The latest Daft.ie House Price Report was released this morning. Its headline finding is that asking prices fell by a further 4% during the second quarter of the year. Overall, prices are now 40% below the peak in Dublin and 34% below the peak elsewhere.
Three years into the property downturn, how should we take its findings? Economists think about prices and quantities. On both prices and quantities, pessimists and optimists will find fodder. In relation to prices, pessimists will point out that this is a larger fall than what was seen in the first three months of the year. Optimists will point out that the falls in 2010 are smaller (in percentage and in euro terms) than those seen in late 2008 and throughout 2009.
Prices are just one half of the equation. While there is plenty of debate about whether the sustainable level of prices is above or below where we are now, everyone is I’m sure in agreement that the sustainable level of transactions is well above what we’re currently seeing. If a steady volume of transactions is good news, optimists will point to the fact that one in four properties posted in April is already either sold or sale agreed, while about half of properties listed in January are already sold or sale agreed. Pessimists, however, will point to the total stock of properties for sale – over 60,000 – and point out as well that the stock for sale has risen again since the start of the year.
Here are couple of other facts that strike me about the latest report:
- Falling (more) slowly: The year-on-year rate of falls, while still sharply negative (-16.4%), is at its slowest in 15 months.
- On again, off again: In a number of parts of the country, sellers seem to have adopted a strategy of cut-twice-a-year, with substantial cuts in one quarter followed by largely static prices in the next. This quarter, prices in Laois, Offaly, Clare, Cavan and Donegal fell, after being largely stable in the first quarter. Meanwhile, Carlow, Louth, Tipperary and Galway are taking relative breathers in their descent, following sharpers falls in the first quarter.
- Culchies vs. jackeens: Prices in Dublin city centre are now almost 50% down from peak levels – the full average fall is 48.4%. By contrast, asking prices in many rural parts of Munster are down just 26% from peak levels. This suggests that Dublin and its relatively more active market may be acting as a national pace-setter. It also strengthens my suspicion that Dublin in particular and the cities in general will bottom out before other parts of the market.
The commentary on the report is given by Jim Power. Jim gives a frank assessment of the challenges facing the Irish economy. In particular he talks towards the end about the need for a property tax, a phrase that seems to send shivers down the spines of many in Ireland. Based on what was reported last week, Chris Andrews, a Fianna Fail TD representing some of the wealthiest citizens in the country, appears to have convinced the Government to shelve their plans for a property tax to replace stamp duty.
Those arguing against a property tax are essentially saying that the Government should not respond to the virtual disappearance of what was at the peak close to €10bn in revenues from the property market, across VAT, stamp duties and capital taxes. The graph below shows estimated tax revenues from the property market from 2001 to this year. Revenues rose from €3bn in 2001-2002 to €9bn in 2006-2007. Since then, they have collapsed and look like coming in below €2bn this year. The graph also shows an estimate of the all-in income tax rate in Ireland over the same period.
It’s worth recapping what the over-reliance on property tax revenues did for the rest of the taxation system. Each year, the OECD calculates the all-in average tax rate for workers, across four stylised households all earning the median industrial wage (single no kids, single two kids, married no kids, married two kids). In 2001, the average tax paid by those four households in Ireland was just under 9%. With the OECD average at over 20%, this made Ireland a very attractive place to work. Over the coming years, however, Ireland’s taxation system went from attractive to kamikaze. By 2007, the average tax rate paid by our four households was negative: -0.2%! While people often talk about having to bring the low paid back into the tax net, really the focus should be on ensuring those on average pay in Ireland contribute. It looks like the crisis has finally woken the Government up to this.
The reason that the Government was in a position to do this was because Ireland’s property-led boom was masking the increasing unsustainability of Ireland’s income tax system. Property-related tax revenues increased by almost €7bn between 2001 and 2006. Income tax, which gave three times as much revenue to the State at the start of the decade, increased in the same period by only half that amount. The result was that, of the €45.5bn taken in in taxes in 2006, property taxes contributed almost as much as income taxes!
This is clearly no way to run a taxation system. Naturally, there is going to be some element of cyclicality about taxes. In fact, a well designed taxation system will have some element of automatic stabilisation, where tax revenues fall in hard times to give the economy some breathing space. However, a collapse of €8bn in tax revenues from the property market is a signal, if ever we needed one, that we got it wrong.
