Vacant site levy may raise extra €16m for State

But councils and public agencies also liable

The increase in the vacant sites levy could result in at least an additional €16m for the State if property owners fail to develop the sites after the first year.

However, with the State itself owning significant properties on the register, at least €4m of this figure will be owed to the State by its own agencies.

In Tuesday's Budget, the levy was more than doubled from the current 3pc that applies in the first year to 7pc for all subsequent years.

Any owner of a vacant site included on the register who does not develop their land next year will pay an initial 3pc levy in January 2019.

The Budget increase announced this week will see that rise to 7pc from January 2019 onwards.

To date, only five local authorities in the country have included properties on the vacant sites register, which must be compiled by each of them since the beginning of this year.

Dublin City Council has the largest number of properties on its register; 65 are listed, with a total valuation of almost €230m.

However, of this, 11 sites with a valuation of over €58m are owned by State agencies, including Dublin City Council, Nama, the OPW and the HSE.

Nama has a vacant site in Sheriff Street Upper, valued at €12.5m. Dublin City Council owns vacant sites in O'Devaney Gardens, including St Bricin's Military Hospital, the corner of Marshal Lane and Bridgefoot Street, the corner of Russell Street and North Circular Road, Dominick Street, the Readymix site in East Wall, and the corner of Ashtown Grove and Ashtown Park.

The OPW has vacant sites at Military Road and St John's Road West, and the HSE has vacant sites at the former Donnelly Centre in Cork Street, Dublin 8.

Waterford City and County Council has the second largest number at 21, but it does not provide a property valuation for any of the sites listed on the register.

It is followed by South Dublin Council, with eight properties totalling a valuation of €7,075,000 on its register, and Donegal County Council, with four properties with a combined value of €475,315.

Wexford County Council has three properties on its register, with a combined value of €400,000. The remainder of the local authorities have either listed zero properties on their registers or failed to provide the register publicly.

A number of these stated that their registers remained empty as councils were in the process of documenting that the sites identified have been vacant for the past 12 months.

Legislation requires that a site has been vacant for the past 12 months in order for it to be placed on the Vacant Sites Register.

Other councils said that they were reviewing their county development plans to incorporate provisions to enable identification and inclusion of specific sites.

A spokesperson for the Department of Housing said it could not put a figure on what it expected to yield in tax from the levy increase.

"The department does not keep a database of vacant sites nationally. Each local authority is obliged to hold its own register.

"We wouldn't know until the register is compiled [what tax it would yield]. And there is also an appeals process, which is open to any property owner included on a register," said the spokesperson.

He added that he expected the registers to be fully compiled by early in the new year as the levies announced in the Budget will come into effect from January, 1, 2019.

Over 10,000 contact new empty houses database with vacant property data across Ireland

Over 10,000 people have contacted a new national database aimed at recording and utilising Ireland's stock of vacant houses.

The VacantHomes.ie was launched last month, a digital resource that invites submissions from local communities providing information on the empty properties in their area.

The Mayo County Council initiative then uses the data garnered from these anonymous submissions so that local authorities can get in touch with the owners and determine if the property can be re-used quickly and converted into social housing.

Borne out of the council’s commitment to the Government's vacant housing strategy, the initiative has seen a surge of interest with 1,000 properties countrywide registered to date.

According to Census 2016, 183,312 homes are currently vacant in Ireland, not including 62,148 vacant holiday homes.

Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin has said that there are now 5,187 adults, 1,400 families, and over 3,000 children homeless here.

Tom Gilligan Director of Services, Mayo Co Council has called for Irish citizens to log onto vacanthomes.ie and list any property they think could be utilised to help tackle the housing crisis.

"We want to ensure that vacanthomes.ie is an on-going initiative and a relevant resource for local authorities, aiding them in getting as many of the 183,312 unoccupied properties back in use by the people that need them most," he said.

Some 58pc of properties logged on the new database are located in Leinster,  where demand is highest while other vacant properties were recorded in Munster (23pc), Connaught (15pc) and Ulster (4pc).

The most recorded property type is detached at 34pc, with semi detached accounting for 29pc of the submissions on the database. 

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy has repeatedly said that more radical measures need to be taken to stem the flow of people into homelessness and to stimulate the housing market.

Following a housing summit with the heads of the country's local authorities the Government announced a new suite of measures to tackle the housing crisis.

The minister announced that government will offer homeless families from Dublin the chance of a house in rural counties, in a radical bid to ease the current crisis.

Those wishing to move to other parts of the country will be assisted under the first part of this new housing strategy. 'The Place Finder Service' was previously discussed in the Programme for Government talks.

The Housing Minister said an extra 200 extra emergency beds will be delivered for homeless people by December.

He also pledged to build an extra 800 social homes next year bringing the total from 3,000 to 3,800.

A further €10m in funding for more Family Hubs is being ring-fenced, as demand arises from Local Authorities, to be drawn this year.

Minister Simon Harris plans to increase his department's annual social inclusion budget for homelessness to €36m in 2018.

Mortgage wars: Rival banks expected to reduce rates in response to AIB cuts

Mortgage lenders will now have to cut their rates in response to AIB reducing its variable, fixed and loan-to-value rates, experts said.

Stockbroking analysts said AIB has now put huge pressure on Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB, in particular.

