A property price database for private homes is the next logical step to reviving the property market, writes PAT IGOE
BUYING and selling a house is well known as easily the most important transaction in most people’s lives. Yet, if you were buying a kettle, it would be easier to get accurate and reliable price information.
The Irish property market has traditionally been starved of accurate information. Privacy has been a major issue. As noted by the Supreme Court in Kennedy and Arnold v Ireland, the right to privacy is one of the fundamental rights of the citizen.
But this absence of official information on house prices is now at last set to change. We think.
It would appear that advice to the last government and also to this Government suggest that publishing certain accurate information on individual house-sale prices will not be unconstitutional.
A possible amendment to the Data Protection Act, excluding house-price information, may be the most that will be required.
The easiest way to see what we have been missing is to examine what others have been enjoying. Britain’s HM Land Registry has a price index that is user friendly and informative. Checking it is a “must-do” for anyone interested in accurate and official prices in any neighbourhood or street anywhere in England or Wales.
Its website, landregistry.gov.uk, is consumer-friendly. Go to “find a property”, pay £4 and print-off a “title register”, which will include the actual prices paid for houses on your road. The records go back to 1995. France, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Norway are also leading the field. Ireland is taking up the rear.
Frank Daly, chairman of Nama, is the latest person to call for accurate house-price information to be published. Speaking last week, he said that it was “now high time we got on with it”.
He noted that we are now one of the few exceptions internationally in not having a public database of information on residential and commercial properties.
He noted, correctly, that the infrastructure is already in place. The information has been supplied by solicitors around the country on a daily basis for years for every house or apartment sold or even passed within a family, when an estate agent’s estimated open-market valuation is also submitted. But there the information is stored.
It is quite a jump from private information from solicitors to the Revenue Commissioners to being published on a Government website.
The Senate elections are the current logjam. Once they are over this month, a select committee can be immediately appointed to take the long-awaited Property Services (Regulation) Bill beyond committee stage. “Progress can be quickly made . . . as soon as the select committee is in a position to deal with the Bill”, according to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
If properly implemented and marketed, the change may have a momentous and very helpful effect on the now-moribund property market.
So what can we expect? The Property Services Regulatory Authority, which has existed in Navan, Co Meath since 2007 but which still has no authority, will be given the role of publishing the information.
Its chief executive, Tom Lynch, has said that the register will provide details of all property sales by reference to address, sale price and date of sale. We can only hope that it will be consumer-driven.
Estate agents have also long been calling for a transparent property market where details of sales are available on the internet.
They warn against the new system simply providing broad general information, while Sherry FitzGerald would like to see the system backdated for comparison purposes. This might be open to serious legal challenge.
Even the old reliable Permanent TSB/ESRI monthly survey of prices has had to go quarterly because of a lack of reliable market information. Trinity College’s associate professor of finance Brian Lucey has even described the lack of property data available to improve discussion of the property market as “astonishing and appalling”.
One concern on the promises of the new property market’s transparency is that the property price database will be delayed unnecessarily by bureaucracy.
So far, there is input from many government bodies including the Department of Finance, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Property Services Regulatory Authority, the Central Statistics Office, the Law Reform Commission, the Property Registration Authority, and the Revenue Commissioners.
Now, perhaps, Frank Daly is right – it is high time we got on with it.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Property investor - The Irish Times - Thu, Apr 21, 2011