Let’s leave VAT revenues from the property market aside for the moment. (That should have been a lot more stable than it was – but for a completely different reason, namely better management of Ireland’s housing output.) Figures from the OECD suggest that a little less than 10% of core tax revenues (excluding social insurance) comes from property taxes in most developed countries.
I think it’s reasonable to say that the government’s aim should be to get the Irish government finances looking a little more like a regular OECD economy’s, over the coming five years. Also, it will be trying to raise its core tax revenues up from their current 2003 level of €31bn to perhaps €40bn, which is more or less the 2005 level. Therefore, bearing in mind the contribution that capital taxes could make in a healthy market (probably about €0.75bn), we should be looking to have a property tax contribute somewhere close to €3bn.
A year ago, I outlined a number of reasons why Ireland should adopt an Obama-esque “Yes We Can” attitude to property taxes – as well as how to deal with issues like those who have paid a lot in stamp duty recently. At the time, I made a case – based on the sheer arithmetic of it all – for a very straightforward tax on the value of a property. The Department of Finance is understood to favour a variant of such a tax, namely a set tax for prices within particular bands. One argument against property taxes is that they would take a long time to implement. This type of tax could realistically be put in, complete with valuation website where people can find out an estimate of how much their property is worth right now, in the space of a week.
My opinion now, though, is that Ireland needs to put in place a smarter tax, one that doesn’t mess with the incentive people should have to invest in their home and make it worth more. For this, Ireland needs to put in place a land value tax. A land value tax, where you pay an annual amount based on the value of the land you hold, not the value of what’s on the land, is the fairest way of implementing a tax. It also prevents land-hoarding and should reduce the likelihood of further property bubbles. A land value tax could be brought in perhaps not overnight, but also relatively quickly.
There are a range of other reasons why Ireland needs a property tax sooner, rather than later.
- For example, if people suspect a property tax will come in, they are more likely hold off buying property, raising the prospect of a longer than necessary hiatus in Ireland’s property market and even over-shooting of prices on the way down.
- Secondly, money is limited and if the Government doesn’t bring a property tax in, the money has to come from elsewhere – even higher income taxes or more cuts to public expenditure.
Ultimately, people should be suspicious of TDs in wealthy constituencies calling for no property taxes. If we don’t bring in a property tax, the rest of the country will essentially be subsidising a small pocket of voters in the most affluent areas of Dublin.
Daft Report : Asking Prices down 4% in Q2 - Page 2 ,
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Kevin Murray ,
Very good blog. Easy for an engineer like me to follow. I agree that we need a property tax. I have long thought that it would be great to use the Building Energy Rating (along with property size) as a basis for the property tax. If your house is more energy efficient you pay less property tax. It would drive energy efficiency? Quite a few houses now have a BER certificate and it would not take more than a couple of years to do the rest of them.
Ronan Lyons ,
Thanks for the comment – I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on water pricing/metering, that’s another huge step on the road to building a modern economy for Ireland that looks like shirking for the moment.
Your suggestion is excellent. As it happens, I’m doing research with the ESRI on valuations and one of the things we’re hoping to do is add BER in to the hedonic regressions that underpin the various house price models. It won’t be complete from the off, as there are still far too many properties without them. Once that’s done, it would be a small step to make the results available to DoF/the general public.
I don’t believe, any Irish government is capable of implementing this fairly.
Also, it is a bit late considering the rate of new house completions has practically stalled. Thus, as we have no revenue from building, we now want to tax those who are already struggling with high rates of indirect taxes, huge (self inflicted, though) mortgages and an over priced retail sector.
Now that we have saturated the hosuing market, our answer is to tax them because they have no choice – is this not akin to a monopoly??
Also, I am saddened by many commentators suggesting more ways of taxation when in fact our gross problem is that we have too much expenditure which has been compounded by the needless and irresponsible ploughing of money into Anglo and NAMA.
What has happened the €3B they saved last year, it has been thrown away into a black hole called Aglo.
So are people confident the current bunch of gombeens and their cronies will use property tax effciently?