AIB's move to cut its variable rates by 0.25pc to 3.15pc from November will mean a huge gap emerges with the Bank of Ireland variable rate.

From next month, AIB's variable rate will be 1.35 percentage points lower than the Bank of Ireland one.

Bank of Ireland has a strategy to win mortgage business by offering up to 3pc of the value of mortgages in cash-back to new customers. It may now decide to weather it out, or only slightly tweak its fixed rate offering, analysts said.

But Permanent TSB is likely to be under pressure to respond to AIB's rate cut.

The move by AIB to cut fixed rates, and reduce its overall interest rate margins, also means there is now no expectation of a rise in European Central Bank rates until 2019 at the earliest, analysts said.

"AIB's move potentially puts more pressure on the other banks to respond," analysts at Goodbody Stockbrokers wrote in a note to investors.

Experts also say that AIB's move to cut its fixed rates from Monday by up to 0.5pc will help it protect its leading market position in a growing market.

Cuts are expected in the coming weeks from EBS and Haven, which are both AIB subsidiaries.

And the reductions are also likely to raise further additional competitive pressures across the market in due course, Goodbody said.

Investec's Philip O'Sullivan said that the European Central Bank and wholesale market rates of zero are set to continue next year.

It will be 2019 or 2020 before the "interest rate environment begins to normalise", according to Mr O'Sullivan.

Fianna Fáil finance spokesperson Michael McGrath said the AIB move shows that banks can afford to cut rates and still achieve more than healthy profits.

The onus now is on other banks to introduce further rate cuts if they don't want to lose market share, Mr McGrath said.

He also called on Bank of Ireland, Ulster Bank, Permanent TSB and KBC to introduce rate cuts.

Meanwhile, the AIB Group has been called upon to immediately cut the mortgage rates at its EBS and Haven subsidiaries.

There are indications the banking group may lower EBS rates in coming weeks, but the failure to announce EBS reductions along with the AIB cuts has annoyed mortgage campaigners.

Brendan Burgess of the Fair Mortgage Rates campaign welcomed the AIB reductions, but said a large gap had now opened up with EBS.

The EBS variable rate is 3.7pc compared with AIB's, which is due to fall to 3.15pc at the start of next month.

"EBS customers are furious that they are not benefiting from these rate cuts. EBS is funding its cash-back offers to new customers by charging existing customers more. The quicker the Dáil bans these cash-back offers the better," Mr Burgess said.

Property prices are rising at the fastest pace in three years as supply hits a 'critical low'

RESIDENTIAL PROPERTY PRICES are increasing at the fastest pace in three years as the stock of properties available for sale nationwide hit a new “critical low”.

According to the CSO Residential Property Price Index, prices across Ireland increased by 12.3% in the 12 months to July. The 3% rise since June was the largest monthly jump in prices for three years.

Since last July, the price of residential property in Dublin has soared by 12.7%. The price of a house is up 12.6%, while the cost of an apartment in the capital has increased by 12%.

Residential property prices in the rest of the country, excluding Dublin, were 11.7% higher in the year to July.

The fastest rise in house prices was in the west of Ireland, where prices were up 15.8%, while the slowest rate of growth was in the mid-west region, where costs were up 8.2%.

Compared to the trough in early 2013, property prices nationwide have increased by 60.5%.

Over the past four years, residential property prices in the capital have increased by 77.4%, while property prices in all of Ireland when Dublin is excluded are 51.2% higher.

Last week, a Davy research note indicated that housing demand could be as high as 50,000 new units per year until 2021.

Source: CSO

Critical low

Meanwhile, analysis published today by Sherry FitzGerald said that the stock of properties on the market is now “critically low in all urban areas”.

Research by the real estate agent showed that property advertised for sale has fallen by 9% nationwide in the 12 months to July 2017.

There are now 25,100 housing units available for sale in Ireland, which is little more than half the number advertised for sale in July 2010.

“Such low stock will inevitably put increased upward pressure on prices,” said Sherry FitzGerald chief economist Marian Finnegan.

Each of Dublin’s four local authorities, and commuter counties such as Meath, Kildare and Wicklow, have experienced a drop in supply since July 2016. The largest decrease was in Dublin city, where supply fell by 19%.

There were 3,900 units advertised for sale in Dublin in July 2017, compared to 4,500 a year earlier.

There was a similar trend in regional hubs such as Galway, Cork and Limerick. The number of homes on the market dropped in all three of the cities.

Less than 1% of the total private housing stock in both Cork and Galway cities is available for sale, which translates to 271 units in Galway city and 451 in Cork city.

Source: Sam Boal

Competitive

Earlier this year, the National Competitiveness Council warned that soaring property prices pose a “significant threat” to the country’s economy.

The organisation said that it was “especially concerned” by the dramatic increase in residential rents, noting that prices in some locations have exceeded boom-time levels.

“Rising rents and increasing house prices will inevitably impact upon wage demands, increase the cost of living and will damage competitiveness.”

The council also warned that this could have “significant adverse consequences” for the entire economy.

Red flags and hidden costs: Need-to-know tips for the first-time buyer applying for a mortgage

Are you trying to save in the hope of securing a mortgage - but confused about what lies ahead?

