Sunday 24 September 2017

Meet Ireland's youngest property developer who worked from the bottom up to secure his first major project

Unique selling point: Renovated by a 21-year-old developer

Could Sebastian Connolly-Lax be Ireland's youngest property developer?
Could Sebastian Connolly-Lax be Ireland's youngest property developer?

When the majority of his 17-year-old friends were playing computer games and goofing around shopping centres, Sebastian Connolly-Lax was breaking a sweat labouring full-time in his school holidays, and part-time in the evenings on building sites, in Australia, in London and latterly in Ireland.

He was saving hard to pursue his life-long dream - to become a builder/developer.

The exterior of the apartment block
The exterior of the apartment block

Sebastian worked during every space of time he could make between his studies. And on leaving school, he took on a course in construction project management before moving from Sydney to continue his studies in London with an internship there.

And once again in the evenings and at the weekends, he worked and he saved. His recent jobs include time spent with a developer in London who specialised in acquiring rundown apartments and small properties and doing them up over weeks before 'flipping' them on again for a profit.

Sebastian, the developer
Sebastian, the developer

Sebastian, who has two Irish grandparents, has been visiting here since he was little. "I really fell in love with Ireland following a summer trip I made here when I was 17 to visit my cousin. I have been all over Dublin and around the country, and I don't think I could stay away if I wanted to."

Although building doesn't run in his family, he has an uncle based here who is in construction and an aunt who is an interior designer. Her skills in particular would prove invaluable to him on his most recent trip to Dublin.

Come dine with me: This D3 dining room is now bright and inviting
Come dine with me: This D3 dining room is now bright and inviting

By the time he hit 21 - the age when most Irish kids are still living at home, expecting to be handed a car by Mum and Dad and reliant on their parents to do so much for them, Sebastian's labours had earned him enough to secure a loan to purchase the property which was priced at €320,000.

And in March he decided the time was right to make his first big investment. Looking online from London, he spotted an opportunity across the Irish Sea in Dublin's Clontarf. Number 40 Dane's Court was a rundown first-floor two-bedroom apartment which had not been upgraded significantly since it was built in the 1960s.

Dining area
Dining area

"Despite the fact that it was tired and so very dated, the building was a concrete block structure, so I knew it was solid," he says.

The young Aussie had also spotted that this tired little apartment happened to come with some very special views looking out onto Dollymount Strand and to the sea.

Before Sebastian's renovation
Before Sebastian's renovation

So Sebastian flew into Dublin, got off the plane and went to an estate agent to view the apartment. He bought it for €255,000. Then with his good friend Dave, they got stuck into the work with12-hour days seven days a week for seven weeks.

In all Sebastian invested €60,000. "All the ceilings were stippled so they had to be pared back and reskimmed but the big, unexpected problem was the wallpaper. It was so old that it had actually bonded with the plaster and when we scraped off the wallpaper, the plaster came with it.

Kitchen with gloss cabinets
Kitchen with gloss cabinets

"The windows were original and they all had to be replaced with modern high-insulation versions. We tore up all the old smelly carpets and put in a new floor. We had to knock some internal walls, as we had a bedroom wardrobe space which was jutting into the kitchen area."

The bathroom was also beyond salvage, with displaced grout and a suite in 1970s mustard yellow.

At this point, the boys called in Sebastian's aunt Shirley O'Donohue of Shirley Interiors. "She took a good look around and came up with a really stylish and clean scheme and helped select the furniture and the carpets. Auntie Shirley was a really big help."

The work started on St Patrick's Day and finished last week, with Seb and Dave putting in "every waking minute" in the last few weeks.

And this weekend the apartment at Dane's Court goes to market through Sherry FitzGerald for €375,000 - a price which should earn a reasonable profit for Sebastian and his team.

The finished apartment can be offered furnished as is or unfurnished - buyers can make an offer for the whole package if they so wish. The accommodation includes a hall, off which is a white modern shower room with a WC, shower cubicle, a heated towel rail and the hot press.

The second bedroom is across the hall, and this is double- sized and carpeted. Next comes the entrance to the main living space, the open-plan kitchen and a dining area with a large picture window overlooking the beach and the sea. A contemporary mirrored fireplace is the focal point of this room.

Then there's the recently fitted kitchen in white with a tiled splashback and worktops.

The main bedroom is also double-sized and carpeted and it looks out across the sea.

Dane's Court is a private development of apartments located just off Clontarf Road and near Clontarf's promenade and St Anne's Park. The Wooden Bridge and Dollymount Beach are a stone's throw away and can be seen from the windows. Heating is gas-fired and there is off-street parking on-site in this mature and gated development.

But almost as soon as the sign is up, Sebastian is back on the plane to Sydney in search of more work. He says he'll be back soon for more.

"You don't always have to hit - you can let balls fly past too. It's about the right project rather than any project. I couldn't really fault what this apartment had to offer."

And his advice for Irish youngsters who'd love a career as a builder/developer/renovator?

"In Ireland, lots of stuff looks the same. If you are to be successful, you need to think outside the box and if you do it right, you'll capture a buyer's imagination and you'll succeed."

He'd probably be Ireland's youngest developer - if he hadn't just flown out.

40 Dane's Court

Clontarf, Dublin 3

Asking price: €375,000

Agent: Sherry FitzGerald (01) 833 6555

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