They say that sunlight is the best disinfectant and yesterday in Ireland we finally had some disinfectant poured on the vexed issue of house prices. After decades of waiting, it finally came down to 53,000-odd records, each with three main items of data – a date, an address, a price. In the end there was no uproar about data protection and in this day and age, extracting 53,000 records from the Revenue Commissioners database should not be beyond a State which boasts of being a global IT hub providing a home to most of the world’s biggest computer age companies. At last we can put an end to asking price indices, which even their promoters will admit are deeply flawed, at last we have prices for both cash- and mortgage-based transactions. We can now see the true state of property prices in Ireland, a country which has seen one of the steepest declines in residential property prices in the world. But why stop there, when there is so much more information out there which would improve property decision making in our society and help combat distortions, chicanery and uncompetitive behaviour.
Now that the data protection legislation has been judged not to be an impediment to publishing price information against specific addresses, there is no apparent legal obstacle to the Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB) publishing the applicable rent for all the rental properties which it otherwise publishes at present. The PRTB holds the details of 100% of private rental arrangements in the State, it makes available on its website the address and other details of each rented property. All it needs do is add a rent value and we will finally know the true state of rents in this country and not rely on estate agents providing the CSO with estimates which inform the inflation sub-index or DAFT producing indices based on asking rents. Not only would we have transparency but the Department of Social Protection would have better information on which to base its policies on rent assistance levels.
Commercial property sales
Property can be categorised in all sorts of ways but residential/commercial is a common split. There can be some grey areas like sites, hotels, student accommodation but if you say that commercial is everything that isn’t residential then that would include shops, offices, warehouses but also farms, development land, pubs, conference centres, private hospitals. Yesterday we got residential prices. The same rationale for publishing the residential property register – transparency leading to confidence leading to transactions – should also apply to commercial property. Remember the investment commercial property market – one sector of the commercial market – in Ireland was worth just €200m in 2011, down from €3bn at its peak, and despite stamp duty reductions, the abandonment of upward only rent review reform and other tax changes, 2012 is not looking to be a great deal better than 2011.
We were supposed to have a database of commercial rents – and such a database was presented as part-and-parcel of the new residential property register – but alas the soporific Minister Shatter hasn’t gotten around to this yet. The rationale for the commercial rents database was to allow transparency in the market to create competitive rents, particularly in a State where there is still a general vast oversupply of commercial property with vacancy rates of 20-30% not uncommon in many sectors.
Other than through the IMF, it is difficult to see the practical source of the political motivation to address the outstanding areas of transparency – there are too many vested interests in this State who would prefer to keep us in the dark and close the curtains to prevent even existing chinks of light entering.