In the year to date, mortgage approvals for first-time buyers are up 43pc year-on-year, but this doesn't mean it's an easy process.

Independent.ie spoke to the experts about what first-time buyers should be looking for:

What is the main thing to note when you’re shopping for a mortgage?

Managing Director at Bluewater Financial Planning Steven Barrett said the first thing a first-time buyer should look at is the interest rate that lenders are offering.

"It is so hard to get a mortgage these days, there are no myths really, it is actually a very difficult process," Steven told Independent.ie.

"The interest rate is the big thing to look out for, how much you’re going to repay.

"First-time buyers tend to look for the longer term which is better so you can borrow more money to get started. If you’re looking for the longest term, you’re looking to keep down repayments.

"This is new for people to hear, they’re not taught these things about finance or mortgages in school or college."

Independent financial advisor with 52Financial Ross Connolly said he would advise speaking to a mortgage broker.

"Obviously I'm biased but the benefits of having a broker are; we do the shopping around for the client, we build a file which would be neutral and throughout the process we think of which bank we think would be most suitable for the client," he said.

What are the red flags banks look for when you’re applying for a mortgage?

"Overdrafts that are not organised or arranged with any bank are also a big no-no," Ross Connolly said.

"We stay away from overdrafts. You don't want to paint a picture of someone who is living from pay cheque to pay cheque. You don't want to be seen to be gambling or any excessive spending. We would cut that down. The accounts need to be clean."

He said that they advise customers to do an Irish Credit Bureau check on themselves online at www.icb.ie to make sure they haven't missed any old credit card bills or supermarket clubcards they didn't realise they had signed up for.

"The aim is to catch any missed payments at all," Ross added, "just so you have any questions answered before the bank has to ask them."

Steven Barrett of Bluewater Financial Planning said the first thing a bank will do is look at someone's credit rating.

“I’d always advise people to get a copy of their own records so they know what they have, it is the first thing a bank will do," he said.

"My advice to first-time buyers is to make sure the minimum credit card payments are paid off each month because that will affect your credit card rating and make it more difficult to get a loan.

“Missed payments on your direct debts are a big no-no as well. Banks do go through statements line by line. These days, people do spend a lot with their debit card, so your whole lifestyle is showing up on bank statements. If you miss payments, the bank will say, ‘well this person isn’t paying their bills and it is a red flag’.

“You can get declined for repeated missed payments,” Steven added.

What if I have savings or debt in other accounts, like a Credit Union account?

There is no problem having savings in a different account, you can bank and save whatever and wherever you want, mortgage specialist with Mortgage Negotiators Shane Connole advised.

"You can bank and save wherever you want, and you can walk in to get a mortgage wherever you want. Just because you bank with Bank of Ireland doesn't mean you can't shop for a mortgage with KBC," he said.

"The debt on the other hand, you can have your loans wherever you want but this may have a negative impact on your loan approval.

"The debt will absolutely contribute to your credit rating, but it can also have an effect on how much you're borrowing."

Is it true online gambling accounts are a 'no-no' when applying for a mortgage?

The short answer is yes. Steven Barrett of Bluewater Financial Planning describes online betting accounts as a “big no-no”.

“It’s a big no-no if you’re using Paddy Power and other gambling websites on a regular basis.

“When people gamble regularly, they tend to leave the money in the online account if they win and this only goes one way. If they can see that you’re a regular gambler, they will refuse a loan.”

If I’m renting, will the bank take it into consideration for a credit rating?

Banks will take your monthly spend on rent into account for your repayment capacity, Ross Connolly advised.

"When it comes to the savings aspect, the repayment capacity would be the correct label to put on it.

"A couple paying €1,000 a month in rent need to know that this €1,000 will go towards their repayment capacity for a €1,200 a month mortgage, it will be considered savings for want of a better word.

"If you can get a car loan cleared coming up to the application, this can also be considered as repayment capacity."

Can I get a financial gift from a relative?

Mortgage specialist with Mortgage Negotiators Shane Connole said the simple answer is "yes".

"There are no rules around it," he said, "but there are areas to watch out for. No bank likes approving mortgages where your own contribution is a 100pc gift. They would expect for a 10pc deposit, that 5pc of the money is your own savings and the other 5pc could be your gift. An example, you're buying a house for €200,000 and need a €20,000 deposit. You will need to show that €10,000 of that is from your own funds."

The second aspect of receiving a gift is to watch out for tax, Shane Connole advised.

"It's better to receive the gift from a relative in a direct bloodline, based on the tax position. If you're getting a gift from an aunt or cousin, the bank will want to know how you will pay the tax and revenue on it.

"Finally, the bank will want to see the gift money in your own account at a certain stage of the process."

Are there any myths or misconceptions you've come across?

"I wouldn't come across a lot of misunderstandings," 52Financial's Ross Connolly said, "but some people don't understand the reason behind the saving.

"The main reason to save is so you can prove you have the repayment capacity when it comes to your mortgage.

"If your mortgage repayment is €1,000 a month, they may look for €1,200 in repayment capacity in case there is an increase in interest rates.

"People nowadays do seem to be more educated about applying for amortgage.

"It is rare that I come across an online betting shop in a bank statement. There is a high level of advice out there," he added.

If I'm buying a doer-upper, can I get any special treatment?

