The negative relationship between property investment and entrepreneurship is not immediately obvious. However, the recent property booms in Ireland and the U.K. (amongst others) helps to demonstrate this relationship. In recent years, both countries have experienced phenomenal growth in house prices. That is, until everything came grinding to a halt at the end of last year. [1]

The net effect of this boom has been one where the incentive to become truly entrepreneurial was significantly reduced – why try and create a new product or service if there was a guaranteed high return from property development? Similarly, from an investment point of view, why consider any other investment opportunity if there was a perceived guaranteed high return from property development?

In Ireland, the short-term results of the boom were a huge increase in people ‘getting into property’ and in the U.K. every second TV show on Channel 4 seemed to focus on property, e.g. Location Location Location, Property Ladder, A Place in the Sun and Grand Designs. Now all manner of problems are coming home to roost as the market collapses and the scale of consumer debt is becoming obvious. [2]

The Irish Government was happy to continue to fuel the boom, rezoning land for development, and cosying up to property developers [3], given how the huge property related taxes were contributing to their coffers. As David McWilliams, a leading Irish economist points out, a national focus on property is damaging as a ‘country which experiences a property boom turns in on itself. The reason for this is very simple, property cannot be traded. Bricks and mortar are tied to the land and the land is fixed and can’t be exported. Therefore, the discipline of international competition is lost.’

I would go further than this, it also destroys enterprise – there have been countless examples of successful businesses in Ireland shutting down because there is a greater return to be had from selling the property for redevelopment than continuing the business as a going concern. [4]

As someone passionate about entrepreneurship however, I take the view that every cloud has a silver lining, and that the property collapse could prove to be an excellent stimulus for entrepreneurship.

As Michael O’Leary, M.D of low cost European airline Ryanair recently claimed, “I love recessions,” he says. “Recessions are much more fun. Good times are a pain in the bum. Good times, any idiot can make money. In recessions, the good get up off their backsides and start doing the kind of sensible things that they should do all of the time. It’s good for business”. [5]

Now that ‘property development’ is no longer a safe bet, and the Irish and U.K Governments realise that the boom is over, it is likely that entrepreneurship, in its purist form, should take off once again. Those who stretched themselves with high mortgages will face stark options: sell up at a loss, or try to make ends meet. For some, second jobbing will be their only option and this will also help to fuel the passions of entrepreneurship in people. It is also hoped that the respective Governments will play their role, after all their taxation policies and planning policies have helped to fuel the boom in the first place.

Alan Gleeson
Palo Alto Software

[1] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/7445864.stm

[2] http://www.grant-thornton.co.uk/press_room/amount_of_uk_consumer_debt_exc.aspx

[3] http://www.independent.ie/national-news/bertie-makes-his-own-pitch-for-the-banished-galway-races-tent-1393773.html

[4] http://www.rte.ie/news/2008/0523/mcnamarab.html

[5] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/7438315.stm

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Alan Gleeson
Alan Gleeson

Alan Gleeson is the General Manager of Palo Alto Software UK, makers of LivePlan and Business Plan Pro. You can follow him on Google+.