Property Valuation Estimator

The property tax is a bit of a mess. First it was to be self-assessment but now Revenue is going to send you an estimate of their own which you can then dispute.

Ronan Lyons has come up with a nice way of estimating the value of your house based on work he’s been doing on property prices.


A table and some tapping of numbers is all well and good, but we know you’re lazy so we’ve whipped up a simple form to do all the calculating for you!

Obviously there’s caveats, so back to Ronan to explain them:

Clearly, this is by no means meant to capture every last factor affecting property values. (One simple extension is number of bathrooms – roughly speaking, every additional bathroom is associated with a 10% higher price.) This model captures just under two-thirds of variation in house prices in Ireland, which – given the small number of factors included – is pretty good. But there’s still a third out there to explain. (Including effects for areas within counties would explain a significant chunk of the remaining variation, as it happens.) On average this will be right, and it will for the vast majority of cases be close but of course there are always properties that have unobserved factors that dwarf what matters for most homes. The method underpinning the figures above explicitly excludes outliers, so as to better improve the estimates for the vast majority of homes.
The table above is based on 60,000 listings on over the year 2012, and allows for the fact that prices varied throughout the year. “Aha”, a sceptic might say, “these are only asking prices and sure we all know they are ”. As it happens, some pretty detailed research comparing asking and transaction prices shows they move together remarkably tightly, once controls for location and size are included (as they are here). Properties that sell typically sell for about 10% less than their asking price, so for that reason the starting point of €108,000 is actually 90% of the figure returned by the model. The key thing about the model is what it tells us about relativities (prices between counties), not necessarily levels.
Lastly, lest there be any confusion, I offer this table as a public service but can’t offer it as any more than what it is – one academic economist’s analysis of the market.

[A version of this post also appeared on]

Monday Morning Doom and Gloom

With the return of the Dáil this week the annual sabre rattling over this year’s budget beings in earnest. But over the summer, some battle lines were drawn and there is already a vague shape to what will be announced in yet another austerity laden budget. So to drag everyone down on a Monday morning, I’ve released a preliminary calculator for Budget 2013

Joan Burton has been making noises all summer about changing (read: increasing) employee and employer PRSI rates. An increase from the current rate of 4% to 5% would result in an extra €293.96 on the tax bill of someone on the average industrial wage.

Another proposal from the Minister is that a parent earning over €100,000 would have their child benefit taxed.  At that level of earnings though it makes minimal difference with just €688.80 a year for a single child clawed back. Given that successive governments have failed to implement this it may not be worth while for the return.

Another big change in the budget is the full implementation of the property tax.  The rate has yet to be announced, but 0.5% of the property’s value has been mooted by the IMF.  You can be hopelessly optimistic and set the rate at a low of 0.05% (paying €50 per €100K of value) to an eye-watering high of 1% (paying €1,000 per €100K).

As more rumours surface, the inevitable misery will be added to the calculator (just in case there was any spark of hope forming).

Budget 2013 Calculator

[A version of this post also appeared on]

Budget Week and

With the budget (well, the half I was interested in) being announced last Tuesday, this was the big week for – both the site and the app.  It is the natural time for people to be interested in their tax affairs (the other is in the New Year when people actually see the changes to their pay packets).

The Budget

The budget itself contained no surprises, especially after the Taoiseach’s speech on Sunday night.  Considering the various stories circulating of a possible 3rd rate of tax or more USC bands it was a very easy budget in terms of code changes needed in my app.  The tweak to USC does seem badly thought out to me since someone on €10,035 pays nothing but another person on €10,036 ends up paying €200.72 in USC.  Hopefully someone in the Department of Finance will see sense and have the 2% USC rate eliminated altogether.

The App

I was a bit more prepared this year and created an update which posted user’s details to an endpoint on the TaxCalc site and returned the resulting breakdown as a lump of JSON.  This way I wouldn’t have the usual bad reviews because the apps wasn’t updated instantly.  Apple even approved my request for an expedited review for the update since the budget was so close and the update was available from the Sunday before the budget.  There were 390 downloads of the updated app by the end of budget day.

I was rather pleased with the number of new purchases of the app.  It reached a high of #8 in the top 25 paid apps on Tuesday before falling out of the top 25 on Thursday evening.  This was all based on 56 sales on Tuesday and rapidly dropping off to 7 on Friday.  The app is now back to selling between 2 and 6  units a day, which is still enough to get it to #1 Finance app in the Irish app store.

The Site

The site didn’t do as well as last year.  Apart from some tweets I made myself, the only place it got a mention was which gave a boost on Budget day.  Traffic collapsed on Wednesday to the normal trickle.  This is very different to last year, where mentions on and meant that traffic was maintained for a couple of days after the budget.

The Competition

The only real competing app for this years budget was a free one from PricewaterhouseCoopers which got heavy advertising in the Irish Times and made it into the top 25 free apps.  This was a rather poor app that really should have sunk without a trace.  The first version had the bottom button partially off the screen.  My guess is that it was not supposed to have the status bar at the top and so the screen is 20px too big.  Then when the calculator is actually used the summary screen shows 0 for all values and you need to ‘View Details’ to see anything.  Even then, the view details screen doesn’t fit and you need to scroll sideways to see everything.  All in all, a very amateurish effort from one of the big accounting companies.

