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Property crash: where to now? (RTE 1)

RICHARD Curran would have been entitled to crow "I told you so" in this follow-up to his Futureshock documentary Property Crash, which aired almost five years ago.

Back then, the property bubble's architects -- who would happily have sold us one of their own turds and claimed it was Belgian chocolate -- accused him of negativity and scaremongering.

But Curran didn't crow. He didn't need to. The terrifying statistics did the talking for him. In 2006, there were 204,000 mortgage transactions. This year, there have been 14,000. Of all existing mortgages, 14% of homeowners are now in negative equity, while one in 10 is in arrears or has had to restructure their loan.

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) says house prices have fallen by an average of 43%; insiders put it nearer to 60% or 70% in some areas. Prices are currently at 2002 levels. They could hit 1999 levels, said Curran, before the drop stops. The banks, meanwhile, are still lending money, but only at the levels they were in 1971.

The good news, said Curran, is that property markets usually recover. The tricky bit is knowing when. Worldwide experience suggests the people stuck in the middle, the ones in negative equity, will have to tough it out until perhaps 2022 before things pick up. Even then, it will be Dublin and the counties closest to it that fare best. Other counties may be left behind to stagnate.

Curran travelled to Finland, where the inflated property market collapsed in 1988. The fall of the Soviet Union impacted hugely on Finland's trade, leading to a perfect storm of economic chaos.

The Finns were in a position to devalue their currency (something we can't do, because of the euro) and the widespread economic upswing of the 1990s helped. But house prices still flatlined for three years.

Our property crash, said Curran, has more in common with that of Japan, which came in 1991 and from which the country is still recovering. He visited a three-bedroom apartment in Japan that sold 21 years ago for €9m. It's currently on the market for €1.9m.

The Japanese government acted ridiculously slowly, taking a full seven years to set up its own version of NAMA. Our politicians have acted faster, yet that's of little comfort to the two couples in Curran's film.

George and Dawn owe Ulster Bank €200,000. When George lost his job, he felt he'd let his family down. Dawn plunged into despair. She'd come home from work, go to the bedroom and cry.

The bank has restructured the couple's mortgage repayments from €630 a month to €210, but only for a year. George and Dawn, who have children, have considered emigrating to start over again.

Rachel and Chris paid €280,000 for their small apartment in 2007, just before the wheels came off. It's now worth half that. It was supposed to be the fabled first step on the property ladder (remember that expression?); instead, it's become a holding pen.

They never planned to start a family there, but they now have a small daughter. "We feel that we're living in a box," said Rachel, "and there's no way out of that box. We're not looking for miracles."

Just enough room to mention Twincredibles, which looked at a rare phenomenon: mixed-race twins of different skin colours. The genetic stuff is easily explained (even though the film didn't explain it), what's less tidy is the way it impacts on the twins and their parents.

We heard an absurd story of a white twin, now a teenager, who was forced in playschool to draw himself as black, like his brother. On official documents, convention demands he's described as "mixed race, black", not "mixed race, white".

The was footage of a little white boy called Layton siding with his friend against his black twin brother in a play centre: "You're not on our team, 'cos we're the white team, 'cos we're white." Absorbing stuff but faintly unsettling, too.



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