Help! Have I left it too late to buy a house?
Dublin house prices are up 18pc, Chrissie Russell fears she may have missed her chance
As I joined the hordes of weary, would-be-buyers at yet another Saturday morning house-viewing, it occurred to me that Dante forgot a Circle of Hell during his descent into the Inferno – the Hell of House Hunting.
A first-time buyer, I was completely unprepared for the frenzied, frustrating, panic-filled experience that trying to find a new home in Dublin has turned out to be.
For years, I've binged on episodes of TV shows such as Location, Location, Location and lapped up series such as Homes Under The Hammer, Beat My Build and Selling Houses With Amanda Lamb. I felt I'd learned all I needed to know about managing expectations, seeing through décor and the canny bidding involved in the viewing process. Foolishly, I believed the experience might be fun.
How wrong I was – it's a house-hunting Hunger Games out there.
Last month alone, prices in Dublin rose by 3.1pc, almost double the national increase and, according to new statistics from the CSO, they've gone up by 18pc since last year.
Demand has rocketed but supply is at an all-time low. The recent quarterly report from Daft.ie reveals that there are fewer than 800 properties coming on to the Dublin market each month and less than 2,300 homes listed for sale – the lowest since June 2006.
"In a city of roughly half a million households, this translates to just 2pc for sale," says Daft.ie economist Ronan Lyons. "A healthy market would see at least three times that number coming to the market each year, and perhaps as much as six times."
At the same time, there are more people looking. The numbers attending house viewings are up 84pc, while the Housing Market Monitor reports almost a 30pc increase in mortgage approvals with 74pc of potential buyers wanting to own their own home by the end of the year – my husband and I included.
When we first started casually browsing property websites last year, there seemed so many potential homes to suit our budget. But our mortgage process took longer than expected – due to vast rainforests of paperwork filed because of my self-employed status, my husband's property ownership in the North and both of us having money in accounts on both sides of the border. By the time our affairs were in order and our asses in gear, prices had begun to creep disconcertingly upwards.
Over the past three or four months, we've viewed around 20 properties. I've lost count of how many times I've hissed 'there was one just like this on the market last year for 40 grand less' at my glum-faced husband as we plod round a viewing, or glared with ill-disguised loathing at the cash buyer/trading down older couples we come up against.
Houses that we had discounted a few months ago as 'too small', 'too far out' or 'would need a lot of work' now seem appealing but, alas, too late. Properties that we had seen listed on websites at €295,000 mere weeks ago have vanished, only to reappear at €350,000.
We saw a two-bed, end-of-terrace house in Ballinteer on at €320,000, only to learn days later that the most recent bid was €387,000.
Increasingly, we're not even getting through the door to view prospective properties.
A typical phone call last week went like this.
Estate agent: "Hi, you'd emailed about viewing the two-bed apartment in Rathmines."
Me: (wracking brain to recall which of the 25 emails she's referring to) "Yes, what was it on at again?"
Estate agent: "It's on at €335,000, but we have an offer at €380."
Me: "Ah. Well I'll leave the viewing then so."
For the past five weeks (it feels longer), we've been bidding on a three-bed property in Dublin 3 – so far we're 50k above the asking price and still in contention with two other bidders.
It's not even that we're being particularly picky. Yes, we are looking in some 'hotspots' such as D6 and D14 and, like 45pc of Dublin househunters, we're keen on a two/three-bed home.
We've taken on board what An Bord Pleanala chair Dr Mary Kelly said last week, and accepted a three-bed semi might be a pipe-dream. We're looking at flats, duplexes ... at this point, I'd consider a well-appointed yurt.
Our epic list of 'must haves' has been whittled away to the size of a postage stamp. We've halved the amount of floor space we'd hoped for and, thanks to help from family, added a sizable chunk to what we're willing to pay – but we're still drawing a blank.
All the time there's the ticking time bomb of knowing that mortgage approval will last a finite amount of time (between three and six months depending on provider) and the fear that prices will continue to rise.
A recent survey by Ignite Research revealed that two out of five people currently looking to buy a home feared that if they didn't do it now, they'd never get on the ladder.
Most of those searching in Dublin expect prices to go up another 20pc in the next five years. The result is the sweaty, blood-pressure raising, panic buying we're seeing on the Dublin property market that is unlike I've anything I've ever encountered – and that includes last-minute Christmas shopping.
Making a dispiriting process even less fun is that house prices and numbers of house hunters aren't the only things on the rise.
Like most first-time buyers (79pc), we're living in rented accommodation and like two fifths of those renting, we've seen our rent rise in the past six months – we're paying an extra €100 a month.
On one hand, we're being squeezed financially to move out of our accommodation. But, with limited options on where to go and prices rising beyond our means, it's hard to know what else to do.
Sadly, like many Dublin house-hunters out there, it feels the only brick wall I'm fully in possession of at the moment is the metaphorical one I'm banging my head off.