The other two apps – Irish Tax Calculator and the Irish Taxation Institute – haven’t been updated yet and I suspect the former has been abandoned by its developer.

Lessons Learned

Next year, I really should make more of an effort to get the app and site mentioned again on the likes of on the run up to and during the budget.  The site traffic to the site was certainly affected and the SEO tweaks I’ve been doing didn’t make up the numbers.

Having the endpoint ready to go well before the budget meant that I could roll out changes announced very quickly.  I could also take a bit more time with an update and run more tests.  Next year I should aim to have a version ready for developer release well before the actual budget so I’m not rushing to get everything changed at once.  Most of this year’s work should help that along.

Overall I’m happy enough but I think I can do better next year.  I’ll definitely be better prepared. a rebuttal

On Sunday night, I launched, a simple calculator that tries to work out if you’d be better off working or on the dole.  This was all inspired by an article about two people being offered a job at €28K and refusing it because they were better off on the dole.  I don’t know much about the ins and outs of claiming anything from welfare, so I decided to educate myself and see if this was true (as I suspected it wasn’t).

I’ve been getting traffic today from a blog called ‘Progressive-Econonomy@TASC‘ where there was a post by Michael Taft called ‘A life of luxury on the dole‘.  The post takes issue with how I’ve made my calculations and the language I use.  Since I’ve been responding to people on forum threads, I’m going to do the (unusual for me) step of responding here to his criticisms.

First off, he’s reading far, far too much into how I phrased things.  I used ‘you could get‘ for the dole part as your means tested and the value displayed only the possible maximum amount.  To make this clearer, I’ve changed it to ‘The maximum you could be entitled to‘.

I used ‘ You get’ for a person’s pay as if you are paid, the figure is far firmer.  I can determine’s a persons take home pay with far greater accuracy as a large chunk of the variables are already known.  It also could be because I work so automatically think of myself in these situations.  But that would be reading far, far too far into a throw away sentence written around a far more important value.

On to his first proper complaint – Family Income Support.  This is a fair complaint and I’ve included it in the calculation.  However, for the example at hand, the mythical job refuser would still get more on the dole (€15.81) so my calculations are still valid.  I’ve added a few links to the FIS information on welfare and fingers crossed, one of the many people who don’t claim it will see it and start benefiting.

The second part of the argument if about the rent supplement.  I found the numbers on how many people are actually receiving the supplement to be extremely interesting (and far lower than I would have guessed).  However, just because only 13.5% of those on Jobseekers Allowance get it doesn’t invalidate my calculator.  As he points out, one of my assumptions is that you do get it.  If you know you don’t or wouldn’t get the rent supplement you can easily see from my breakdown that it’s not worth refusing a job.  It is a key factor and I make no apologies for using it in the calculator.  I have added the stat to my assumptions so people are clear that there’s only a slim chance of receiving it.

On to the number I picked for the rent.  It is the maximum and it was picked so the example would get the maximum possible rent supplement.  On the contention that the Daft report says the average rent in Dublin is €993, I can’t see that figure directly (and I’m too lazy to add the number for the various Dublin areas myself).  What I do see is that the rents in the Dublin area can range from €850 to €1,284 so while €930 is at the bottom end of the range, it is still within the average rent.  Also, the prices used in the Daft report are the displayed price and not the price a property was rented at.  My own (and many friends and acquaintances) experience is that at the moment the asking price is only a start and places are rented for much lower.  However, anecdotes are not evidence so we’ll go with the Daft figures. 10 of the 24 areas have average rents under €930 so I don’t think it unreasonable that a family could get a two bed at that price.  A quick search on Daft for 2 beds under €1000 (since you can’t pick €930 exactly) throws up a number of properties for or under our magic €930 (which will accept the all important rent allowance).

The next part of the complaint is that €930 is higher than you’re allowed elsewhere.  This is true, and I don’t hide that fact.  The table listing all the maximum rents allowed in each area is made available via the link entitled ‘Show/hide a list of the limits.’.  Our example family though lived in Dublin so it’s not going outside of the parameters.  Going on then about the different limits without changing the example is moving the goalposts somewhat.  I’m making a claim about a very particular set of circumstances.  It’s easy to plug in numbers for the other areas and see if the same results come out in favour of taking the dole (not at all).

I’m not claiming that everyone gets €191 a week in rent allowance.  It is worked out individually for each set of numbers put in.  The figure of €191 only applies if you are paying exactly €930 a month in rent.  It’s disingenuous to imply (as is done in the paragraph about the average received) that the calculator always assigns this amount.  If you do take the average of €106 for rent allowance, then you’d need to earn over €20K before a job become more financially rewarding.

So at the end of this, my contention and calculation still stands – if you live in Dublin, have a spouse and dependant child and if you are entitled to rent allowance (and get the maximum allowed of €930), you are better off on the dole.  All that Michael Taft’s post has done is put meat on the bones and tell you how likely it is for the conditions to be right (which, in fairness, is very much worth doing).

