The property dilemma -- to sit tight or cut your losses?
It's a dilemma hitting thousands -- especially young couples living in apartments. What do they do -- sell now or hold on?
Many of them were frightened on to the bottom rung of the property ladder and now find themselves in a home which is too small for their needs.
They are asking themselves if they should take the hit on negative equity, and buy a house which can accommodate a growing family.
And even if they do, where will they get the money to buy another property?
A few years ago, many had held on in the hope of a soft landing, but now are wondering whether they should bite the bullet and jump.
Already price falls of 40pc to 50pc have made family houses much more affordable.
However, many couples who sell an apartment that they bought in the boom could find that the sale price is far less than the amount they owe to the bank.
Banks are slow to allow them to sell, trade up and carry over the negative equity.
However, with the ESRI predicting further price falls, and with apartments falling more sharply than houses, the longer a family delays the less return they are likely to achieve from the sale.
Furthermore, NAMA has about 8,000 homes around the country, including about 6,000 apartments, which it may offload at some stage.
While it has promised to hold on to about 6,000 of these for renting out, it has already been selling some of them, including apartments.
This makes the market even more challenging for private homeowners who want to sell.
NAMA will also make the market even more difficult for private sellers when it brings in the price guarantee. This will guarantee that buyers of NAMA properties will effectively get some of their money back if house prices are lower after five years.
How can private home sellers compete with such a guarantee?
Recently two citizens, Paddy Monaghan and Basil Good, put proposals to Government suggesting that such a guarantee should be available to all buyers.
The Government, the banks and the vendors would share the cost and risk of such a guarantee.
Such a deal would make it easier to compete with NAMA.
But the market may become even more difficult after the Budget as sellers may also have to compete with investors trying to offload rental properties.
Investors who bought in the boom are not alone in suffering negative equity but are also being lumbered with increased taxes and higher charges for a range of services.
In addition, the Government is expected to cut back on the rent it will pay landlords who accommodate social-welfare tenants.
At the same time, it will introduce a new household charge as well as other charges which the management companies in apartment complexes will have to pass on to apartment owners.
Buyers are also facing difficulties getting mortgage approval.
On the bright side, interest rates are on the way down.
So, for those who have saved a sizeable 10pc-plus deposit, the cost of a mortgage has fallen.
Falling house prices together with low-interest rates have meant that the cost of housing is now reckoned to be at its lowest level for more than 11 years.
Now an average first-time buyer working couple need devote only 12.4pc of their joint income towards paying an average mortgage.
Next month they will find it easier still, at only 12.1pc, according to the latest EBS / DKM Affordability Index.
In 2006, at the peak of the market it would have cost them more than double that -- or 26.4pc of their income.
Those buying in Dublin are benefiting from an even greater improvement in buying power as the amount such a couple need to devote has fallen from 32.5pc to only 14.7pc of their joint income.
Today's Allsop Space auction will provide a good gauge of house price trends.
For the third time they are selling properties in developments where they sold earlier this year, and it will be interesting to see how the prices compare.
They have already dropped their guide price for two-bedroom apartments in Castleforbes Square in Dublin's north docklands.
In April, four of these sold for between €161,000 and €190,000. In the July auction, two of them sold for €145,000 and €148,000.
Today they dropped their guide by €5,000 to €135,000.
When launched at the peak of the market these two-bedroom flats were selling for almost three times Allsop levels, with prices in 2005 starting at €370,000. So they have fallen by 60pc.
This is a sharper drop than the 55pc fall which ESRI is forecasting from peak.
So the market may already be close to the bottom -- and there are some commentators who believe that some segments, such as apartments in the more sought-after areas of Dublin, might go lower than the bottom average -- but bounce back quicker.
So the future in the housing market is not all doom and gloom, and could yet look brighter -- if the banks give out more mortgages.
Report - Irish Independent