Thursday 25 December 2014

Couple want to swap county life for city living

Want to house swap with a couple eager to exchange their country life for a city pad?

Gabrielle Monaghan

Published 20/06/2014 | 02:30

Connie and Paul Copage at home in Portumna
The kitchen in Portumna
The Coppages' Portumna house
The lounge in the Portumna property.

Twelve years ago, Connie and Paul Copage designed and built the home of their dreams near Portumna, Co Galway, where the river Shannon meets the picturesque Lough Derg. Now that all three of their grown-up sons have left home, the five-bedroom dormer house feels far too large for their needs.

"When we built the house, we thought we'd be here for ever," 53-year-old Connie said. "But now, so many of the rooms are not being used, though we still have to keep the whole house heated.

"The house sits on half an acre and there is a freshwater stream running through the grounds. It's a house we'd love to literally pick up and move to Dublin."

This may be a physical impossibility but the couple are striving for what they perceive as the next best thing – permanently swapping the home they lovingly christened Willow Brook House for a property of similar value in the capital. The Copages, who are entrepreneurs, want to move to Dublin to help one of their sons grow his new media production business.

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"We're trying to find a family in Dublin who want a larger property in the countryside," Connie said. "We had initially planned to sell our own property and rent temporarily in Dublin, but that would tie us into a lease for a period of time and we would have to pay for furniture storage until we bought a home of our own. If you swapped homes, we wouldn't have those considerations."

The concept of temporarily swapping homes with someone else for the purpose of a cheap yet exotic holiday has been around for decades. It was given the Hollywood treatment in 2006, when Cameron Diaz's character in 'The Holiday' traded her California mansion for Kate Winslet's quaint cottage in England for Christmas. Romance ensues for both characters in their transatlantic adventures – naturally.

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Exchanging homes on a permanent basis is a whole lot less glamorous, but it has become a niche method for Irish property owners seeking to unshackle themselves from a home when they immediately need to upgrade, downsize or relocate. It's a tempting option for cash-strapped families who need to live near grandparents willing to babysit or for those eager to escape the city rat-race by moving to a larger home in the country.

It is particularly appealing for homeowners struggling to sell a property outside Dublin. While house prices in the capital surged by almost 18pc in April from a year earlier, they rose by just 1.3pc in the rest of the country.

Even if owners of property in low-demand areas secure a buyer and find a new home, they may find themselves ineligible for a new mortgage amid the banks' stricter lending criteria. Home loans fell by 3.1pc during the year to April, and property agency Savills has estimated that cash buyers accounted for 57pc of all home purchases in the first six months of last year.

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The Copages' Portumna home has been on the market for more than a year, with a price tag of €365,000, to no avail.

"When a home is priced over a certain threshold in a rural area, it's harder to sell than the less expensive properties," Connie said. "An auctioneer told us he believed a house swap made more sense."

House swaps are essentially the same as traditional transactions, albeit without the need for bridging finance or for moving into rental accommodation while shopping around for a new property after selling a home. Both sides of a swap transaction typically close simultaneously, eliminating the risk of being saddled with two mortgages at once. However, experts recommend not swapping with someone who owes more money on their house than what it is worth, because they could have a tough time getting financing.

Because there are only two parties involved in the transaction from the outset, house swappers don't need to vacate their home when potential buyers come knocking. They don't have to constantly tidy up at the last minute, or brew coffee and bake bread to make the home smell nice, since there are no strangers nosing around their kitchen. And it's unlikely you will be gazumped when you find your house swap partner because there are no cash buyers waiting in the wings to outbid you.

House swapping was momentarily popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when only the homeowner who was trading up had to pay stamp duty, and only then on the price difference between the houses swapped. The practice slid into obscurity, however, after the Revenue Commission- ers clamped down on it, concerned they were missing out on crucial stamp duty earnings.

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Nowadays, both parties have to sell their respective houses to each other, thereby attracting stamp duty in each case, according to Harry Sothern, a Carlow-based estate agent who facilitated house swaps in the county in 2009 and 2010 after some of his listings failed to sell the conventional way.

However, Sothern believes few auctioneers are interested in enabling house swaps because they rarely make a commission from what he views as a complicated transaction.

"If someone in Carlow is looking to swap with someone in Galway, I won't know the value of homes in Galway," he said. "It could be a tool for very rural areas that are not benefiting from the property recovery in Dublin. But it's very difficult to put people together."

Neil Sweeney has discovered this for himself. He and wife Nichola thought swapping homes would be an "easy and affordable" method of relocating from the three-bedroom home they own outright in Kentstown, Co Meath, to Ashbourne, where their parents live, especially since they had found a family willing to consider the switch.

The Sweeneys bought in the village in 2007. Nichola has to commute from Kentstown to Dublin for work every morning and collect their two children from two separate schools in Meath in the afternoon. Her husband Neil works in Swords.

"We are really just sleeping in Kentstown," he said. "If we were living in Ashbourne, we wouldn't need a child minder and would spend less on petrol."

The couple explored selling their home outright and bid for four separate homes in Ashbourne. Neil says all bids were rejected because the property developer was in receivership and estate agents told him the banks were "sitting on these properties" until prices rose further. The Ashbourne family willing to swap homes with the Sweeneys is still working out the details with their bank.

"I love where we live, but it would be great to lift the house out of the ground and move it to Ashbourne," Neil said. "I'm sure there are thousands of other people who would also love to swap homes. But there is very little information on it out there."

Websites such as Gumtree, Daft and DoneDeal have hundreds of listings between them from homeowners keen to trade homes.

Unlike the UK and American market, though, there is no single Irish website devoted to matching properties to would-be house-swappers.

To contact the Copages about swapping your Dublin home with their Portumna house, click on http://www.cogalwayproperty.com/

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