The Irish Times - Thursday - Property - - Property The Market -

’wan, tell us – how much did you pay for it?” The ques­tion makes my in­sides squirm. Most peo­ple wouldn’t dream of ask­ing even the clos­est friends or rel­a­tives how much they earn, so why do so many think it is per­fectly okay to in­quire how much they paid for their house?

I’ve tried to shrug it off. “Oh, too much,” (which is prob­a­bly true), but some peo­ple in­sist on press­ing. “No se­ri­ously, how much?”

In this mar k e t , mos t first-time buy­ers like us have to put ev­ery penny they have (plus what­ever they can beg or bor­row) into the pot when bid­ding in the hope of land­ing a sale and fi­nally get­ting the keys to their first home.

With few ex­cep­tions, Cen­tral Bank mort­gage lending rules now strictly limit the amount an in­di­vid­ual or cou­ple can bor­row to 3½ times their com­bined an­nual salary. How much you pay for your first home is prob­a­bly the great­est out­ward in­di­ca­tor of your in­come. Many of us are lucky to re­ceive a gift or loan from fam­ily – and in this mar­ket, it is al­most es­sen­tial. The vast ma­jor­ity of friends in a po­si­tion to buy re­cently have only been able to do so be­cause their de­posits have been sup­ple­mented by such presents, or in cases like ours, in­her­i­tance fol­low­ing the death of a par­ent or close fam­ily mem­ber.

That is a trav­esty. Couples in their mid-30s with de­cent jobs should be able to com­fort­ably af­ford a small starter home in Dublin with­out a dig-out from fam­ily, alive or dead.

With such rapid price fluc­tu­a­tions in the prop­erty mar­ket in Ire­land in the past two decades, the worth of our homes – the biggest fi­nan­cial in­vest­ment most of us will ever make, and our most valu­able as­set – has more than dou­bled, then halved, then al­most dou­bled again. How much we paid for it in the first place can mean our mort­gage re­pay­ments could be dou­ble or half those of the peo­ple next door, who may have bought only a few years be­fore or af­ter us. The volatile Ir­ish hous­ing mar­ket has not only gouged a chasm of in­equal­ity be­tween gen­er­a­tions, but also be­tween peers.

Prop­erty prices, whether we own a home or not, are so in­trin­si­cally linked to our per­sonal fi­nances it is no won­der we’re col­lec­tively ob­sessed as a na­tion.

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