Monday, July 16, 2012

The 'Ghost Estates' of Ireland


Traveling around Southern Ireland I was surprised by the number of marketing signs for real estate projects, especially since many of the projects seemed quite old and often in need of repair. In many cases, portions of completed and occupied projects were surrounded by chain link fencing. I subsequently learned that most of these developments were in fact five to seven years old, and were what were colloquially called “Ghost Estates”.

Ghost Estates are projects of ten units or more that are more than 50% uncompleted, or completed and vacant. I discovered that at last count there were 2,066 such estates and about 230,000 units either partially completed, or completed and unoccupied. To put this in perspective, the number is equal to the number of housing starts in Canada in a good year, a country with about eight times the population of Southern Ireland.
 These units are the result of the ‘Celtic Tiger’ which extended from the mid-1990’s until 2007. During this time, the price of housing in many areas around Dublin quadrupled, yes quadrupled, and the housing starts tripled.  Today prices have dropped to about half of their peak, and most of the projects remain in an unfinished or unsold state since the banks will not provide financing to builders to complete, or loans to potential buyers. Nor will they allow municipal authorities to purchase completed units since I was told they don’t want the losses to appear on their balance sheets.
 While I was in Ireland an auction was held for three houses and four acres of land on a half-finished “ghost estate” in Ireland which sold for €122,500 in a transaction welcomed by the auctioneer who conducted the sale as “a sign the country’s moribund housing market is starting to stabilise”.  Houses on the same estate had sold for over 200,000 each at the peak of the market in 2007.

The federal government is now exploring what should be done. They have done what any government might do in such a situation…they have formed a Task Force…and while it is expected that monies will be provided to municipalities to finish off and secure some projects, (since many do represent a health and safety hazard) and purchase units in others for social housing, most observers agree that before this situation is resolved, thousands of partially completed units are likely to be demolished. Yes demolished.

It seems so tragic that while places like Vancouver are dealing with homelessness and extensive waiting lists for social housing, there are hundreds of thousands of unoccupied units in Ireland. And to exacerbate the situation, a number of young people I met in the construction trades are in the process of immigrating to Canada since they cannot find suitable work in Ireland.

You can read more about Ireland's Ghost Estates in my forthcoming Homes away from Home column in the Vancouver Sun WestCoast Homes section.  



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