The Housing Agency has said it plans to buy vacant houses in "larger portfolios" from banks and investment companies and sell them to local authorities for social housing.

It hopes to buy 1,600 over the next four years, 400 a year, sell them to local authorities at cost and then use the money to continue buying more properties. 

The state agency has been given a budget of €70m to carry out the plan.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Keelin Shanley, the agency's Chief Executive John O'Connor said that typically a bank would have appointed a receiver to properties spread across an area and the agency proposes buying these properties together.

He said the the Housing Agency would only buy empty properties that had formerly been used as rentals.

He said the target is to buy 1,600 houses over the next few years, 400 a year, sell them to local authorities at cost and then use the money to continue buying more properties.

He added that the average price of property around the country would be €140,000 to €150,000 but that could rise to over €300,000 in Dublin.

Speaking to RTÉ News he said negotiations are already underway and it expects the first homes to be occupied by next month and a total of 200 to be acquired by the end of this year.

The agency said it will target mainly large property portfolios such as buy-to-lets held by companies so not to disrupt the normal market.

They will also work with local authorities to find out what demand is like in their areas.

But the body representing auctioneers and valuers says the process will not be straightforward

Pat Devitt, Chief Executive of the Institute of Professional Auctioneers and Valuers said it takes an average of 22 weeks to sell a home and as this was effectively a double transaction, with sales to the agency and to local authorities, it would take time.

The Housing Agency's ability to deliver on these homes will be the first real test of the Governments action plan on housing which was announced last month.

In May, the agency reported that there were almost 250,000 empty houses around Ireland.