I think not – look at the HSE and bloated public sector. Is it not a co-incidence that PIIGS are the ones in trouble – they all have a large & generous public sector system and are perhaps, I am going out on a limb here, more corrupt that the central european countries…We don’t need more taxes (yet), we need to trim the fat everywhere and see what is left at the core.
A call for property tax is just brushing the real issues under the carpet and they will raise their ugly head again in the future.
Ronan Lyons ,
Thanks for the comment. I’m certainly not one of those who is ignoring the expenditure side – have a look around the Irish Economy section of the site, and the discussion of the 2011 and 2015 budgets if you want to convince yourself of that.
However, Ireland is both an undertaxed and an overspending economy. Thus the solution has to come from both sides. Based on current economic conditions, it’s likely the bulk of the closing of the deficit will come from expenditure cuts. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t put in place a fair and efficient taxation system. Ultimately, it’s not a question about property tax or not. It’s a question about a property tax, or paying more in income tax and/or VAT. If you had the choice, which would you choose?
While I agree with the concept of a property tax of some kind, I don’t think it’s as easy and fair as you suggest.
I disagree with a land value tax. It unfairly targets people with small farms and plots of land around urban areas. These people are not hoarding land like property developers but are small farmers on land that has been in their family for several generations. They didn’t rezone during the boom and didn’t sell for millions to property developers. They might be people with full time day jobs in offices and factories who farm in their spare time almost as a hobby. A land value tax could force them to sell their land cheaply to any developer who can still afford to hoard land.
People living in urban areas with large side\back gardens would now face larger tax bills then their neighbours. Should they sell their gardens to developers or builders like so many people did during the boom? In many areas people extended their houses, adding on extra bedrooms, bathrooms and conservatories turning simple 3 bed semi-detached houses into 5 bed mini mansions. Your suggested land value tax would see them paying less tax than their neighbours who couldn’t afford to extend their house. They are not land hoarding they are just people who enjoy the simple luxury of a larger garden on a sunny day.
A property tax that is introduced quickly (in as little as a week as you suggest) as a knee jerk reaction to government overspending and economic mismanagement is likely to hurt more people then one that is well thought out, carefully planned and fairly implemented.
Personally I would rather pay more income tax and social insurance that would provide an efficient health care system and decent education system and pension.
Why do I have to pay (well my company pays half) 2K on VHI. I wouldrahter put this in to a public system that works. After all, nsurace companies are there to make a profit so would it not be more efficient to pay this directly without the middlemen.
Let’s say, 500k poeple paying ~1K per annum on halth insurance. tTat’s 5B we could put into healtcare and education. [I don’t have the numbers so I am just generalising]
Also, we really need to look at our socailwelfare system. It’s a farce. We should at least put people working if they are in receit of payments. We have the irish tourist indutry spending millions on advertising but we don’t clean up the rubbish on our beaches and streets in villages. We don’t have the climate but we should at least have a clean country if we want tourists to come here.
After all that I guess my point is that there are a lot of other things that should be done before we introduce more taxes.
Also, this country and government has no long term plan. It has goals but we are 5 months from the next budget and they don’t even know what they will do to save €3B.
If any company was run like this they would either be gone under or fired the CEO…….
Ronan Lyons ,
Thanks for the reply. I agree with your overall sentiment. At one point, though, you say:
“Personally I would rather pay more income tax and social insurance that would provide an efficient health care system and decent education system and pension. “,
The point is that we will have to pay more for fewer services. We won’t get to say – “I’ll give you more but I want more in return”. We got the sweetest deal during the 2000s – pay less and get more – and it’s payback time. The question is how to make the payback as fair as possible.
Which leads me on to Declan’s point:
Thanks for the comment. You’ve highlighted some issues with a land value tax. Any tax is going to have its exceptions and unfair cases. The point is to pick one with the minimal costs imposed on society. The land value tax is the one with the fewest costs, in particular compared to the one that could be introduced “in a week” it preserves the incentive to make your home worth more, more energy efficient, etc.
People with land on the fringes of the city that is zoned agricultural have nothing to worry about. Their land is not worth that much. People with agricultural land on the fringes of the city that is needed for city growth are imposing a cost on the rest of society. Society can’t kick them off that land but can ask them to recompense people who have to live further out as a result of their decision. (I’m aware that this argument depends on solid land zoning and planning but that should clearly be a top priority and looks like it’s slowly coming with the Greens.)
