Friday 30 September 2016

How West Cork has transformed itself into a holiday home hotspot

West Cork has always drawn the international set to its wild and beautiful shores, but a cannier type of buyer has been snapping up property for the last 18 months. Fran Power reports.

Fran Power

Published 13/03/2016 | 02:30

St Finbarr’s oratory at Gougane Barra forest park in West Cork
St Finbarr’s oratory at Gougane Barra forest park in West Cork

West Cork is back in business, at least the business of holiday homes. While the latest CSO figures show Dublin's property prices plateauing at levels roughly 35pc below the peak 2007 prices, West Cork - Ireland's own Riviera - has seen growth of up to 27pc in some hotspots over the last year, according to Daft.ie.

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Who's buying? Principally retired couples from the UK and returning emigres, but you can't rule out the odd Hollywood star or millionaire rapper.

At the top end of the market, Kinsale-based auctioneer Michael Daniels deals mainly in period properties of €1m plus, many of which are sold privately. He has seen a number of musicians and Hollywood A-listers recently looking for a West Cork bolthole as a holiday home.

They could count as their neighbours honorary Corkonian and filmmaker David Puttnam who has a house on the Ilen river, actor Jeremy Irons who owns a number of properties including Kilcoe Castle, and Bandon boy Graham Norton who spends the summers at his house at Ahakista.

Daniels believes that "West Cork has always been popular with the international set and remains highly sought-after. It's always been a dream location. They're coming for the scenery, the restaurants and the towns. And there's a lot of impulse purchases at the middle level."

The epicentre for the holiday market is from Clonakilty west to Bantry, along the coast by the villages of Rosscarbery, Leap, Glandore, Union Hall, Castletownshend, Baltimore, Ballydehob and Schull, with the busy town of Skibbereen at its centre. Further afield, the villages of Crookhaven, Goleen, Durrus and Ahakista are gaining in popularity.

Scenery is one lure, but broadband offers the possibility of a different work-life balance. "We're getting a lot of people now working more and more from home. They can do three or four days at home and the rest of the week in London," says Clonakilty-based Ray O'Neill of Sherry FitzGerald O'Neill.

These red-eye commuters are no doubt looking forward to the opening next month of the Ludgate Hub, a local not-for-profit initiative that brings high-speed digital connectivity to Skibbereen. Spearheaded by a team of high-powered business folk such as Sean O'Driscoll, CEO of Glen Dimplex, Dee Forbes of Discovery Networks and Ronan Harris, head of Google Ireland, all of whom have part-time or full-time homes in the area, the Hub offers options from one-day hot desks to longer term office rentals with conference rooms, green screen room, and that all-important high-speed broadband.

Says serial entrepreneur and IT expert Leonard Donnelly, who is also involved, "The combination of the dedicated and internationally active Ludgate team, a state-of-the-art digital hub and an entire town being fibred up for 1 gig connectivity would seem to have ignited a boom in Skibbereen and West Cork in general."

Most of the residents and new businesses, says Donnelly, are a combination of returning emigrants with exceptional careers under their belts and new digital start-ups - lots of which appear to be relocations from the UK, North America and EU and in the two to six employees range.

Local agent Charlie McCarthy of Charles McCarthy Estate Agents, a veteran with 50 years' experience in the industry, pinpoints buyers as coming "from a line south of Manchester, either for holiday homes or for homes with a view to retirement or to moving over here permanently after retirement."

Skibbereen-based agent Pat Maguire sees a similar pattern. "One third of what we're selling is mainly to couples in their 50s who have sold a business or property in the UK and are coming here for value in sterling and the sense of community that West Cork offers. And many of the UK buyers are English without any connection to Ireland. They live here full time.

"We've also noticed English buyers who have been living in France coming to West Cork. Partly it's the economics of it - you can now buy in West Cork cheaper than in the UK, and some have found the French dream not as solid as they thought."

It's a two-tier market with the bulk of sales happening between €200,000 and €500,000 and a slower flow of sales at €1m or more.

"There's a lot of movement," says Pat Maguire who sees many UK buyers "interested in properties of €200,000 to €250,000 upwards. They are particularly strong in the market between €250,000 to €350,000 up to €2m along the coast. The larger sales tend to be to UK buyers and they are all cash buyers."

Despite the potential impact of Brexit, prices are reasonably firm. "We've noticed a dip in the last month," admits Maguire, "but we think it's temporary and more of a pause because a lot of buyers are coming for lifestyle reasons."

"I noticed a trend for continued growth 18 months ago," continues Maguire, "when we hit the bottom and there were an extraordinary number of houses for sale. Suddenly confidence came back into the market."

According to Charles McCarthy, who along with Savills, handled the recent sale of Glebe House, a large Georgian house on nine acres, the market is up. "Sales are on a par with last year and last year was excellent. In 2014, we sold over a 100 properties and over 60pc of those were to buyers from Britain."

"There was a recession," says Ray O'Neill. "Buyers got very scarce but we're out of that. For the American and British people coming into Ireland for the last two years, they've benefited from the currency rates and have taken advantage of it."

What is the ideal property? "It's within 10km of the coast, has privacy, access to towns and villages and is on the waterfront," says Daniels.

Currently on the market and fitting the bill, for example, is the estate of Liss Ard, a Victorian mansion with 163 acres including a lake, at €7.5m with Charles McCarthy and Sherry FitzGerald Country. The beautifully restored Creagh Glebe sits on the river Ilen's "golden mile" between Skibbereen and Baltimore, is also on the market at €1.525m with Sherry FitzGerald. "It's attracting a lot of interest from abroad," says O'Neill.

He also handled last year's sale of Maureen O'Hara's former bolthole Lugdine, on 45 acres for around €1.8m.

However, the profile of the West Cork house buyer is beginning to shift, McCarthy says, because of low interest rates on deposit. "Last year we had a very good year again - 30pc of our sales were from Britain, but a lot of buyers from Ireland were investing in property here too."

He cites the example of a three-bed house in Baltimore on the market for €365,000 that would bring in €1,000 a week rental in the high season.

"There is literally no supply of rental properties," Maguire points out. "Buyers are picking up on that; you are virtually guaranteed €600 a month and there's the likelihood of capital appreciation as well."

Only the upper end of the market, at prices between €1m and €3m, under-performed last year, says Daniels. "There would certainly appear to be more buyers making enquiries and looking to buy here than in previous years."

But he adds: "On the hard evidence of viewing levels and registered sales, this activity has not been translated."

The biggest problem facing the market, say the agents, is supply. "But with the holiday home market there's always people coming and going," says O'Neill.

He describes a typical scenario of a newly retired 50-something couple who decide to move to West Cork.

"They buy and as sure as night follows day, the children will have grandchildren and the grandparents suddenly feel that they're maybe in the wrong place and you'll find that some will consider selling again."

Sunday Independent

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