services job (now gone), to the position of his neighbour who secured a public sector position on leaving college and purchased in 2001. While neither is laughing, the latter must at least be considering himself the better off of the two. They are certainly not in the same boat and the widening rift in society being generated by asset price decline and employment uncertainty is the defining theme of our time. As described by John Fitzgerald and others, there are many who are currently better off than last year, as they are facing declining prices and interest rates in the context of stable employment in their sector.

He also describes two scenarios for the future, drawing on Gerard O’Neill‘s own commentary on a previous Daft report, where he suggested that the current economic maelstrom in which Ireland finds itself is probably the only thing that could possibly ever turn Ireland into a nation of renters – the implication being that may just happen. Liam then walks through the implications of these two scenarios:

One version of a national narrative that was articulated in the previous commentary by Gerard O’Neill was the idea that the Irish cultural and psychological need for property may be displaced by a culture where renting is given more credence as part of a normal adult life. Were such a story about the Irish relation to property to take hold, it would clearly have substantial implications for any potential future rebound in property prices. Key players at the moment are those who can afford property but are riding out the current uncertainty by taking advantage of falling rents. If they follow Gerard’s story, they may never come back into the buying market and the next generation may follow them into long term renting.

Yet, we still hear strongly the story that the Irish have always been and will always be wedded to the idea of home ownership as a fundamental part of maturing into adulthood. If such a story about Irishness and adulthood maintains its hold, house prices will eventually settle at a higher level, and changes in the market will depend on macroeconomic conditions, rather than on the type of seismic shift in Irish culture described by Gerard.

I’ll be posting each day this week on different findings from the latest figures, starting tomorrow with a Budget-day special… did someone say an Irish property tax? Later in the week, I’ll also look at the stock of property for sale – which incidentally has now fallen, however slightly, each of the last six months – but before I do, a quick comment on asking prices versus closing prices. Accurate measurement of house prices is a hot topic at the moment – it seems the ptsb closing price index reached a minimum fall in year-on-year terms of 10%, while asking prices haven’t yet found their nadir.

Changes in asking and closing prices, 2007-2009

Changes in asking and closing prices, 2007-2009

The full report is available at www.daft.ie/report and contains, as mentioned above, a commentary by Liam Delaney, Lecturer in Economics with the Geary Institute, UCD, as well a regional and county-by-county analysis of the latest trends in the property market.

Guess the Index: The Daft Report turns fun!

Following on from my recent post about Web2.0, hubdub and guessing Irish unemployment, I think it’s only right that I turn this future prediction market technology on myself. Well, on the Daft Report at any rate.

At this link, you’ll find a market on how much lower rents in Ireland will be in January 2009, compared to a year earlier. All you have to do is place some of your hubdub dollars (don’t worry, the whole thing is free, it’s just to measure how sure of the outcome you are) on the year-on-year rate of change, as per Daft’s very own National Rent Index.

Those who get it right will get naught but some more Hubdub dollars, but hopefully that will suffice. Well, that and the knowledge of being right, and perhaps some real dollars, in the form of a cheaper rent, if you’re a tenant bargaining with your landlord – assuming of course rents fall. (As I write this, the Hubdub market currently gives a 5% chance to rents falling less than 6% or rising, so some of that 5% includes the theoretical, at this stage, outcome that rents will go up.)

There is of course a serious side to all this (careful, blogosphere, here comes the science bit). If the market matures enough, it will be interesting to see how correct it is, compared to the actual outcome. Consistently accurate markets, across a whole range of these hubdub thingies, would say something to economists and policymakers, for example in Ireland, in light of the social partnership talks about public sector pay cuts (e.g. have public sector workers already cut their expenditure in anticipation of a cut?)

Most importantly, though, have fun! We need all the fun from markets we can get these days.

Westmeath says ‘Watch out below’! An updated heat-map of Ireland’s property market

A little behind schedule, given that the report is out a couple of weeks at this stage, but the latest Manyeyes visualization of Ireland’s property market is up here. The overview snap is below.

Heat map of price changes in Ireland's property markets

Heat map of price changes in Ireland's property markets

As you can see, all counties have notched up two consecutive quarters of price falls by this stage (Limerick was last to fall). Some counties are now on six quarters. It seems that those that fell first have fallen hardest – in the Midlands (defined loosely enough), Laois and Longford were among the first counties to register falls in asking prices. They have now been joined by neighbouring counties, which are among the worst affected so far by falling prices. Take Donegal, for example, which was among the last to give up rising prices, where they are now 17% lower than a year ago. In Westmeath, the figure is even higher (18.1%), which marks a huge slide of more than 10% in the year-on-year change from the previous quarter. Longford and Louth are also in the same range close to 17%.