Actions have consequences, decisions have opportunity costs. People need to realise this.
“People with agricultural land on the fringes of the city that is needed for city growth are imposing a cost on the rest of society. Society can’t kick them off that land but can ask them to recompense people who have to live further out as a result of their decision. ”
But that is saying that the percieved short term good of the majority will always out weigh any rights of the minority. Their decision, as you call it, may be to have been born on a farm which is now close to a city. Society may not be able to kick them off their land but imposing an unfair financial burden on them will likely achieve the same result. It is an ecomonic lesson straight from the Robert Mugabe school of economics. This year it’s land owners, next year it could be any other section of society where a quick buck could be made in the name of the “greater good”.
Ronan Lyons ,
I’m not sure comaprisons with Mugabe are a helpful contribution to the discussion. Suppose, by virtue of birth, I happen to be very good at football. Not my decision, but I am. I go on to earn a fortune playing for Dublin FC, the most successful club in Europe. Should I pay more in tax, just because I’m lucky? Most people think I should.
I then die, and leave my fortune to my two children. They inherit enough, in cash, shares, property and land, to never have to work a day in their lives. Should they pay tax on their capital acquisitions and their capital gains? Most people think they should.
What we’re talking about is exactly the opposite of the will of the majority overruling the rights of any minority. You’re allowed keep your skill, your wealth, your land, etc., but you do have to contribute to the society around you. I have yet to see a sound reason why inheriting a farm is different to inheriting a family home or a trust fund.
Well in my experience in the last numbers of years, I don’t believe that we are getting any decent level of service for what is costing us,the tax payer.
As I said we should trim the fat before we invest more otherwise we are just adding fuel to the fire.
No point repairing one wheel when the other is flat, still can’t drive the car and that is what I think property tax is at this moment in time.
Also, do you trust any of our current governement to effectively implement zoning & property tax?
karl deeter ,
We socialise our private incomes via income tax but we privatise our social income that come about from the value that development done with taxpayers money gives to landowners in certain locations, a land value tax is the fairest and most sensible way to capture this
I echo Ronan’s thoughts here http://www.mortgagebrokers.ie/blog/index.php/2010/07/05/property-tax-is-a-good-thing-but-only-one-type-of-it/
Implementation will come at a cost, but a far lower cost both in terms of price and social cost than avoiding it, without an ongoing tax there is also a shortage of information available to interpret our property market with. Property was at the root of what went wrong and an inability to collate ongoing information means we place our selves at greater risk unnecessarily.
Great post! btw: have some working papers on LVT if you want them.
I apologise the Mugabe reference was over the top.
If you are a talented successful footballer earning millions in pay and sponsorship should you pay tax on what you earn. Yes, thats income tax. On the other hand if I am an equally talented footballer, say we played together on a junior team, but I didnt get the contract with Dublin FC and joined a smaller club Kildare United where I make a decent living but barely more than the average wage should the government come along and say “Declan you are a talented footballer, look at Ronan over there, you are as good as him but you dont pay as much in tax as him? Society says you should, so here is a tax bill for half a million euro same as Ronans. How you pay it is not our problem, you have the talent find the money”
Hi Ronan, I would agree broadly that some kind of property tax is required.
What you are proposing goes well beyond a residential property tax though – is it is a tax on _all_ land? argricultural, development, recreational?
Also would you have any proposals to lessen the effects on more working class areas that later become very desirable. I’m thinking of people especially living in say areas close in to Dublin centre (think North Wall) who would have quite low land-tax based on your scheme for a long time until the area suddenly becomes desireable to well-heeled professionals. Suddenly their tax bill increases w/o any compenasting increase in income. It would be particularly unfair to essentially force people to sell up and move out to the ‘burbs just because the yuppies wanted to move in!
Obviously any value based tax whether based on only building value, site value or a combination would suffer from this flaw. But I think the site-value-only would be the most volatile.
Anyway, any ideas on reducing this surely unwanted effect?
Keep up the blog.
Billy, I think you expressed my concerns far better than I did 🙂
Should people living in North Wall be forced to move because their property is now worth more than they could afford to pay in tax? Would it be good for society to have them sell up and move to cheaper estates more suited to their income level and let those with higher incomes who can afford the tax move in?
