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News : EU Economy Last Updated: Sep 28, 2009 - 4:19:55 AM

European Housing Review 2009: Ireland has floor areas per person of a fifth less than Western European average
By Finfacts Team
Mar 6, 2009 - 5:20:41 AM

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European Housing Review 2009: The annual report published on Thursday, by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors(RICS), says despite the Irish housing boom, Ireland still has worse housing conditions than other countries with similar living standards, with floor areas per person of around a fifth less than the western European average, even though a large number of dwellings (45%) are detached houses.

The report says house prices were falling in every European market by the end of 2008 when adjusted for inflation, with a few such as Greece and the Netherlands, still slightly positive for the year as a whole after initial growth.

Professor Michael Ball, the author of the report says core markets are set to suffer “marked downturns.”

Prof. Ball said:“The world financial crisis and economic downswing have hit European housing markets badly. Some countries, like Ireland and the UK, led the decline but by the last quarter of 2008 the effects had spread across Europe.

“There is greater synchronisation of housing market decline in Europe than has been seen in the past and there are going to be some tough times before marked recovery occurs.”

Rics said that any future revival of European housing relies on the ability of European governments to cope with the mortgage credit shortage as well as the scale of the economic recession.

The UK was one of the worst performing markets, where house prices dropped 16% in 2008, second only to Estonia, where prices fell 23% but which has a relatively small residential market.

The report says year-on-year Irish prices were down by 9% by December  2008, according to the ESRI/permanent tsb index. House prices had by then fallen by 15% from their early 2007 peak. The prospect for 2009 is for further price reductions as a major housing market correction continues.

Other indicators of market activity in 2008 also showed that the rate of decline is still substantial. Housebuilding was 53% down by year end from its peak in 2006. The number of mortgage loans had fallen by 48% in Q3 2008 from their level two years previously.

RICS said that even those economies that did not experience a boom in house prices have not been spared from the squeeze in the market. In Germany and Austria, it said, a lack of credit has hit demand and it predicts a further fall in house prices and activity in 2009.


RICS says there is a long history of poor housing conditions. In 1980, the country had the lowest number of dwellings per thousand inhabitants in the old EU. It still has worse housing conditions than other countries with similar living standards, despite the recent building boom, with floor areas per person of around a fifth less than the Western European average. Household size is also relatively high at 2.94 persons in 2002, though it had improved from 3.34 in 1991. Undoubtedly, the historic lack of dwellings was a root cause of the recent long housing boom, the report says.

The strength and extent of that property boom means that the country has the youngest average age of dwellings in the EU. Overall, the construction industry contributed almost a quarter of GNP at the peak of the building boom, much of it from housebuilding and other housing activities, such as repair and refurbishment.

RICS says the structure of dwelling types is unusual for the EU in that there are very few apartments and multi-occupancy structures. A large number of dwellings (45%) are detached houses (frequently single-storey bungalows); a further 29% are semi-detached; and 23% are terraced.

Only around 3% of dwellings are apartments, though in Dublin a far higher share are bed-sits or apartments (14% of dwellings). Over three-quarters of new housing consists of the bungalow, detached and semi-detached types, with around a fifth being apartments.

RICS says the general type of housing built is land intensive and standardised in form. This leads to spread-out suburbs, both around Dublin and in other growth areas further afield. This urban form gives rise to long commuting journeys on a frequently overstretched infrastructure network. Land supply constraints near the major cities have been encouraging spread out development and reports have called for a more economically and environmentally sustainable living pattern.

RICS cites a report by the UK’s Policy Exchange think tank, which has argued that the Irish planning system creates too many ‘starter homes’, of often mediocre quality on monotonous estates, and allows insufficient quantities of larger, better quality properties. The lack of better properties has fuelled house price inflation, it argues, so that the high headline housebuilding figures give a misleading picture of the true supply situation.

Finfacts Report Feb 2008: International House Price Comparisons 1970-2006: Irish price growth in 36-year period third highest among 18 Developed Countries

Finfacts Report Aug 2008: International house price comparison index for 2007 ranks Dublin, Ireland and Beverly Hills, California for world's most expensive comparable management level family homes

Some data on real house prices are shown for the years between 1970 and 2005 in Table 2.2 for 18 advanced economies. Two-thirds of the European countries surveyed there had two major crashes between 1970 and 2005, while Australia and the USA had none and others only one. Moreover, European countries had big price falls when they happened, with 9 of the 12 countries listed in Table 2.2 having real falls of more than a third in at least one downturn over the 35 year period.

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