Generic overview of the market 2009: by sector

I was asked by a colleague in the UK to provide an overview of the Irish mortgage market, he has often advised the Bank of England in the past on the UK buy to let market, however this time it is in relation to a talk he was due to give to an international financial services group on the Irish economy. Below are the contents of my correspondence which is a no holds barred view of the mortgage market in 2009.

Remortgage: This area is finally starting to see some life again, the rate drops are filtering through and many of the people on fixed rates taken out in 2005/2006/2007  are shopping around, as always new business attracts better rates than existing customers so there is once again an argument for switching.

However, the many people who took out trackers are basically out of the market in the long term as every single lender has removed tracker mortgages from the market, in fact, if you know of a lender willing to do tracker mortgages in Ireland they could hit the market and win on that basis alone, trackers are consigned to financial history on the emerald isle – at least for now.

The one area that seems to be getting some transaction speed is that of top-ups for improvements, people are not gearing up to buy a new house, instead they will improve that which they have already. The one downside is that many Irish lenders will not do a totally separate second mortgage top up – keeping the original at its rate/term etc.- and the reason is because there are so many negative margin loans out there, almost every residential tracker is currently negative margin when you consider cost of funds [although that’s doing better for now], cost of distribution, and then margin. The crunch hit the banks bad on these loans, some were as low as ECB+0.5% so you can only imagine what Euribor cost of funds being at over 1% above ECB during the bad days was doing to the book and liquidity of same!

Buy to let: This end of the market is basically dead, the issue is acute on the supply side but mainly on the demand side, there are estimates of between 45,000 and 100,000 empty units (some unofficial sources cite even more than that). The industry economists all figure from 60-100k of empties, that means the supply side is swamped for a population the size of Ireland. Prices will fall and residential sales are going to be a slaughterhouse for some time to come.

On the demand side the issue is that paradoxically prices and rents are falling in tandem, a damnable situation, prices fall due to oversupply and confidence/credit crunch etc. the rental prices are falling because of oversupply of stock, competition for tenants, a need to meet payments even if it is loss reduction rather than meaningful yield, as well as that many of the Eastern European renters are returning home. Completions are still flowing  through, on the issue of attracting a tenant the competition for tenants is high, i had to drop rent by c. 45% on my Irish investment property to get it occupied.

The sensible proposition at present is that the state could buy some really cheap social housing, or if a buyer had enough cash/finance they could likely  bulk buy units at huge discounts, having said that, accurate market valuations are hard to come by, it is in the realm of educated guesses because with many distressed sales due to developer/owner going broke a suppressed price implies the ‘market’ price which is not the case in truth but the market only accepts that as it is the point at which a transaction occurred.

For me, i don’t really care about prices, instead i am watching yields and when they get over 7% investors will go back in feet first. I think the concept of cash flow will be the fundamental in property in the short to medium term, it is going to be viewed the same as bonds currently are – yields yields yields. Really it was continued market strength (when yields stopped making sense) seeking capital appreciation that caused the pendulum to swing so far beyond acceptable values.

Switching: moving lenders is really bunched in with re-mortgaging, the idea of using your house like an ATM is no longer popular [rightly so] thus the movement in the switching market is the same as the re-mortgage market. There are deals being done but a trend we have noticed is that it is primarily people who are on bad value variable deals already, again, the folks with trackers will likely sit tight unless we get the inflation wave [which I personally expect] at the end of this which may entice them onto fixed rates in the future.

New home buyers: an area with at least some life in it! Many buyers realise that prices are much lower as are interest rates, if rates go up 1% you would need to have bought a house for a few grand less on price to make up the difference, its an interesting mathematical approach which people need to be aware of. A house for €300k over 30 yrs. at 4% is actually €6,000 cheaper than a €270k house at 5% and with the long term rate outlook being a rise eventually it is perhaps better to lock in now rather than later, personally that is my intention.

The state is getting on board with a thing called homechoiceloan which is literally like a mortgage bank, they already do shared ownership and affordable housing too, currently even with 20% discounts many banks won’t lend on these, partly due to councils not being in line with the actual market – their valuers price totally differently than independent valuers – and then the profile of the lender who qualifies for this kind of loan. In many cases developers are selling for comparable prices with ‘affordable housing’ diminishing the attraction of the programme.

Developers are slashing prices, one in Kerry is actually doing a 2 for the price of 1, who would have thought you’d ever see that in property!

Niches Markets: The only one I would consider at the moment is distressed debt/portfolios. The confidence is so utterly low that people would literally sell at cost to get out of deals/debts. Commercial property is now taking a spectacular dive, if you had a good tenant arranger and the right finance this may be an option, stamp on this is likely to get changed in the near future, but for now its a total barrier to entry. Unless you were to get into buying properties with motivated buyers and turning them into duplex’s etc. in desirable locations then I wouldn’t have any novel ideas currently but that depends on your timeframe to a degree. The place with the most movement is the first time buyer market and after that the remortgage market.

Product guide:

Homeloans: We are now in a market with fixed rates, variable rates, and LTV variables, where you get a variable [no fixed margin] depending on the LTV, rates are c. 3-6% many banks don’t have the money to lend so they are using the blunt instrument of tranche management and high rates to control the book.