There are a few things to note if you're investing in a doer-upper, mortgage specialist Shane Connole said.

"The key areas are; do you need planning permission, you need invoices for the work you're doing to the property, and you need to ensure the loan you're applying for does not exceed 90pc of the total end value of the property.

"If you buy a house for €200,000 and do €50,000 worth of work, this does not mean the end value of the house if €250,000.

"The rule is it's 60pc of the value of works. So if I buy for €200,000 and I do €50,000 worth of work, the end value of the house would be €230,000.

"A lot of people fall flat on that. Banks cannot lend more than 90pc of the value per completion.

"You will also need invoices and typically you need a registered builder's invoice."

Shane added that there is not a 'scheme' asuch in place for those buying doer-uppers, but you can receive the money in stages.

"You get the first part of the loan paid down when buying the house, and then your value of works is split into two payments. You receive one payment when half the work is done on showing an invoice, and you receive the second payment when the works are completed."

So, you’ve saved for your deposit – are there any hidden costs?

As well as your deposit, financial experts advise that you have the money aside to pay for the extra costs which include stamp duty, solicitors’ fees and surveying fees.

“First-time buyers will have to have a 10pc deposit saved, but you will also need to show that you can pay for the associated costs,” Steven Barrett said.

“You could be paying up to €2,000 for a solicitor, and when it comes to conveyancing, it does need to be done properly by a qualified solicitor. Cheapest is not always best.

“You are talking another few hundred euro for a surveyor, and you have to be able to show the bank that you have that in addition to your deposit.”

Any expert tips for the first-time buyer?

Bluewater’s Steven Barrett believes a separate savings account is key to securing a mortgage.

“Having regular savings each month is a big plus, having an account where regular money goes in and you don’t touch it,” Steven said.

“If you’re putting in a thousand euro on a regular basis but then taking money out of it, they’ll just say, ‘well, this person isn’t really saving’, even if it’s just every quarter, they’ll discount it or they’ll average it out.”

He continued; “Regular saving is the key. If mortgage rates go up by 2pc you need to show you can afford the higher repayments. If you’re paying rent, you need to show that you’re also regular saving in an account you don’t touch.

“You need to have control over your finances and try not to have any debt.”

Householders told to fill up oil tank before price hikes

Householders have been warned to prepare for higher prices of electricity, gas and home-heating oil this winter.

A move to hike prices will reverse almost two years of energy cost reductions.

The return to price increases has prompted warnings to householders to lock into discount deals now, and those who use home heating oil are advised to get their tanks filled before prices start to surge.

It comes after the wholesale price of gas, a key component in the production of electricity and used for domestic gas supply, rose by 30pc in the year.

Wholesale gas prices are now back at levels not seen since last February, according to the Vayu energy report.

Oil production and refining facilities in the Gulf Coast region of the US have been shut down due to Hurricane Harvey, equating to almost 15pc of the US refining capacity.

"Oil markets are expected to keep the bullish tone as long as refining capacity remains impacted as a result of the hurricane," Vayu said.

Petrol and diesel retailers have already warned that they are putting up prices at the pumps this week, in a move that will cost drivers up to an extra €2 to fill up.

Experts also pointed out that although energy prices have been falling overall for two years, many suppliers have only cut them marginally.

Eoin Clarke of energy price comparison site Switcher.ie said that prices for consumers were now likely to rise.

"For anyone who heats their home using heating oil, if you can afford it, now could be a good time to fill the tank.

Market

"This means that, if prices do go up, you'll have a full tank to work through before you have to buy at the higher price. And if prices don't go up, you'll have one of those winter bills out of the way early."

He said there have been rises in the UK market, with the most recent one a rise of 12.5pc in electricity prices from British Gas. Energy providers here tend to follow what happens in the UK.

Mr Clarke added: "The increase in wholesale prices could signal that residential price rises are on the way for consumers."

Dermott Jewell of the Consumers' Association said commodity traders have been inching up their prices for wholesale oil and gas in the last few months. He warned that events like Hurricane Harvey may be used by suppliers to hike prices for consumers.

"This news could still be 'represented' by suppliers as the occasion to increase prices by a mile," Mr Jewell said.

He called for transparency in all energy pricing.

Mark Whelan of price comparison site Bonkers.ie said: "Consumers who use home heating oil, such as kerosene or gas oil, should also brace themselves for an uncertain winter."

Energy experts said most providers offer discounts for paying by direct debit and receiving bills online, and many offer retention deals to long-term customers.

The average dual-fuel customer can save up to €318 per year by switching from standard tariffs to the cheapest electricity and gas deals.

Anyone eligible for the State-paid fuel allowance was advised to check if they are entitled to receive it. For the first time this year, those getting the €585 allowance can opt to have it paid in two lump sums, instead of weekly.

How to save a fortune on a home by settling down in rural Ireland

As one rural town appeals to those sick of city prices to come and live there, John Cradden looks at the pros — and cons — of opting for country life

Amid soaring property prices and rents that are once again skewing the cost of living in urban centres, there's always the option of moving to the country where things seem considerably cheaper.

So instead of despairing at not being able to find a three-bed home in Dublin city for less than €400,000, or one to rent for less than €1,500 a month, you could move to an area where such a property could be bought for less than €100,000 or rented for less than a €100 a week.

