Detached family homes by the riverside in Ballina
The Bourke family have expanded beyond their Mayo base and are busy in Dublin and London, writes Liadan Hynes
'When the recession came, it was like turning off a light switch," recalls Joseph Bourke of Bourke Builders, who brings five new four-bed detached homes, approximately 185 sqm, from €245,000, to the market this weekend as the final phase of their development The Glebe, Church Road, Ballina.
The family construction company, which was originally established by Joseph's father Patrick in 1960 and is now run by Joseph with his sister Emer and brother Brian, originated in their home town of Ballina, Co Mayo, but now extends all over the country and beyond, with Joseph spending a sizeable portion of his week in London.
Pre-recession, they were building up to 70 houses a year, selling one, if not two, every Friday. When the recession hit, this side of the business essentially ground to a halt in late 2008.
"When the market stopped, we just stopped," recalls Joseph. They were saved from going under by two things. Bourke Builders had always built on demand, so instead of potentially over-extending themselves by building large numbers of units, they built almost to order, never more than two or three at a time. "We wouldn't go very far until they were sold," explains Joseph. The sites were all paid for years ago, says Joseph, adding: "We weren't exposed."
It also helped that residential development was only one side of the business; their general contracting - schools, hospitals, other government contracts and commercial work - kept them ticking over. As did a marketing campaign embarked upon by Joseph, he recounts. "A fancy word for knocking on doors," he says, describing how he went to the offices of architects and quantity surveyors around Dublin, chasing work. "Setting out your stall," as he puts it.
So successful was his effort that now nearly all their work is in Dublin, made up of repeat business with these clients. To future-proof further against what the company sees as the inevitability of more recessions, Bourke Builders "started banging on doors in London," says Joseph. They now enjoy a thriving business there, mostly in high-end fit-outs, such as the Giuseppe Zanotti Knightsbridge stores and the Hugo Boss shops. Work on converting a building in Brixton into high-end apartments is about to begin.
"We're not huge but there's so much going on." Conservation work is another strand of the business, Bourke Builders have worked on the McKee Barracks and the lower house in DIT's Grangegorman in Dublin.
They maintain a workshop in Ballina, where sash windows and other conservation items are restored for these projects.
Bourke Builders currently has three ongoing residential developments in Ballina: The Glebe (mid-market); Quignalecka (first-time buyers); and Belleek (high-end).
The country market has been far slower to recover than Dublin, says Joseph. Sales have been picking up in the last year, with three five-bed, detached homes selling in their nearby Belleek development, from €320,000 for approximately 218 sqm, and seven in Quignaclecka, four-bed semis and four- and five-bed detached, from 172 sqm, at between €180,000 and€260,000.
This week, Bourke Builders launch the last five units of The Glebe development. Four are already completed, including the show house, which has a fitted kitchen. Sitting on raised ground, with views out over the River Moy, the houses are sizeable detached properties in walking distance of the town centre. Work started just as the market disappeared, and building began under the old building regulations. Bourke Builders went back, dry-lined and replastered and added further insulation, bringing the properties up to a BER of B1.
Wide bay windows in the ground-floor living room allow for good views of the river. Double doors lead to a dining/kitchen room. There is a utility room with access to the back garden and a WC.
There is also a separate study or fifth bedroom on the ground floor. Upstairs, there are four bedrooms, including a master bedroom with en suite and walk-in wardrobe, and a main bathroom.
So far, Bourke Builders, who look after the sales of their Ballina houses themselves, have had enquiries from young couples trading up and from retired couples, some planning to move home from England. Joseph himself lives adjacent to the site, on Church Road in a house he built 10 years ago.
As well as several schools and commercial projects, there is a residential development of 26 houses to come in Celbridge, with work beginning in the next few weeks, which will sell through DNG. Again, with this development they will "build according to the pace of the sales," says Joseph.
It's a rather relentless schedule but one Joseph enjoys, saying: "It's just what you do. I don't really consider it work."
Price: Four-bed semi from €245,000
Viewing: By appointment
Agent: Bourke Builders (086) 251 9350