It wasn't until Lot 15 that a property finally sold at the heavily anticipated Real Estate Alliance (REA) public auction of 61 properties last Friday. If the government was watching events in the Shelbourne Hotel and hoping to get a realistic picture of valuations nationwide, there wasn't much to suggest there are plentiful buyers to snap up properties promoted as being up to 60% below early 2007 prices.
By 11am, the Great Room was filled with plentiful REA staff, rival auctioneers, media, curious onlookers, anxious vendors and not enough purchasers.
Before the start, Michael Boyd, chairman of REA, had high hopes the auction, the first of its kind nationally, he said, would relieve sellers under pressure, and encourage beleaguered banks to lend a little. Around all of the reserves set "are pretty much the same as, or slightly less, than the guide", he said, and it would only be when bidding reached that reserve that the property would realistically be on the market. "But it's a bit like the half hour before going on to play for Ireland, and there is a lot riding on this." When things got underway, properties were systematically withdrawn, many without getting a single bid, with others falling a long way off the AMV.
"Does anybody in the room have €350,000?" asked auctioneer Thomas Potterton several times over only to be met with stony silence. His good humour lightened the sombre mood at times, but when he asked, "are there any developers in the room?" there were snorts of derision, as there was virtually no take-up of land valued at up to 70% below peak prices. But when bidding got underway on Lot 15, one of the nicer-looking properties in the catalogue, the apathy in the room changed. As Mill House, Mill Road, Gowran, Co Kilkenny – a renovated Queen Anne house on 12 acres – finally went under the hammer for its exact AMV of €500,000, there was applause from the crowd and a huge sigh of relief from its anxious owner. Paula Moriarty originally bought the property in 2002 at auction, and after fully renovating it, put it on the market two years ago guiding €950,000. She is "delighted" at finally selling it, even if for nearly half that price. "The bidding was very slow at first, but I'm very relieved," she told the Sunday Tribune. "Now I'm ready to move on and find a new home for myself and my daughters." The buyers were a young couple who had been living abroad and had viewed the four-bedroom house several times prior to Friday's auction.
Eighty-one acres of farmland at Coralstown, Kinnegad, Co Westmeath, was another of the rare sales of the day. Buyer Denis Tierney paid €440,000, just €60,000 under the AMV, and declared himself "happy with the price as it reflected the current market". Back in Kilkenny, a derelict riverside mill at Kells Village sold under the hammer for €240,000, just €10,000 shy of the AMV. But there was disappointment for the Department of Defence on failing to shift €800,000 Firmount, Clane, Co Kildare, a three-storey Victorian residence on five acres, with the nearest bid only reaching €540,000. That, like a lot of others failing to sell, came with a rider that the bidder "have a talk with us later" – something of a mantra for the event.
Prior to Friday, five properties were sold pre-auction, including one of the cheapest, an end-of-terrace house in Navan at €90,000 and a four-bedroom residence in Leitrim for just below its AMV of €200,000. One of the very few properties in the capital, a three-bedroom apartment at the Ha'penny Bridge, was withdrawn having failed to reach its asking price of €250,000.
Overall, 16 properties sold, raising €3.9m.The organisers has been hoping for around 50% of sales, but on the day, 27% was as good as it got.
"It is evident that the market does remain challenged due to the prevailing economic conditions, with finance and consumer confidence being key issues," said auction manager Phillip Farrell.
Among the onlookers was Eileen Collins, a seasoned auction-goer interested in the small number of commercial sites for sale. What did she make of the organisers' bid to kickstart the property market? "I thought it was a reality check for everyone concerned. The few who bought have probably got value for their money. But the huge level of withdrawals shows property remains over-priced." The auction was on the same day permanentTSB published their house-price index for the first quarter of this year, showing average national prices are now back at 2002 levels. It looks like we may have to go back to the last century before that much-talked-about bottom is reached.