Home Economics: Communal garden development rights
Answering your property questions
I've recently bought a duplex which has a communal garden. I am quite green-fingered and would love to plant shrubbery, herbs and perhaps build a small patio.
It will enhance the property's value. Do I need permission from my neighbour (who rents) or the management company? What are my chances of getting her to share the costs?
Sinead replies: I'm not certain it's your garden to plant to be honest. In many mixed-use estates, where apartments and duplexes dominate, the green spaces are for all to share and maintenance of them is generally included in your annual fees. There may be steps down to a patch of grass from your door, but such areas are generally meant for everybody's use, even if an unspoken protocol exists whereby owners don't trespass on others' lawns.
Management companies generally don't approve of individual owners/renters making significant changes such as, say, installing a washing line, or different style windows, or painting the unit a different colour to its neighbours. Unless the garden is specifically fenced or walled off, and ownership of it is clearly stated in your deeds, I would think your chances of being allowed do as you wish are slim. However, by all means take it up with the management company (or use the opportunity of the AGM to outline what planting you'd like to see in the development, perhaps) before you spend any money. It follows that your upstairs neighbour has no compulsion to contribute to the cost.
Question: We sold our house a couple of months ago to a couple who were having difficulty selling their own. They paid us a deposit of €10,000 and are now in a position to complete the sale. The thing is, we have since had a much higher offer from a friend of my brother who was visiting recently and loves the place. I know it's bad form to renege but is it illegal?
Sinead replies: What you're describing is gazumping and yes, it's frowned upon for the obvious reason that you have made a commitment to one party, in good faith and now want to change your mind. It is unethical as far as I'm concerned, but you asked me whether it was illegal and it is not.
Susan Cosgrove of Cosgrove Gaynard Solicitors agrees it is "unsavoury" to gazump but adds whether or not you can actually withdraw from the promised sale in the way you describe, hangs on where you are vis a vis the deposit.
"It depends on where you are in the conveyancing process. If you have just been paid a booking deposit and both sides have not yet signed contracts, then a binding contract is not in place and either party will be entitled to withdraw from the sale and the deposit is returned to the purchasers in full.
"If, however, you have a binding contract in place, you will not be entitled to withdraw. If you choose to do so, the prospective buyers can take a number of courses of action, one being specific performance proceedings to enforce the contract and close the sale".
The Ryan Review
One of the things I don't get to write about much even though I spend my week talking to estate agents and developers are the gossipy tit-bits about where they think the property market is heading. There are as many views as there are people and nobody has a handle on the complete state of play in this ever-changing segment of the economy, so any definitive opinion would be pointless.
However, one thing is certain – caution abounds, even where new builds are being constructed. They're definitely on the increase – almost every county can now boast at least a cluster of houses built, or remodelled, or taken off receivers' hands and "re-launched" with a lick of paint and some landscaping.
But they are being launched slowly and carefully, sometimes in many phases with only a few units being sold each time; it's not so much to tempt the public with increasing prices next time round, but a nod to the reality that many developers simply don't have the cash upfront to put into a whole estate of 20, 30 or more houses. So building and selling as you go makes complete sense. I've seen developments currently in their fifth or sixth phase, with perhaps only seven or eight properties on sale each time round.
For the unlucky buyer who misses out there'll be another one along but it's worthwhile registering interest at an early stage, even if your own paperwork and mortgage hasn't been sorted. Developers, keeping an eye on market movements, are less price sensitive and more likely to act on demand before getting the trowel and shovel out. You can't blame them.