Property Guide for 2017 - the opportunities and pitfalls
Thinking of buying a house in 2017? Of course you are. It's part of being Irish in the 21st Century. Pat Fitzpatrick casts an eye over the Irish property landscape, pointing out pitfalls and opportunities as we ease back on to the property ladder. You'll find top tips if you are planning to raise kids in the commuter belt, invest abroad or move city because Dublin is a basket case. And a warning about what to do if you happen to come across David McWilliams with a camera crew in tow
The latest Daft.ie report also shows that average prices are far lower in the other cities. Cork is 247k, Galway is 248k and you can still probably get a place in Limerick on your credit card. The report shows that prices are rising sharply in these cities, so don't hang about.
You go to bed one night in a quiet town in the midlands. You wake the next morning to find a couple in their thirties, looking at the old shop on Main Street that's been closed for decades. She's dressed in weird floral clothes from the 1940s and saying, "And the cupcakes could go there." He's admiring himself in the window. Yes, the hipsters have arrived. And nothing will ever be the same again.
Particularly house prices. The bad news is these hipsters have no money, what with following their dream of opening an overpriced cafe, selling locally produced food to angry bogmen. The good news is the parents of these hipsters are middle-class types who have the money and inclination to get these kidults out of their house. So remember that when selling yours. These people have desperate, rich parents. Throw another 20 grand on the price and see who bites.
Bear in mind that these hipsters get their hopes and dreams from Location, Location, Location. So they basically want to live in a place called Bishops Farting in Lincolnshire. That means you need a nice old Protestant church in the middle of your town. If you don't have one, you could always just make the necessary alterations to the Catholic church. Sure there's probably nobody using it anyway.
The only way is up for your town. Along with three overpriced cafes, you can expect a microbrewery and music festival for bands that couldn't make the bill at Indiependence. You might want a decent set of earplugs for that one.
All these developments should be enough to attract the Irish Times, who will feature your town in a series of articles called New Stoneybatter: Life on the Bog. Your biggest problem at this point will be fielding phone calls from estate agents who have hipsters on the books looking to buy. Again, keep calm and remember their parents are desperate.
You know the way it is. You are walking down the street when your friend spots two sushi bars in a row and says, "Jesus, lads, this is just like London." Never mind that these sushi bars are about as authentic as bacon and cabbage with Killarney sauce. The important word here is London. People seem to think there is something cool about a city where 10m people say, "everything is crap, mate," at least once a day. And they are willing to pay extra to get a little bit of London.
This matters even more after Brexit. It looks like half the City of London is planning to move over here, now that Britain is ruled by angry people from Sunderland. These financial types will be looking for a seamless move. We should do everything to make this happen, because, in fairness, they have loads of money.
Here is something your local pub should consider to attract them in: dwarf -tossing. Your finance types love this after a few pints, because as we know only too well, bankers love causing havoc for the little man.
You should also lobby your local council to put up more signs. The first thing you notice about London is that it is full of warnings telling you what you can and can't do. Research shows that your average Londoner will panic if he or she doesn't get an instruction from a poster every 30 seconds. We could fill in the gaps here with useful tips for new arrivals such as: "Would you ever stop talking to us about Guinness?" And: "Sorry for not laughing at your crap impersonation of our accent."
Most importantly of all, remember where these people came from. So don't overdo things on the optimism and light-hearted front. The shock could kill them.
Pebble dash? Check. A larger than usual selection of craft beer in the local Centra? Check. A smattering of disappointed couples with young kids, surrounded by pensioners? Check. Welcome to First-Rung Ville.
It's typically a 1930s council estate, think Cabra in Dublin or Ballyphehane in Cork. The couple bought there in the mid 2000s with the notion of trading up and moving to a bigger house when the kids arrived. Around the time her waters broke, so did Lehman Brothers. And now they're stuck.
Here is a bit of advice if you encounter one of these couples. They can be cranky in the morning. They tend to stay up late on Daft and myhome.ie, looking for someone who is selling in a posher area and who doesn't realise how much their house is worth. They can be cranky in the evenings too. It's not easy going to see an under-priced house in Stillorgan, only to discover the queue stretches back to Gorey.