In other words, perhaps a place like Kiltyclogher, Co Leitrim, a picturesque rural village with a population of 233 that recently started a campaign to attract new residents. The central purpose behind the KiltyLive campaign is to help prevent the loss of one of the two teachers at the local school, which has just 14 pupils registered for the coming year.

But while it's too early to say how successful the campaign will be, it could well spark off some serious thinking among those who, for whatever reason, are finding the financial pressures of city life just a bit much.

However, it can be difficult to find reliable data comparing the cost of living in urban vs rural areas. The CSO used to release figures comparing the cost of grocery shopping in Dublin vs outside Dublin, but this was stopped in 2009.

Property

At least as far as property prices and rents are concerned, there's no argument. According to figures from the monthly rental report of property website Daft.ie, the average mortgage repayment on a three-bed property in Co Leitrim during the first three months of this year was €310 a month compared with €2,015 for South Co Dublin.

In Co Kerry, a mortgage on a three-bed is averaging €446 while they can expect an average rental yield of €638. In Waterford city and county, three-bed homeowners pay an average of €515, while they could rent it out for between €680 and €764 a month.

It's only when you survey Ireland's fifth-largest city - Galway - that average rents start to hit the €1,000 mark, while the monthly mortgage on a three-bed will be around €830. Even the rebel city can't compete with the average rental yields or property prices in any part of Dublin city and county.

However, transport costs may well eat into some of the savings made by buying or renting outside the Pale. Decent public transport will be lacking in many regional towns, meaning a greater reliance on cars to get around. Many rural dwellers with school-going kids may not be able to benefit from the State's School Bus scheme because they are not close to any of the pick-up points.

On the plus side, you can still find some of the cheapest petrol stations in places like Dundalk, Waterford and Tralee, according to Pumps.ie, which lists the cheapest stations around the country. And car insurance is likely to be cheaper if you live in a rural area in Co Donegal or Cork, according to a survey by this newspaper a few years back.

But it's no surprise to find that childcare is cheaper outside Dublin, according to the CSO, which released figures last month showing that the average weekly cost of pre-school childcare in July to September last year was €150 in Dublin compared with €83 in the south-east and the mid-west regions. The national average cost per week is €118. Dublin also figured as the most expensive for non-parental childcare for pre-schoolers at €4.90 per hour compared with €3.50 for the mid-west and south-east.

In terms of utilities, rural dwellers can expect to pay as much as €54 a year more in electricity standing charges than their urban counterparts. Energia, for instance, charges rural customers with nightsaver meters €251.88 in standing charges, compared with €197.99 for urban-based dwellers.

But, of course, what constitutes value depends on who you ask, so all this data may only provide part of the picture for those looking for the cheapest places to live in Ireland. One website that has been collecting ratings and comments since 2009 about the cost of living in different parts of the country is Likeplace.ie.

Run by brothers Shane and Ronan Difily, it has a ranking of the cheapest to the most expensive places to live based on submissions from its users. Number one on the list is Letterkenny, Co Donegal, with a score of 3.4 out of five. "The higher the score the happier people are," said Shane. In other words, low costs equates to higher happiness and a high score, he adds.

Also in the top 10 for cost of living are Tuam, Dundalk, Youghal, Longford town, Carlingford, Bray, Schull, and Tralee. Not surprisingly, the place with the highest cost of living is Dublin city at 2.9 out of five, but there are quite a few urban places that rank quite highly.

"There is a good mix of rural-vs-urban in-between. In general though, you'll see that the spread is now very wide. All these scores come in at between 2.9 to 3.4-out-of-five," said Shane.

While these user ratings are entirely subjective (there are other ratings for things like law and order, sense of community, local services, and schools), the widening chasm in the cost of housing between and Dublin and almost everywhere else remains undoubtedly the biggest single factor that is prompting many a worker to up sticks to the country.

Unaffordable

Tralee man Shaun O'Shea used to live and work in Dublin before returning to live in his home town a few years ago, where he now heads up the local office of Sigmar Recruitment. Part of his motivation for moving home was the extent to which house prices and rents in Dublin were becoming unaffordable.

"A friend of mine bought a one-bed apartment in Dublin for €400k, but that would buy you sea views, and five bedrooms on an acre of land in Tralee."

While smaller towns like Tralee won't attract the numbers of regional urban centres like Waterford and Galway, it is definitely seeing an influx. "Up until 12 months ago, you wouldn't have been working in areas like Tralee or Waterford unless you're from that area. They don't have a natural pull but in the last year that has changed."

He says at least part of this is down to the growth in numbers of workers - many of them IT contractors - who are choosing to telecommute or become remote workers. One indication of this is the recently opening of a new shared office space with both one-person offices and a series of hot desks called HQ Tralee.

Lots of people living in Dublin are looking to return to places where they grew up," said O'Shea.

"With salaries, definitely in areas like IT, engineering and sales and marketing, there's not that much of a drop."

According to Sigmar Recruitment's salary guide, a Java software developer with three-five years' experience can expect to earn between €40,000 and €60,000 in Dublin, compared with €35,000 to €50,000 in the rest of the country. There seems little difference per region in the grades for sought-after jobs like a building site engineer, while a sales manager might only expect to earn a €5-€10,000 premium in earnings if he or she is based in Dublin.

