Last Monday’s Panorama programme on BBC 1 presented by Fergal Keane was a pretty depressing presentation in the main – if you want to watch the programme online and you’re not in the UK you might need to fool the BBC into thinking that your computer is in fact in the UK with IP masking/proxy software like Expat Shield. The programme had the sub-title “How to blow a fortune” and for those of you who didn’t see it, there was a (very) brief look at the boom in the early 2000s (BMW show rooms, leather jackets, a woman buying an apartment in Turkey) and then an extended look at the hangover, including a couple who had lost their jobs and were now each living with their own parents, a teacher living on a ghost estate in Mullingar and a graduate emigrating and her dignified father suppressing grief and anger. An interesting 30 minutes but for my money Rita O’Reilly’s Prime Time programme on the developers aired before Christmas was superior.
But one thing struck me as the cameras captured the interview with the woman who had bought the semi-detached house on the Cloon Lara ghost estate in Mullingar – the house itself was modern, seemed well-built, had double glazing and looking at estate agent details, the houses appear to be 950 sq ft, three bedroom, two bathroom and decorated to a high standard, above average fireplaces, modern kitchens, built-in wardrobes, wooden/tiled floors, double doors internally, natural gas fired central heating and cobble-lock driveway. Sure the estate has not been completed and many of houses are empty, and the female teacher who featured in the programme is bemused at the carloads of ghost estate sightseers who come in to gawk at life in one of the many incomplete ghost estates in the country (far more than the 600 referred to by Fergal, by the way). The owner is more concerned at the fact that the properties have dropped some 50% in value and can apparently be bought today for €130,000. But aside from the fact that the property is worth far less than she paid for it and the estate is incomplete, it struck me that she does at least live in what seems like a very decent home.
Yesterday Eurostat published a report entitled “Housing Conditions in Europe in 2009” (the more summarised press release is here) and guess what? Our housing stock is in a far better state than most of our neighbours, there is less over-crowding and for most of us, our home is our castle and we’re not tied into the nastiness that can be the condominium/leasehold model that typifies apartment ownership. We suffer less pollution and although noise can be a problem for many, we are still amongst the least-affected sufferers in Europe. And lastly our housing is relatively affordable – on this last point, the world has moved on since 2009 and with a raft of tax increases, rampant unemployment, pervasive negative equity and interest rate increases I don’t think we’re as affordable as we once were for existing owners though for buyers, property has not been this affordable for 25 years.
Lastly the report identifies member states where there is over-crowding which can indicate housing shortages. Will we see Irish construction companies selling their services in Bulgaria, Romania and Latvia and Poland?