In fact, they can also be cranky in the afternoon. Particularly when Mammy calls and repeats her observation that their house is very small, particularly for someone who got a 2.1 in computer science.
Watch out if you are viewing a house for sale in one of these areas. There is every chance a youngish couple from next door will trap you at the gate and beg you to move in. "We can't take it any more," says they. "Everyone here is over 70. Hardly any of them have ever eaten hake. We would do anything to convince you to be our neighbours, up to and including swinging." Just walk away. Unless, of course, you fancy the look of your one.
Looking for ethically farmed children? The Hatchery town is the place for you. Located on a motorway less than 30km from a city, it allows Mom and Dad all the advantages of living near the action, but with none of the skangers. These are the new middle-class estate towns. Typical examples include Donabate in Dublin and Ballincollig in Cork.
This proximity means Mom and Dad can go to an Adele concert without staying in town overnight. That's a big saving. There's only one outcome when stressed-out parents spend a night away from the kids in a hotel. And that's another kid. They cost a fortune.
At a minimum, your Hatchery town should have two Thai restaurants, a gaelscoil and planning permission for eight Educate Togethers. Half the town gets up at 7am and heads off to work somewhere else. The rest of the population works locally, in one of 47 creches or 36 cupcake shops. And no one ever says: "How come there are hardly any black people?" That's because white flight is an American thing, where whites head for the suburbs to live among their own. It could never happen here because it's a well-known fact that Irish people are sound out. (Some of our best friends are actually black.)
The main business of the town is producing middle-class kids. Two middle-class kids per house, to be precise. Any more and people will think you're some kind of weirdo. Or Catholic. There is no shortage of pastimes in the hatchery. You've got gym and apres gym. There's a cafe, where you pretend to be ashamed that you spent two grand to get the same buggy as Reese Witherspoon, because that's how Irish people display their wealth. (It's how we display everything. With a sense of mild embarrassment.)
Second City Blues
House prices are still cruising back towards their 2006 peak. (And you wondered why one of our main property websites is called Daft.) Thanks to a recent Daft report, we know that the average asking price for a property in Dublin ranges from €527,000 (south county) to €261,000 in the city centre. The latest Daft report also shows that average prices are far lower in the other cities. Cork is 247k, Galway is 248k and you can still probably get a place in Limerick on your credit card. The report shows that prices are rising sharply in these cities, so don't hang about.
There are a number of pitfalls if you move out of Dublin. The main one is you might have to go through the hipster thing all over again. Just as they are shutting up pop-up shops in the capital, hipsters are starting from scratch in the smaller cities. It's like waking from a nightmare, only to go back to sleep and find that the monster is still roaming around your brain. Worse again, he is trying to sell you gluten-free cookies in a ridiculous-looking jar. Jesus, will it ever stop?
Be careful if you decide to move to Cork. The locals are notoriously cliquish. We asked a few of them why this is the case, but they couldn't be bothered talking to us. You won't have the same problem with the locals living in Galway. Mainly because there aren't any.
Also, be aware there is a shortage of cultural events in the smaller cities. So you intellectuals might have to return to the capital for a true cultural event, such as the panto or Frozen on Ice. Musicals on ice - they say so much about the human condition.
They never went away, you know. The lads who built them did, and now play Gaelic football in Shanghai. But the holiday homes remain dotted around some of the most stunning landscapes in the country. Not to mention the Midlands.
There is always interest in west Cork. There was a reported 27pc annual rise in prices there recently. A lot of this is driven by wealthy English people who are trying to get away from Boris Johnson. Of course, some of them might have to return home, if sterling takes a further dive after Brexit. Try to avoid this scenario in conversation. Forcing British people out of their homes en masse is still a delicate subject in west Cork. But, let's just say, a spike in supply might offer a chance to grab a place on the cheap.
And then there's Kerry. There's a hidden 10pc levy on property prices in Kerry, in return for which you get a designated local to repeat that you are the finest cut of a person he has ever met, bar none, a mhic. We hear this plamas can wear thin after a while.
