A FIFTY-FIVE-BEDROOM hotel overlooking the Donegal coastline stole the show at a cut-price property auction yesterday when it went under the hammer for just €650,000.
Paul Diver (46), who has managed the Sandhouse Hotel in Rossnowlagh for the last 20 years, jumped for joy when his reserve-price bid was accepted with surprisingly little competition.
Visibly shaken by his coup, he said afterwards that he wouldn't change a thing about the hotel, which he had been leasing. His purchase secured 50 local jobs.
"It's just a total adrenalin rush; I can't believe it. It's been a long, long road but we have made it," said the father of three from Donegal town.
"We have had it leased for the last two years and it's a brilliant day for the staff. Some have been there for over 50 years."
Mr Diver had been determined to save the hotel he has worked in for two decades and he snapped it up at the Allsop Space auction in Dublin's Shelbourne Hotel.
The 3.2-acre property, set against spectacular scenery, sold for the same price as a two-bedroom apartment in Stillorgan, Dublin at the height of the property bubble.
It had been on the market in 2008 through CB Richard Ellis, with anticipated offers of up to €6m.
Originally owned by the Britton family, the business went into liquidation with KPMG in 2009 but has been leased by Mr Diver ever since.
The purchase will be funded through the sale of 16 sites on the grounds, which have planning permission for apartments.
Mr Diver plans to market the hotel around the growing popularity of Donegal surfing. It is also well known for local weddings.
"The employees are all local and this is very important for the community," he said.
Staff planned to celebrate by cracking open champagne at the Irish Hotels Federation annual dinner dance in Donegal town last night.
Some €12.4m was spent on 93 properties yesterday, with around 2,000 people in attendance. The fourth auction of its kind, it was briefly interrupted by protesters shouting from the audience against the sale of repossessed homes.
However, the company running the event said it no longer viewed it as a "distressed" property auction, now that one-third of those on offer were from private owners.
The two lowest-priced properties to sell were a two-bed apartment in Letterkenny, which fetched €20,000, its reserve price, and a dilapidated two-bed house in Portlaoise, which reached €22,000, more than double its reserve of €10,000. While the auction is generally seen as an opportunity to snap up a bargain, not every buyer had lost sight of the current reality of the housing market.
"I bought two properties today but it's tough on people who have lost properties," said Fergal Gaughran, a Dublin-based investor.
He now intends to contact the previous owners of the two buildings that he bought yesterday, houses in Cabra and Finglas.
"I'm not trying to jump on anyone's grave. It's the least I can do," he said.
Mr Gaughran bought one property after the original buyer disappeared from the auction and the second after running in from the adjoining bar half -way through proceedings.
"Fortunately, there was a door there. If I'd had to go around, I wouldn't have made it in time," he said.