Ex-pats boost west revival
More than 2,000 house hunters, many of them young ex-pat casualties of the crash which flung them to the four corners of the globe in search of a job, logged on last week to bid on properties in the west.
As property prices outside the capital have risen significantly, according to latest figures Galway city and its Atlantic coast hinterland has seen some of the largest increases.
Property auctions have seen thousands of hopeful punters vie for much sought-after homes in the city centre.
One auctioneer alone who has held auctions in the city over the past year-and-a-half has seen the sale of 400 properties across the west totalling €64m.
Colm O'Donnellan, of O'Donnellan and Joyce Auctioneers, says a large amount of interest in west of Ireland properties is coming from young Irish emigrants currently living overseas.
More than 2,000 people watched the latest auction, which took place this week, online.
"We have huge interest from young Irish living overseas, in places like Boston, Dubai and Australia. And many are placing bids. They are making good money and they see the value still available on houses here. I'd say more than 10pc of our auction buyers are young Irish living abroad," he added.
But while the market is enjoying a rise, the high-cost homes have not made the same comeback to anywhere near boom-time prices.
"If we had a property for sale at €1m, we wouldn't put that to auction. We would try for private sales. Investment apartments or houses for around the €200,000 to €250,000 mark is where the demand is," he added.
But while Galway city is booming, rural areas have not yet been reached by the rising tide.
Mr O'Donnellan described the "phenomenal difference" in demand, with homes in rural areas still going for a song.
He recently sold a three-bed detached house outside Westport for just €41,000 and a three-bed semi in Ballymahon, Co Longford, for €47,000.
Yet a four-bed house near the NUI Galway campus in Newcastle went for €382,000, more than €100,000 over the reserve price.
"If these houses were in Galway city they would be going for at least €200,000. There is still a huge disparity between the urban centre and rural areas. People are looking for family homes or investment properties in Galway city. When we have a home in the popular residential areas of Galway, like Salthill, Knocknacarra, Oranmore or Renmore, we will have five or six bidders going for them," he added.
One of the reasons people are flocking to Galway is the booming technology and medical devices industries.
The county has a large range of multinationals, research centres and tech start-ups, employing over 8,000 people, which is one-third of the country's medical device employees.
Frank Greene, president of the Galway Chamber of Commerce, said the knock-on effect of such multinationals and research centres was immense.
One area where that is clear is the Galway Technology Centre in Mervue. The innovation centre which was less than half-full back in 2012 is now at full capacity.
"These are all young companies and we have queues of people looking for the space. It has been remarkable and it's a very good barometer for the entire local economy," said Mr Greene. The chamber is now involved in opening a city innovation centre in Eyre Square to entice more technology start-ups to the city.
Bank of Ireland also this week launched the StartLab, offering emerging technology start-ups an intensive programme to grow rapidly. It will see up to 20 new companies a year offered dedicated workspace, an education programme and support to tech start-ups, providing them with access to experts in their fields and mentorship.
A major hurdle affecting growth in Galway has always been the traffic and concerns about public transport. While 85pc of the population live in the west of the city, the vast majority of industry lies on the east. Despite this, all bus routes currently go into the city centre instead of using more direct routes, including over the Quincentenary bridge.
Mr Greene says businesses are confident the road infrastructure is finally being addressed through the bypass plans and a public transport review. He warned the key challenge now was the lack of advanced factories.
"Multinational companies don't want to wait around for planning permission and building, they want a building that is already ready to go. The IDA is looking at this in other areas and we feel this is something Galway would really benefit from," he added.