They do like to be beside the seaside
Mark Keenan discovers why foreign buyers are rushing to dip their big dough in the South Dublin waterfront
PUNCH and Judy, striped deck chairs, brass bands, buckets and spades, donkey rides and strangest of all – "bathing machines" – great big horsedrawn changing rooms on wheels which preserved a lady's modesty to the optimum by driving her enclosed (and in clothes) – right into the sea.
The Victorians really did like to be beside the seaside. In fact they were obsessive about it – on both sides of the Irish Sea.
The seaside vacation – initially a prescribed health kick for the rich to "take the sea air" and bathe in salt water for medical purposes – kicked-off in earnest in both Britain and Ireland in the 1830s and 1840s with the arrival of the railways. These opened up the beach resorts to the great unwashed classes and drove the rich elsewhere.
But unlike mercury, leeches and enemas, Victorian quacks were bang on the money when it came to the medicinal qualities of the sea air – as proven only last year by a report in the British journal 'Health and Place' with research showing that those living by the sea tend to be significantly healthier than their inland counterparts.
Queen Victoria herself injected urgency to the seaside trend by acquiring a clutch of waterfront holiday homes in both Ramsgate and the Isle of Wight. She had her own own personally liveried bathing machine and dressed her boys in sailor outfits.
In Ireland, as we followed the British trends, Dun Laoghaire became Dublin's first seaside resort in the 1830s after the opening of the Dublin and Kingstown Railway. It was followed in turn by Sandycove, Dalkey and Killiney and then by Bray (the east coast's largest) and Greystones in the 1850s. These were the resorts where the rich initially built their plush ice cream coloured holiday terrace "villas."
In recent months there's been an unexpected surge in foreign interest in these homes on the south Dublin waterfront – to the degree that one estate agency reports that it now has a waiting list of 158 foreign-based buyers looking to spend €237m (around €1.5m each) on waterfront homes in Blackrock, Monktown, Dun Laoghaire and Sandycove.
This seems at odds with a history of lack lustre interest in many of these property types – particularly in Dun Laoghaire – even during the boom years.
But it seems the new foreign tide of buyers is determined to dip its big dough by the seaside.
"They're after sea views or close access to the waterfront in large family sized period homes. Around three quarters of them are foreign-based business people with Irish links looking to come home and these are paying cash from the proceeds of sold homes abroad," says Janet Carroll, South Dublin office manager at Savills.
The balance, she claims are non-linked foreign nationals coming here to take positions with Irish-based companies. "They see a Dublin seafront home as a luxury," says Carroll, who describes the recent surge in demand for waterfront period properties as "phenomenal".
The agency says it has plenty of interest in a 3,100sq ft five-bedroom seafront period home at Idrone Terrace in Blackrock priced at €1.85m.
To put this in perspective – the last home to sell in this terrace changed hands in mid 2011 for €677,600. Previously they had been selling in the €1.2m to €1.4m range.
The same agency has also just sold a seafront property further out from the city at 5 Martello Terrace in Sandycove for €1.25m.
Along the coast in Dun Laoghaire and Monkstown, Wade Wise of Beirne Wise has also noticed a recent change in the type of demand for very large waterfront terraces which have, until now, been split into mixed-use offices for small firms and apartments above.
"These types of properties were not in demand at all really until about 18 months ago. Now about 50pc of interest is from buyers looking to convert them back into private residences at a cost of around €300,000 to €400,000 on top of a €1.1m-plus purchase price.
"Most of the buyers are professional couples with children in their late 30s to late 40s. The fact that they're willing to take six months plus out of their lives to go through planning permission and extensive building work says a lot about the demand that's out there."
A year ago, 15 Longford Terrace in Monkstown sold for €850,000. Just last month Beirne Wise got €2m for number 8. The same agency is currently seeking €1.295m for number 21, which is currently in apartments and offices and in need of more than €300,000 pumped into it for a conversion from an investment property.
"One of the reasons we're seeing good demand for projects among owner occupiers is that the numbers do add up nicely, even if you are getting yourself into some big renovation."
A project might also be the only way locals can get in ahead of the foreign buyers, who prefer homes in walk-in condition. It's also possibly the only way to get some real value.
Another reason why there's renewed interest in mixed-used period properties on the waterfront is the possibility of acquiring a home with a built-in rental income.
Sherry FitzGerald, which is selling a three- storey over-basement period home for €775,000 at Connaught Place in Crofton Terrace, Dun Laoghaire, says it demonstrates the sort of project value remaining.
The house, which directly overlooks the marina at Dun Laoghaire has been divided into a one-bedroom apartment at ground-floor level with three apartments of two bedrooms each overhead.
The price reflects the level of renovation work required but the agents say that the house offers someone the chance of living in a period seafront home of character while also generating an income from surplus floors by renting out combinations of the space they don't need. And this is a lot of house for the money.
Meantime, the original Irish seaside resort looks set for some big improvements. The Harbour Company announced just this week that it is commencing a process of market research with potential developers in relation to a 3.4 hectare site on the harbour at St Michael's Pier following a Europe-wide tender process. All this sparks hopes that the proposed Dun Laoghaire Marina project, as outlined in the masterplan for the Harbour of 2011, is about to be reignited.
The kind of large scale development – outlined in the masterplan – is likely to comprise mixed-uses of residential/hotel; leisure; food and beverage; enterprise and retail; as well as associated marine activity uses.
"The opening up of the pier-side as a public area and strengthened connectivity with the town are central to the concept which in turn is a key component of the overall masterplan for the harbour," said Gerry Dunne, chief executive of Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company, this week. "Dun Laoghaire has really suffered from the economic downturn and the planned developments at the harbour offer some optimism to the the area."
All sweet music hall to the ears of those crafty beachcombers who got their seaside castles at the bottom 18 months ago.