Now, as for Tipperary and Waterford (and Limerick and Mayo, the other two counties where falls are still single digits)… Are sellers there living in a mild form of cloud cuckoo land? Even looking at fall-from-peak figures, rather than year-on-year, they’re still in single digit territory. Or perhaps they think that they’re more sheltered, because the overhang of property is not as severe as it is in the Midlands/North-West? Answers on a postcard…

(PS. Do people think that this heatmap should change from year-on-year changes to one masuring the fall from the peak instead? That might give a better idea of total adjustment. Biggest adjustment so far is still Westmeath, down 20.0% exactly.)

The year of the renter… the Irish Times whets the appetite for next Daft report

Daft has been getting lots of exposure in the Irish Times recently, as the batch of year-end reports and prognoses for 2009 flood in. In particular, the Irish Times has begun whetting the appetite for the 2008 Year in Review Daft Rental Report. Their recent article, ‘A renter’s market‘, reviews current trends in the rental market, citing the November Daft Report, which found a fall of almost 8% in rents in 2008 up to that point. It also pointed out the single most noteworthy feature of Ireland’s rental market at the moment, the overhang in rental stock around the country, which suggests that the smart money is on the next report to show a continuing fall in rents in pretty much every part of the country.

Below is a pithy analysis in the article from a man with a growing national reputation, Stephen Kinsella:

“What’s happened is that people bought [properties] to flip,” says Dr Stephen Kinsella, of the Kemmy Business School in UL. “They weren’t selling so they put them on the rental market. So what’s been happening over the last number of months is that the supply of available high-quality, brand new housing, especially apartment housing, has gone through the roof.” On the other side of the rental equation, demand has flagged due to the exodus of migrant workers from Ireland. The ESRI expects that net outward migration will reach 50,000 in the year to April 2009, which would free up even more rental properties. “You don’t need a PhD in economics to know when the supply of something goes up, the price of it is going to go down,” says Dr Kinsella.

Earlier IT coverage of the Daft Report focussed on the ongoing debate about the true level of house price falls. On Wednesday January 14, it reported the main findings from the Year in Review report for the sales market, alongside findings from the IAVI report out the same day. In an article entitled ‘Prices of houses in Dublin fall by 16.5%‘, the paper reported:

The latest Daft.ie house report, also published yesterday, shows that asking prices for houses fell almost 15 per cent over 2008.The decline in prices, according to the property website, accelerated in the latter months of 2008 with asking prices falling 5.8 per cent in the last quarter alone. According to Daft.ie, the national average asking price fell €58,000 in 12 months to €295,000, the same level as in January 2006.

Somewhat confusingly, though, the very next day, it published an article that was not so keen on the Daft Report. (One could of course be all conspiratorial about these things, bearing in mind that the Irish Times owns daft’s rival myhome.ie, Ireland’s second largest property portal, with approximately one third of the visitors, traffic and listings of daft.ie!) Michael Grehan, MD of Sherry Fitzgerald, sought to set the record straight on the true state of the property market, in an article entitled ‘Reports do not reveal true price drop‘:

Michael Grehan, managing director of Sherry FitzGerald, says that a report this week by property website Daft.ie, which showed a 15 per cent fall in house prices last year, doesn’t tell the full story, since the research is based on asking prices rather than those actually achieved. Grehan argues that while Sherry FitzGerald’s own property indices shows an average price correction of 30 per cent, since the peak, he knows of properties that appear to have taken cuts of 40, 50 and even 60 per cent, in at least one case. The size of the drop has been confirmed by other agents who have seen prices fall through the floor as buyers bargain aggressively. “The lack of publicly available information on actual sales prices puts buyers at a disadvantage as there is often a big difference between an initial asking price and the eventual selling price,” says Grehan.

Of course, he’s dead right. The Daft Report is based on asking prices, which is why, for example, the index is called the Asking Price Index. Also, it’s nice to see what those on thepropertypin.com would call a VI (vested interest) arguing strenuously that house price falls have been up to three times as large as those reported in the statistics. What makes it all a little bit more confusing, however, is that Sherry Fitzgerald conducted their own analysis of the Irish property market in 2008 and published their findings a week earlier. And what did they conclude? According to a January 7 report in the Irish Times entitled ‘More price cuts as season starts‘:

The average price of a second-hand property in Ireland fell by 7.1 per cent during the final quarter of 2008, according to a report by the agency [Sherry Fitzgerald] earlier this week. “This brings the level of price deflation for 2008 to 18.1 per cent – the highest level of price deflation ever recorded in the Irish market,” says the company’s chief economist, Marian Finnegan.

Confused? I know I am!I think it’s probably fair to say, though, that most people would be surprised if the 3% gap between the 2008 fall in Daft’s asking prices and the 2008 fall in SF’s index of prices truly reflected how much buyers are undercutting listed prices – which I think was Mr. Grehan’s point.

The moral of the story? Probably nothing more insightful than: know your stats, what they’re telling you and what they’re not, and always keep a healthy sceptical outlook on everything you read.