Changes in strategy of lenders: Hardened criteria and industry underwriting are prevalent, for instance, if you work in finance it seems you are persona non grata, in the past 100% mortgages were everywhere, now LTV’s are averaging much less, several lenders – Haven, KBC [formerly IIB] are only doing 80% loans, others are offering 90% but getting the money and approval requires the patience of Job and the earnings potential of Warren Buffet. suffice to say the market is not frozen but a single sentence sums it up

“Banks will lend to very strong candidates, on good collateral at high margins” – almost sounds like an old central bank mission statement!

Who is the best: The Irish banks will be partly recapitalised, as regards balance the best is likely AIB, regarding product they are also top table much of the time, Ptsb is likely to reduce or even remove some offerings, First Active/Ulster [RBS owned] are not very competitive, they are doing some 90% loans but ensuring they get the margin for doing so. Haven/EBS are lending but the press have been releasing many rumours about their financial health, unlike many banks they still have men on the ground though which is a good sign. Bank of Ireland have harsh criteria but decent rates, top end of the mid-table. NIB who don’t deal with brokers are offering a lot of really good deals but at their multipliers – even with low property prices – few would qualify, they are the best for low LTV’s, as regards an ‘approach’ i guess i would say caution is king.

Borrower integrity: The reduction in lender integrity is there but both pre and post lending but thus far it is down to job loss/redundancy and the things that are killing every economy in the developed world. Certainly the underwriters have developed a new brand of risk aversion where they factor in eventualities that don’t even exist, for instance – successful currency trader refused [we didn’t even ask them to consider bonus etc.] because the institution he worked for got downgraded by S&P.

Equity release for retired couples: if you are talking about residential reversions or reverse mortgages then these are gone from the market, the companies offering this have all closed down, they had the double hit of factoring in too much on the potential growth of Irish property, one of them did securitise the loans out one house at a time which I thought was novel but the business model broke irrespective of this.

Regarding a brokers ability to trade: Falling prices, yes, this took confidence and transactions out of the market, we are in the transaction business so if prices dropped it doesn’t ruin brokers, it’s when transactions freeze up that we get hit. Probably the harshest development is the confidence killer that is combination of credit crunch/falling prices/credit criteria – albeit some of these are required to reach market clearing levels. Naturally prices will drop beyond true value on the way down the way they exceeded true value on the way up, the issue is when and more importantly what is the true market value.

Negative equity: The press seem to love to write about this one, I have often argued that negative equity is interpreted rather badly, it only becomes negative if realised, actually being in negative equity doesn’t change anything unless you are also forced to sell and crystallize the loss, however, for those who do find themselves in that position it is catastrophic. And the harsh reality of having paid more for a property than it is worth is a confidence and financial killer. It has turned people off of buying and it gets mentioned virtually every day in the papers.

Reduced lending capacity: This is the other part of the squeeze on prices, we spoke about supply and demand already, the reduced supply of credit is a third factor which is pushing the prices of property down from outside of the property specific supply demand spectrum. There is nothing one can do about this and yet you can only wonder what would happen if credit became easily obtainable again, I don’t know that we would see reflation unless there was a zero rate policy and a huge money supply creation which is a circular proposition as at the root of this crisis are low interest rates, increased liquidity and money supply.

Lenders cutting out brokers: This is key, originate and hold seems to be the route for many banks as they move away from the originate to sell/securitise model, we are seeing dual pricing and it is there to specifically remove the broker, banks say it is so that they can get the cherry on top [life assurance etc.]. The intermediary market makes less sense in a downturn, why pay a broker when you already have to cover branch costs? And in a market as simple – in terms of lenders and options- as the irish one the argument for ‘going direct’ is strong, particularly in advertisements. We are still only at a 50% penetration for broker use for mortgages which is substantially less than the UK.

Reduced commissions are the other side of the coin, and this is the one that may be the rock many brokers perish on, costs have not reduced at the speed that commissions have. Commissions have dropped on average by 30% but the main banks lending dropped by c. 50% so the actual hit to a working brokerage is c. 40%, this when combined with a massive restriction of credit in a falling property market has created what we can only describe as ‘the perfect storm’.

However, we are not being discriminated against, the overall picture in banking is bleak at the moment, I’m an ‘optimistic bear’ for now. The banks are getting hit on both sides as well, impairment charges are high which hurts liquidity, their book, and their ratings. The rush for depositors means they have to offer exceptionally high deposit rates (compared to historic norms v.s. base rates/euribor), and when rates drop they are being pressurised into passing on the rate cuts to the mortgage market. This is actually bad for them though because they can’t do the same to the depositors or they will move their deposits so the compression sets in of reduced mortgage margin and paying out higher deposit margin, it is actually the opposite of the traditional banking model and somebody will go bang due to it, already banks have required capital injections. [since writing Anglo were taken over by the State]

This should be enough to give you the general idea of how it looks in Ireland coming into 2009.

One Comment

  1. Jackie

    Many thanks for your excellent article which I found very easy to understand. Kicking myself that we should have changed our mortgage to a tracker a couple of years ago. 10 yrs into a 25yr standard variable! Taking my head out of the sand at last.
    Many thanks

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