A land value tax is an approach which I’ve liked for a long time. It cuts the difference between rural preference toward a Site Value Tax and the urban preference of a Square Footage Based tax. It incentivises density in urban areas. And I would imagine that it could be structured in a way that is linked with the land zoned for the residence so that those with their small plots of farm land don’t pay for them unless they are rezoned as residential, then hit them with a nice CGT then.
As in Commercial property, you could have the national body (Valuation Office) determine the tax base – the ratable valuation based on land value. But then have the local government determine the rate in line with the actual expenditures the face in delivering services to the households that live there. Dept of Finance could then cut the Local Government Fund completely. A clearer line from tax payer to expenditure would support great transparency and mean that each euro had to go through less administration before it was spent, a more efficient system.
Excellent post Ronan. I agree fully that we need a property tax and we need it sooner rather than later. I’m constantly amazed at the sheer ineptitude of those in government and within the department of finance. They are being paid handsomely to do very little it would seem.
I can see your point about the benefits of a land value tax when compared to a property size/value based tax particularly when it comes to encouraging investment in one’s own house, but I do believe consideration must be given to what the difference in property size indicates. Someone who purchased or inherited a small property with a very large garden in an affluent suburb in Dublin may not be very well off compared to their neighbour who purchased a larger, more expensive house close by on a smaller plot. But there are always going to be exceptions like this and I agree it’s more important to try to get the most fair system we can and deal with exceptions separately. I think a land value in some combination with floor area of habitable building would be the most fair system of taxation. What are you thoughts of this?
Also, I really don’t like the way the issue of farms as some kind of special case is put forward. If you inherit a large farm that has been in the family for generations it should have no special treatment compared to the inheritance of a large family home that may also have been in the family for generations. Farming land is (in theory at least) productive land and it should be put to use. If someone inherits a large farm and doesn’t wish to farm the land then it should be sold on to someone who will farm it. Certainly paying tax on the land will provide an impetus to either work the land for an income or sell it to someone who will.
Graham I agree in principle about farming but it is important to put farm tax to one side so that we don’t bite off more than we can achieve.
Perhaps the Commission on Taxation report is worth noting on this issue. Its a mix of the principles and the praciticables of tax reform:
“The recurrent tax should be applied to land rezoned for all types of development. Such a tax would be a useful policy tool to ensure that developers do not hoard landbanks and that land is utilised in accordance with its planning categorisation. We recognise that the design of such a proposal would be difficult and would have to address some anomalies. For example, a farmer owning such property who intends to keep farming should not face such a tax.”
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A tax based on the value of your property at the time you bought/inherited it, plus an inflator based on CPI or HICP, or even national house price inflation, may allieviate some of the equity concerns. This way you know with a fair degree of certainty what tax you will be paying for the next number of years, and you will not be punished if house/property prices suffer a boom in your area.
Brendan M ,
I agree that the prioperty tax is a no brainer and it is important that persons who have an interest in the Irish economy continue to represent this view – however unpopular it is.
The big question is how to make it politically acceptable. It seems to me that to succeed, the proposition will have to be a ‘selective property tax’. That is to allow for a scheme that would expmpt homes of low value, defer the tax in the case of persons on low income who own larger homes and give a tax credit to those who purchased homes at inflated prices in recent years and therefore alread contributed hansomely to the Exchequer.
For the record, I’m not in any of those three categoires!
I’m shocked at how many people see nothing wrong with the prospect of forcing people to sell their property to pay new tax bills for the good of society. No tax can or should be forced on people beyond their ability to pay.
There are many elderly farmers around Ireland who simply would not be able to afford this and in a depressed property market they would have to sell their small farms at a much reduced price helping no one but the property speculator. I’m not talking about people with hundreds of acres I’m talking about old men and women in every county with a few fields and a couple of dozen head of cattle who are not hoarding land as an investment but hold onto it because it is their life and their home. You may think I’m being dramatic but wait until the goverment tries to bring in a tax like this and I promise you the media will be full of pictures of old men in tweed caps beside for sale signs.
