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More difficult to buy a home now than in the 1980s

With rents above boom-time levels, and prices quickly playing catch-up, housing affordability has become a real issue over recent years.

But is it more difficult for a young couple today to buy a home, compared with their parents’ generation? A useful paper from the Nevin Economic Research Institute (NERI) suggests it is.
Using data on house prices and wages, it says that many people aged 25-34 are being priced out of the opportunity to buy a home today, compared with the late 1980s.

In 1987, a house cost an average of 3.1 times a young couple’s net income, or the amount left after taxes were paid. At the height of the boom, in 2007, it had increased to 6.3 times, and stood at 4.1 times in 2014, the most recent year for which figures are available.
The paper, entitled ‘A long-term assessment of Irish house price affordability’, also says while housing affordability is “more favourable today” than at the height of the boom – and while affording a mortgage is not “significantly worse” for most couples compared with the late 1980s – this is not the case for younger workers who typically earn less.

In 1987, they would need to save 31pc of earnings after tax to save a 10pc deposit. This rose to 41pc in 2014. In Dublin, it says a couple on the average joint industrial wage of €27,584 in 1987 would have to save 30pc of earnings after tax to afford a downpayment. This rose to 70pc by 1999, and peaked at 78pc in 2007. By 2014, more than half a couple’s annual salary of almost €63,000 (52pc) had to be saved to afford a downpayment in the capital. Outside Dublin, it’s 41pc.
Another paper from NERI also speaks about wage sufficiency in the context of the housing crisis.

It finds that while wages have risen by 8pc since 2012, rents are up 60pc and house prices by 40pc in the same period. It means that the cost of renting a one-bedroom apartment in Dublin is unaffordable for any minimum-wage earner, and for half of Irish employees. This group can forget about buying a home in the near term.
What does all this tell us? Even in the ‘good’ times, buying a home is expensive. While this generation doesn’t have to cope with mortgage interest rates running into the late teens, it is competing for fewer homes with a larger cohort of people willing and able to buy.

The net result is that unless the supply problem is sorted sooner rather than later, more will be priced out, which will most likely result in the State being forced to step in and provide accommodation.

NERI also makes an interesting point on the impact this lack of affordability has on wider society. Younger people form long-term relationships and have children later, perhaps in part due to high house prices. That’s not to mention the fact that paying high rents and house prices limits spending in the wider economy. Only supply will sort this problem.

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