But while swapping Kilmainham for Kiltyclogher might be a step too far for most of us, it is hoped that the new National Planning Framework will be more successful than the National Spatial Strategy in encouraging more Dublin-based families to consider migrating to other cities and regional towns.

Major German lender targets Ireland with new mortgage model

Home loans and SME credit part of bank's €200m Irish expansion plan

A major German community-oriented bank that wants to bring its model to Ireland believes it could play a role in solving the housing crisis.

Sparkasse, the biggest bank in Germany, wants to create an alternative to the major commercial banks, particularly in regional towns.

The European Investment Bank has indicated support for the €200m project, said Sparkasse. That support is conditional on the proposal receiving political backing in Ireland. So far, this has been slow to materialise, it is understood.

Sparkasse, which issues half of all German mortgages at rates well below standard Irish rates, believes Ireland is ideal for its municipality-owned, non-profit model.

The 200-year-old bank is aimed squarely at SMEs and the middle segment of the market. In Germany, where it has 300,000 staff in hundreds of branches, it is part-owned by each local authority. Each regional bank operates and lends in its own area but is backed by a central organisation providing shared services, IT and banking transaction support.

Supporters of the proposal believe it would provide an ideal middle ground between the troubled credit union sector and the two big Irish commercial banks.

Indeed, Sparkasse has proposed to the Irish League of Credit Unions that they could avail of the central shared services system if it is established.

But invitations issued by the German organisation to the Departments of Finance and Rural Affairs to see how it operates in Germany have so far been turned down. Both departments said that the idea - mentioned in the Programme for Government - will be dealt with in a report which is being prepared.

Sparkasse was asked by the German finance ministry in 2008 to establish a community focused banking model in Greece and was subsequently approached to do something similar in Ireland. It is currently dealing with the Greek government but has struggled to gain similar traction here.

Harald Felzen, project manager for Sparkasse, who is due to appear before the Oireachtas Finance committee in October to explain the model, said: "Our proposal is to establish up to 10 Sparkassen in Ireland as well as a central service provider to develop a very sustainable banking model."

The German bank would have no financial interest in the Irish off-shoot but would provide support for its establishment, he said.

Felzen added that the European Investment Bank (EIB) in Brussels had indicated a willingness to help to reduce the tier one capital requirements for this but it would “need the commitment of the Irish government”. To date this commitment has been slow to materialise.

The Departments of Finance and of Rural Affairs are investigating the German model for “the development of local public banks that operate within well-defined regions,” said a joint statement from both to this newspaper.

“That is part of a larger probe involving An Post and the League of Credit Unions in a new model of community banking “that would provide a suite of banking services through the post office network,” it said, with other models such as Kiwibank also under scrutiny.

“Both departments convened a project team in early 2017 to evaluate the Programme for a Partnership Government commitment and bring forward a report to both ministers,” said the statement.

“The report is now near completion and will be published shortly. It will set out the Irish banking context as well as analysing the responses to the consultation on public banking and its applicability in Ireland. It will then set out the findings and conclusions of the investigation of the Sparkasse model of local public banking.”

Promoting competition in banking is a key government priority, especially in the SME finance market. It “welcomes any potential new entrants to the banking market,” it said.

Sparkasse has earmarked the Midlands as an ideal place to establish the first of up to 10 Sparkassen in Ireland, each of which, Felzen estimated, would cost €15m to €20m. The idea is also gaining local political support in Fingal, where the county council is due to debate a Fine Gael-instigated motion.

Felzen said that although his organisation had not yet received the political backing it needs at national level, he remained optimistic: “We have to be like a Hoover salesman. If they close the front door, we come in the back door. I am optimistic because so many people in your country see the need for a sustainable banking model for all people in every region.”

Felzen said Sparkasse could fill a wide gap in the market between commercial banks such as AIB and Bank of Ireland and credit unions. Sparkasse is “the backbone of the German SME sector” and provides customers with a full range of banking products, as well as business loans to small companies, builders and farmers.

“It’s time our government stepped up to the plate and encouraged and facilitated the entry of Sparkasse,” said Fingal councillor Tom O’Leary, who has met representatives of the bank.

“I particularly welcome the opportunity that Sparkasse will present in the mortgage market, where it can offer hard-pressed first-time buyers European banking interest rates, which are a lot lower and cheaper than the rates offers by Irish mortgage providers.”

Yikes! This is how much forgetting to turn off the immersion could be costing you each year

One of the scariest memories of an Irish childhood has to be the horror moment of recognition after forgetting to turn off the immersion heater, but it seems many of us still have not learned our lesson.

A new study has found that one in four people regularly forget to flick off the immersion after a bath or shower, despite years of scoldings and the bad habit could be costing them.   

Research from Bord Gais Energy has revealed that regularly forgetting about the immersion could add up to €1500 to your electricity bill annually.

The study, which examined the wasteful habits of over one thousand homemakers, also found that one in three people regularly leave lights on when they aren't needed, and 50pc of us boil the kettle several times for one cup of tea as we become distracted.

However, more of us are becoming tech-savvy when it comes to our electricity use. The company said 58pc of Irish people believe smart technology would make their homes better, as Bord Gais Energy continues to promote its tech brand Hive.

