) -- Ireland's housing bust makes America's real estate downturn look like a St. Patrick's Day parade -- potentially creating great buying opportunities for Americans willing to test the country's real estate sector.
"For the brave and romantic who plan to live their Irish dream, there are pockets of the market where it might be worth buying," says Donal Buckley, deputy properties editor at the Dublin-based
newspaper. "Uncertainty about the euro currency, the economy and taxation make it difficult to advise investors."
|The Russians are already rushing in, and real estate firm Savills Ireland says it's 'an excellent time to buy Irish property.'
The Emerald Isle's real estate prices have certainly tumbled since Ireland's hyperinflated property market peaked around 2006.
Official government statistics show housing prices have fallen around 47% since then. But market watchers say big "trophy homes" built during the boom -- basically the Irish version of America's McMansions -- have lost as much as 80% of their value.
Whether prices will fall even more is the big question.
Buckley thinks prices are "close to bottom in some pockets of the market, especially family houses in sought-after suburban areas of the major cities [such as] Dublin and Cork.
"However, apartments and [vacation] homes need to be approached with care -- especially in areas affected by emigration, [layoffs] and crime -- and in provincial towns," he says.
But Joan Henry of Irish real estate firm
is more optimistic, saying it's "an excellent time to buy Irish property. All categories of housing have dropped in price by at least 55%."
Russian buyers are making some well-publicized moves into the market, while Ronan McMahon of property-investment site
says many U.S. nationals are checking out Ireland as well.
"Americans generally like [Ireland's] old historic homes," says McMahon, who lives in Ireland himself. "Quite a few American celebrities discreetly have homes [here]. Now that prices are falling, more Americans -- mostly with Irish ancestry -- are looking."