DUBLIN (Reuters) - The Irish market for mortgages slowed in the fourth quarter, but grew overall in 2018 by almost 20 percent as first-time buyers returned to the market, the Banking & Payments Federation Ireland said on Tuesday.
A sharp recovery in house prices that began five years ago and accelerated again last year amid tight supply has begun to cool, making it slightly easier for prospective buyers to get on the housing ladder.
The latest Irish annual residential property price data showed that price growth eased to 7.1 percent in November, the lowest level in almost 2-1/2 years, as prices fell on a monthly basis for the first time since the end of 2016.
"A comparison of total drawdown activity in 2018 shows a near 20 percent growth over 2017. In effect, 1.44 billion euro more (19.7 percent) was drawn down in 2018 than in 2017 by mortgage borrowers," said Felix O'Regan, BPFI's Director Public Affairs.
"Almost half of this was by FTBs – by far the single largest segment of the market.
"While end-of-year approval activity showed some sign of slowdown due to seasonal factors, the indications are that 2019 will see continued growth in mortgage drawdown activity."
In total, some 40,203 mortgages with a value of 8.7 billion euro were drawn down in 2018, representing an increase of 19.7 percent in value and 15.5 percent in volume on the total for 2017.
The end-of-year slowdown was flagged in October by then AIB chief executive Bernard Byrne who said that the Irish market for mortgages would be smaller than expected in 2018, but the shortfall would be erased in the medium term as newly-built property becomes available for buyers.
(Reporting by Graham Fahy, editing by Ed Osmond)