Commenting on the findings, Nina Bhatia, MD of Centrica Connected Home said: "Households across Ireland are clearly beginning to embrace smart home technology but it’s interesting to see that, while the number one desire for smart technology in the home is to help save energy, old habits such as forgetting to turn the immersion off and repeatedly boiling the kettle continue to be common daily occurrences.

"Our mission is to make the smart home real for everyone, with affordable, easy to use solutions."

How 30pc of houses for sale can’t find buyers despite crisis. Despite crisis, large number of homes remain unsold

One-in-three houses put on the market almost three months ago has failed to sell.

A snapshot of almost 200 properties across 15 counties ranging from two-bed apartments to €1m-plus homes shows that 30pc, or 58, remain on the market despite the housing shortage.

Experts said that in many cases, houses were overpriced leading them to be slower to trade hands. However, some expressed surprise at the lack of movement, given the housing crisis.

Details of 193 houses and apartments for sale on Daft.ie were recorded on March 9 and March 13 last.

They include two-bed apartments, three and four-bed houses and luxury homes costing at least €1m.

As of June 1, 135 were sold or withdrawn from the market and 58 remained unsold.

One property source expressed surprise at the number of unsold homes, suggesting that given the low levels of stock people were snapping up units, even those in poor condition in need of substantial work.

"We're reading every day that there's not a lot of stock, and I'm surprised to hear that," one said.

"A lot of people would be happy to take on a refurbishment job because it might be a cheaper option, and there may not be much competition. The mid-level stuff like a regular three-bed semi-D is the most sought-after thing."

But the figures show that even in areas of high demand, not all homes are selling.

Of 56 properties recorded in Dublin, 15 remain on the market - 26pc. In Cork, four of 13 are on the market, or 30pc. In Galway City, 11 homes were noted and four are unsold, or 36pc.

While three-bed homes are in demand, particularly for families getting onto the property ladders, some are not shifting. Details of 16 three-bed semi-detached homes in Dublin were recorded, and three remain on the market.

However, they are relatively expensive, with the cheapest in Marino priced at €425,000 and the most expensive in Rathgar costing €600,000.

The figures also show:

  • Of 59 two-bed apartments, 14 remain unsold, or 23.7pc. Four of 16 in Dublin are unsold. One unit in Kilkenny remains unsold.
  • Of 62 three-bed houses, 14 - or 22.6pc - are still on the market. Three out of 16 in Dublin, one from four in Cork and one from four in Galway City are unsold, despite high demand in these areas.
  • Of the 62 four-bed homes offered for sale, 24 - or 38pc - remain unsold.

In some cases, auctioneers have dropped the price due to lack of demand, with some properties also withdrawn from sale.

However, regional director of estate agents RE/MAX John Fogarty said that in many cases properties remained unsold because they were overpriced.

He said that in rural areas, most properties would not remain on the market for more than six weeks. In Dublin, it could take just 10 days to sell a home.

He said agents should be aware of what similar homes were selling for by examining the Property Price Register, which records the selling price of all homes, and through market knowledge.

"At the high end, what can happen is an owner may have an expectation that is not in agreement with what the agent says. In my opinion, those properties should not go on the market," he said.

"You might get a trophy home which was €3m at the height of the boom.

"Some properties of these type don't sell because the vendor wants a certain price.

"With three and four-beds, the agent will look at what similar properties went for in the months previously, and the property price register.

"You would also ring around the agents and they may have an offer in excess of the asking price.

"Because there's a shortage of properties, some firms are going in €20,000 dearer and the consumer runs with that. If customers interview three agents and one has a silly figure, they need to be aware of that."

Chief executive of the Institute of Professional Auctioneers and Valuers Pat Davitt said there was "no doubt" that some homes were over-priced, but added that the market was not as strong as portrayed in some areas.

"The market is being blown up to be a lot stronger than it is in a lot of places. There's different areas of Dublin selling very well.

"But in other (parts of the city) people won't pay the asking price, they are more discerning. If the first-time buyers grant encourages more to build properties, the price of housing will come down."

Revealed: the rental trap that aspiring homeowners fall into

Families, older and better-paid people now stuck renting, according to survey

blueskyinsurance

The true extent of how Ireland's rental trap has snared aspiring homeowners is revealed today as just 15pc of current renters believe they can acquire a home within the next year.

More than a third now believe it will be more than five years before they can manage to get on the property ladder.

This is even despite the fact that almost all renters are determined to get out of rental accommodation and to own their own home eventually (95pc), with just 5pc resigned to remaining in rental forever.

However, less than one third of current renters said that they could afford a deposit of more than €5,000. This compares with a deposit on an average new home in the capital which currently stands at €30,000 or higher.

The rental survey published today was commissioned by the Irish Independent through the Real Estate Alliance (REA) and taken from the opinions of more than 300 people currently renting in Dublin.

It shows that many are stuck unwillingly in rental accommodation even despite earning high salaries - more than a third of current renters are earning in excess of €60,000 per annum.

Renting is increasingly the lot of couples, with 57pc of all renters in the capital either married or living with a partner. Stock image

Two thirds (66.3pc) are earning more than €40,000, an income that in previous times would have got them on the housing ladder. However, in a 'Catch 22' situation, their saving abilities are being hampered by soaring rents.