What bugs me a bit is that Mr. Taft didn’t bother to scroll a little further beyond the assumptions and click on the contact me link and get in touch.  I’m always open to suggestions on improvements and I’ve been keeping an eye on a couple of threads where the site has been mentioned to see if there’s anything I can easily add.  I found out about the post from my access logs, a mention in a thread and an e-mail from a randomer who likes the idea but thinks I should improve it.

As a final parting shot, I take issue with the post title.  I’m not saying a person should go on the dole because it’s all sweetness and light and fun for all the family.  I am merely pointing out in some very specific situations a person couldn’t be blamed for turning down a job as they would end up financially worse off.  In fact, most of the time the calculator shows that people should get (or stay in) a job.  There’s plenty of other reasons to take a job but if a family is struggling in the current harsh climate, can we really blame them for picking the financially sounder option?

I will certainly not be taking down the site but I am open to comments on how to improve it. Thanks for the traffic, in this economy every little helps.

How much poorer am I now?

So on the day of the government press conference, one of the lads in work jokingly asked if I would be making an update to to show the changes announced.  He even suggested a domain for a single serving site – Since I’d nothing better to do, I decided I throw something together.

Going about creating it

To get the 2010 breakdown, I converted the class written for the app from Objective-C to PHP.  This was pretty trivial and helped me refamiliarise myself  with the current tax system.  It also gave me a chance to look at updating the calculator for the 2011 budget.

Rather than flood people with options all the options of the app, I decided just to give two choices for personal circumstances – single and married with 1 income.    The only tax relief I was interested in were rent, union subs (because these two were going completely) and pension (because of the large changes).

A trivial form, some if loops and and ignoring user input validation I had a crude calculator knocked together that made some sweeping assumptions about the changes in the upcoming budget.

Initially, I was only concentrating on how much worse off you’d be in 2011.  Based on some feedback from twitter, I changed things so it included some of the extra charges (increased registration fees and the site tax) as well as predicting the pain over the next 4 years.

To make things work, I had to do a bit of hand waving and educated guesses.  The press conference was light on actual details and none of the article in the paper were much help.  The Times supplement gave me the most information but I still had to make plenty of assumptions.

My assumptions

  • PRSI, income levy and tax rate (i.e. the 20% and 41% rates) stay the same for the 4 years
  • Rent and union sub relief is completely removed in the 2011 budget
  • Tax credits (i.e. how much you earn tax free) drops by 66% in 2011, 14% in 2012, 10% in 2013, 10% in 2014
  • The cutoff point (i.e. above which you pay 41%) drops a total of €6000 in increments 66% in 2011, 14% in 2012, 10% in 2013, 10% in 2014 (this was the only way I could figure out how someone on €55K would drop by €1860 by 2014)
  • The drops in credits and cutoff are based on how much the government plans to get from the changes in income tax over the next few years
  • If you’re married, you’ve only 1 income
  • College ‘registration’ fees will not rise again
  • Site tax does not rise in 2013 or 2014

Lessons Learned

1. A surprising number of people will enter a number with a comma (e.g. 25,000 as opposed to 25000).  Since I was expecting an integer and the string was URLencoded this resulted in no net change for the user as the gross was interpreted as 0.  A lot of people were confused by that so it was the first fix.  I’m guessing it’s because the number involved pay and people are used to seeing the number with a comma.

2. Just because it’s a throwaway site doesn’t mean people won’t check if the HTML validates.  When people said this to me at first I thought they meant validating inputs.  It didn’t take much to sort out (the damned tweet and share buttons were the most awkward fixes).  Next time I’ll be validating before showing it to anyone.

3. People on the internets are lovely.  I don’t do prettty, I make things work.  Hence the site was black and white with a plain old H3 tag and some centering.  A couple of hours after it started spreading around, I got an offer for some CSS from Stephanie Francis, which I jumped on.  Now the site looks like some care and attention was poured on it!

4. People need examples.  There was much confusion over why someone on €500K was no worse off than someone on €50K.  People seems to miss out on the fact that higher earners are being hit by reducing the tax efficiencies they can use for tax avoidance.  So the change in the pension relief will hit them hard.

5. People don’t read credits but those credited with the work are happy to point out the right person.  A couple of people who saw the link on twitter asked the person sharing it if the site was accurate or why they had a problem.  The asker was quickly put right and directed to me.  Which was nice.

6. Simple pages that are just a web form are now web apps.  It goes to show how much the concept of apps has taken hold that people don’t see a difference between a single serving site and an app for a phone.

What next?

Well once the budget is out on the 7th of December I’ll be able to update the details for at least 2011 and possible the following 3 years.  This will obviously make the figures more accurate (and probably more depressing).  They’ll still be a little off for some people as I won’t be including every relief and benefit, but they should be a good indication.

I’ll also be able to include things like changes to child benefit and other social welfare payments.  This should bring home how much the average family will be hit over the next few years.