We have only one word for all you social climbers out there. (And it isn't wanker. There's a pleasant change.) That word is Castlegregory. Apparently it's the new whatever the last place was. It's out there on the Dingle Peninsula, which at some point or other has hosted celebrities like Julie Roberts and Daithi O Se. Miriam O'Callaghan takes her family holidays down there too, which is a great boost for the minibus-taxi-hire firms in the area.
And then there's Longford. There was a time when it came behind Aleppo and Scotland as a place you'd like to go on summer holidays. Not anymore. The people at Center Parcs have decided that Longford is the place for a giant new holiday village. Once you've stopped laughing at this, it might be a good idea to buy a small house in the area and let it out on Airbnb. Not least because the latest Daft report shows the county has the lowest house prices in the country. So why not buy two? (What could possibly go wrong?)
Off the Grid
There was a time when getting away from it all meant keeping hens and a massive plunge in personal hygiene. But now technology means we can do our jobs from anywhere. (Technology also means an increasing number of Chinese robots can do our jobs from a factory just outside Shenzhen. The important thing is to pretend this isn't true and make wildly optimistic plans for the future.)
So where is the best place to get away from it all in Ireland? Don't worry about heading into the deepest heart of bogland. These days, every village in Ireland has at least one cafe with a proper espresso machine, along with a 17-year-old who doesn't know how to work it. After Longford, the next cheapest counties are Leitrim, Sligo and Roscommon. If you are moving to one of these counties, remember to factor some bribes into the overall price, so the kids don't end up hating your guts.
The best way to ingratiate yourself with the locals is to jump on the 'rural Ireland is dying' bandwagon. There is nothing wrong with using the word apartheid to describe the urban-rural divide, before hopping into your 40-grand 4x4 and driving back to your giant house. (That's how they roll down the country.)
Don't waste your vote on some lobby-fodder of a TD from one of the main parties. We're in the era of New Politics now, which means you vote for a crackpot independent who somehow negotiates an A&E department in your back garden as part of the Programme for Government. Don't forget to shout, 'Go on, ya boy ya!' when he gets elected. Actually, shout it all the time. You're just so rural.
Google 'Irish people buying property overseas.' What do you get back? Very little. Google that in 2004 and a helicopter would appear above your house, bearing a guy with a megaphone roaring, "We're going to Bulgaria and there's room for one more." We've all been there. (Not Bulgaria, but that didn't stop you from buying eight apartments off the plans.)
We're more circumspect now. There is talk of people Irish buying up places in Berlin because it offers good rental yield. Snooze. Talk about taking all the fun out of property. We want the thrill of buying a villa in Cape Verde when we're not even sure it exists. (Cape Verde, that is. The villa would be a bonus.)
Here is the golden rule when buying property abroad. Check if David McWilliams is in the area with a camera crew, shooting his latest documentary, Jesus Christ It's Happening Again. If he is, you know what to do. And we don't mean stand behind him and wave into the camera at Mammy. That's the kind of carry-on that had every huckster in Europe queueing to up to sell us an apartment in his entirely legitimate development on the outskirts of Dodgykov.
Obviously, what you really want is a country that offers sweetheart deals to foreign investors. The good news is there is one country that offers a tax loophole for outsiders looking to make money in the property market. The bad news is you're living in it. Google 'Section 110 Status' if you're not sure what we're talking about. And then Google 'property in Berlin, I'm out of this dump.'
A survey carried out by the Real Estate Alliance last year revealed that first-time buyers are willing to move to an area with a one-hour commute from Dublin. That's Kimmage on a quiet morning, says you, stuck at Harold's Cross for an entire era of history.
In fact, the new Dublin commuter belt stretches as far as Laois and Offaly. This raises a number of issues. The first one affects drivers who like to listen to the radio. There is only one thing worse than getting up at 5am every morning so you can get into town from Birr. And that's listening to talk radio, where it's mainly people announcing that we have a housing crisis in Dublin. "Who are you telling?" you roar at the dashboard, five mornings a week for the rest of your life.
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