Read More: A 'Rent to Buy' scheme could be a happy halfway house and give families security

More than half are now shelling out more than €1,300 per month in rent, with 27pc in the band between €1,300 and €1,500 and a further 14pc paying between €1,500 and €1,750.

And in a break with the Irish tradition of starting a family in the first-bought home, it emerges that 22.5pc of renters already have children.

Renting is increasingly the lot of couples, with 57pc of all renters in the capital either married or living with a partner.

Deposits are seen as the biggest obstacle, with almost half (48pc) citing the lack of funds for a deposit as a key barrier. After deposits, 29pc cite their earnings falling short as the main reason.

And an indicator of a possible solution to their woes might come in the form of a 'rent to buy' scheme, with an overwhelming 81pc of renters saying they would move into their ideal home today, within a commutable distance of Dublin, if they could rent the property for a few years before buying.

Rental certainty over a five-year period was the most important factor in making such a scheme work, with most people being prepared to pay a deposit to secure the right to buy after five years.

"This survey is a resounding statement that long-term rental is not what people want," said REA spokesperson Healy Hynes (right).

"Despite a demographic change towards families renting, it is clear it is not their desired long-term solution. Much has been made in the population figures of a shift from home ownership to rental. However, this is a response to the housing supply issue rather than a lifestyle decision," he said. "The fact that 37pc of renters feel they will not own a home within five years shows how the odds are stacked against them in the current climate where it is cheaper to pay a mortgage than to rent."

A person looking to buy a house at €250,000 (among the very cheapest in Dublin) must raise a deposit of at least €25,000, leaving them with a mortgage of €225,000 and average monthly repayments of €1,000.

However, this repayment is about €500 cheaper than the average rent being paid by the survey's respondents, meaning that they could save €6,000 per year by purchasing a house.

The majority of respondents are living in South Dublin (35pc) and the city centre (29pc), indicating that people may be renting where they want to eventually live, but are hamstrung by house prices and lending restrictions.

What was traditionally a large core of renters of student age is evaporating fast as those under 25 cannot afford to rent at all. The largest age group was in the 25 to 35 bracket (68pc) while there are also indications that the renting population is aging as more people remain priced out - 28pc are now 35 or older.

Tenants rate the ability to move again if their circumstances change and the fact that they are not responsible for maintenance as the two greatest attractions about renting.

However, one third feel that rent is wasted money.

Long term renters urged to look at protection similar to mortgage holders

Long-term renters should look at ways in which they can financially protect themselves, similar to mortgage holders, a leading insurance company has said.

With rents across the country now 8pc higher on average than their Celtic Tiger peak in 2008, Royal London has urged renters to consider protection against illness and death.

In Dublin, rents are an average of 13.7pc higher than in 2008, according to the Daft.ie rental price report 2016, while data from the 2016 Census shows that there were 469,671 households in rented accommodation in 2016, an increase of nearly 5pc from 2011.

“The profile of ‘renters’ in this country has changed significantly. Traditionally the renting group in Ireland was single people in their 20s and early 30s”, Joe Charles head of proposition at Royal London said.

“Now a growing cohort of families and individuals in their 30s, 40s and 50s are renting at a time when financial security and protection becomes more important as they grow older, settle down, and especially if they have children to look after,” he continued.

Read more: Comment: It’s time to stop faffing about and start treating this housing crisis like the emergency that it really is

The company is advising long-term renters to review their financial capabilities and consider putting their own form of ‘rent protection’ in place, by taking out life insurance policies. They say a good comparable example is when people put mortgage protection cover in place.

“Those who are renting long-term should consider doing something similar to those with a mortgage, and put life and/or specified serious illness cover in place, to ensure their rent and other ongoing expenses will continue to be paid for their family should anything happen to them”, Mr Charles said.

Population of Co Louth surges to highest level in recorded history

The population of Co Louth increased by almost 6,000 between April 2011 and April 2016 to 128,884.

That’s according to new Census figures released by the CSO today which show a 4.87% rise in the population of the county over the five year period.

This was greater than the 3.8% national growth, with the country’s population now standing at 4,761,865.

There were 63,633 males in the county in April last year, up 4.72% from 60,763 five years earlier while the number of females in Louth jumped by 5% from 62,134 in 2011 to 65,251 in April 2016.

The population of the county is now at its highest since records began, overtaking the 128,240 registered as living in Louth before the Great Famine in the first Census in 1841.

The average age was 36.4 years compared to 35.2 five years earlier. This was below the national average of 37.4.

There were also 771 Travellers registered in Louth last April, an increase of 16.3% on April 2011.

In relation to marriages, the numbers wed rose by 4.1% from 43,848 to 45,663. It was also revealed that there had been 122 same-sex civil partnerships in Louth as of April 2016.

Meanwhile, the number of people separated and divorced in the county also rose. The number of people separated jumped by 5.5% to 3,811 while the divorce figure was up 17% from 2,539 to 2,971.

On an electoral level, the population increase means there are 150,924 within the Louth/East Meath area. This is a 5.3% increase from 143,272 in 2011 and means there are is now one TD per 30,185 of population.

Check out figures and data at http://talkofthetown.ie/population-of-co-louth-surges-to-highest-level-in-recorded-history/#