The good of society can and has been trotted out as an excuse to justify all kinds of ills in the past. Just because something can be made politically acceptable doesn’t mean it is the fair thing to do. We live in a democracy and the right to own property is written in the constitution, if people think landownership is bad for society lets have a referendum on that issue but in advance of that lets not revel in the prospect of land being sold for the good of society.
An excellent well thought out piece, I couldn’t agree more with your logic. I wish the clowns in FF would impliment your ideas. You are completely correct that the rumours of a property tax is well prevent any market recovery. This is no way to run a country.
Konrad Dechant ,
In his recent book 2010 The Inquest, Fred Harrison the author of Boom Bust: House Prices, Banking and the Depression of 2010, Harrison quotes Professor Michael Hudson (professor of economics and former Wall Street analyst):
…the property taxes no longer recover the land value being created by public investment and prosperity. This leaves property owners with a rising ‘free ride’ from asset-price inflation. Property taxes used to be the mainstay of state and local finances, accounting for nearly two-thirds in 1930. But the tax burden has been shifted steadily on tow consumers and business. This tax avoidance for real estate at the local level also occurs at the federal level.
…Land price gains…far overshadow earned income. These gains explain why property owners are able to pay most of the rental values to bankers as interest: the aim is not so much to earn current income but to ride the crest of asset-price inflation and make a capital gain on the site’s rising locational value.
Harrison says “for home owners, riding the crest of the price rise is exhilarating. Then, the crash comes, and the depression sets in as house prices drop.”
Could all this misery prevented by government introducing a fair and just site value tax? SVT would be a significant key to socialising the rent value of land produced by us the community. Harrison wonders about how we are prepared to socialise wages and income but keep rent private.
I also wonder, if all the enemies of SVT would pause to reflect and allow the fundamental justice of rent socialisation to become evident as a very reasonable and fair proposition.
I like the proposal of a land value tax. But it will take time to introduce. If they want to tax property now then work out what the minimum someone not on social welfare will pay. IE small site in middle of no where and introduce that as a flat tax now while we are waiting for the systems to be put in place for land value.
I will watch from afar as the Irish Government trips over itself to try and implement a property tax. I am sure it will be inefficient and the usual mess.
Property taxes are the norm here in North America. I have experience with it in both the US and in Canada. One thing that strikes me is how transparent the method of property tax is. In Montreal, my property tax is assessed by separating the value of the land and the value of the house (the tax is the combined valuation of both). It is revalued every 3 years, so I know what the increase will be each year. The tax is broken down into one portion that goes directly to local schools and another portion that goes to the local council. When I lived in Chicago there was a cap on rise in the valuation of 7% per anum to protect long-term residents, in particular the old.
What also helps with the calculation of property tax in Canada is that one must disclose the price that one paid for a property. This is available at a government website (along with the amount of mortgage taken on the property). Therefore, one can get a sense of the valuation of a property in an ara and therefore calculate the property tax burden before purchasing.
Pat M ,
The tax system already covers land appreciation in so far as the vendor pays Capital Gains on the sale. A higher CGT rate on rezoned land should be implemented but a tax on agricultural land used for farming should not. Ronan, your analogy on skilled people paying tax and farm inheritances not is completely wide of the mark. Capital Acquisition tax is paid by the person inheriting the land if they are not farming and it is also paid if they are farming (with a qualification) at a reduced rate. Tax is paid on any income from the farm. If the farm is sold then CGT is paid. Your greater good theory does not incorporate the need for a sustainable agriculture industry to provide for a sustained supply of food. We live in a period of relative stability and globalisation but relying mostly on food imports is a possibility in 20 years. Who knows what is around the corner and our ability for self preservation and sustainability is in my opinion another factor to consider for the greater public good whether they realise it or not. Politically a tax on agricultural land is is untouchable and economically it has too many holes to convince me that is has any benefit.
David Iverson ,
Interesting debate. I am completely against property taxes in Ireland. I have paid mine via stamp duties many times over. We already pay a high level of taxation when you consider all forms of tax. What do we get in return … not much in my opinion other than over expenditure in many areas such as the government and the public service and maybe even the ESRI!! Trim the fat, reduce expenditures then I’ll listen up about new taxes.
Ideas for building Property Market 3.0 | Ronan Lyons ,
[…] most people will dread about hearing: a property tax. It’s again something I’ve talked about a number of times before, so I’ll make the case […]