WHAT is the least amount of money you could reasonably expect to spend in order to acquire an Irish house which is reasonably habitable, or at least can be renovated on a low level budget?
With the tail end of the world's biggest property crash still suffocating values in Ireland's remoter parts – some counties are now experiencing the lowest bricks and mortar prices in a generation.
That's why counties like Roscommon, Leitrim and Cavan are currently being scoured by UK buyers with no Irish connections whatsoever – not just because they crave rural peace and quiet in a scenic location, but because they believe they are looking at some of the best value and lowest prices in Europe.
In some counties the UK cash buyer of holiday homes is currently accounting for one-in-10 sales.
To see just how low you can go on price, we scoured the country for cottages, holiday homes, bungalows and even the odd town estate house. To make that challenge that bit more interesting, we looked for properties that could be bought for less than the price of an average family car.
We set ourselves an upper limit of €29,150 – the current price of a new Toyota Avensis – and set off to locate houses which could be got for less. There was plenty on offer at this price level, some in better condition than others. We even found one or two that could be bought on a credit card with a limit of €15,000 and one of them, a small cottage in Roscommon is featured below.
Most of these uber cheap properties share common qualities – they are located in remote or less desirable locations, more than 10 miles from a substantial population centre.
They are most commonly to be found where agricultural land tends to be of poor quality and values tend to be low.
You find them well away from the main tourist traps, but often in places of uncommon natural beauty.
You find them where recession has hit hardest and depopulation thanks to emigration has cut the chances of such homes being bought by locals.
Many of these homes are both old and small. While they might have housed the large Irish families of past generations, they are today deemed to be too small to fulfil the role of anything other than a weekend retreat or a hobby home. Most, but not all, come with very small or almost non existent sites.
Some are in pretty reasonable condition but lack essentials like septic tanks or utility connections.
Finally their chances of being bought as weekend retreats for city dwellers who fancy somewhere quiet to head to from Friday to Sunday have also been greatly reduced thanks to our greatly slashed spending power but also because of a tranche of new taxes and charges which have been introduced by Government anxious to raise revenue.
These include local property tax, the second home tax and the forthcoming water charges.
All of the above has effectively killed the traditional Irish city dweller's appetite for holiday home owning.
But having said all this, times change and it's quite possible that the tiny cottage bought today instead of that Disneyland holiday, new kitchen or – as we have put it, – instead of a new saloon car – will repay its investment in spades.
The British certainly seem to think so.
So here's the car and the houses:
Beloved of middle class families and taxi drivers, the Avensis is considered to be a reasonably affordable, reliable and safe family saloon car. The petrol 1.6 litre Valvematic Strata Saloon costs €29,125 and offers 44mpg at 132bhp.
For €125 less than the Avensis you can pick up a cottage at Freeduff in Kilcogy in Co Cavan with a site of three quarters of an acre and it also comes with a garage attached to it. It needs significant works carried out but it does have a sound roof and UPVC double-glazed windows.
It's located on the edge of Kilcogy Village and 10 miles from Cavan Town and about a half hour's drive from Mullingar in the south west end of a county known for its lakes and its pike fishing. Sherry FitzGerald (049-4365526)
Due to be auctioned on February 25 through Allsop Space (01-6673388), this two-bedroom bungalow at Glenamaddy in North East County Galway comes with an acre and a half of land attached.
The reserve on the day is not to exceed €25,000. An additional bonus is planning permission for two houses on the site according to the agents.
The house is within reach of Lough Lurgeen, an extensive raised bog and national heritage area which is a haven for wildlife and birds in particular.
Just to show the cheap homes aren't all rural, we have produced a town estate house at Assumpta Park Estate in Newcastlewest.
The semi has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a hall, a sittingroom and a kitchen/diningroom. The catch is that it has been left in mid renovation with ceilings and floors stripped out and it's minus all the kitchen fittings.
However Newcastlewest is a reasonably busy and substantial town popular with commuters to the city and in the heart of strong dairy country. The agent is Sherry FitzGerald (061-418000)
A brightly painted end of terrace two bedroom at Church Road in Castlerea, Co Roscommon is close to the train station. Accommodation includes a kitchen/diner, a sitting room and two upstairs bedrooms. The house has recently been modernised and refitted but its big drawback, apart from size is that it has a toilet and shower but no bath.
There's a reasonably sized rear garden and a storage shed. The agent is James Cleary & Sons (094-9620540)
Hilltop, as the name suggests is a three- bed home at Fairymount near Castlerea in Co Roscommon which is located on the top of a peak with commanding views over three counties – Mayo, Galway and of course, Roscommon.
It's an unfinished project and has a new roof, windows and doors but requires a kitchen, bathroom, tiling and a septic tank. The agents is John Gill (094-9640623).
For €5,125 less than the Avensis, you can have a period cut stone and rendered two-storey detached home at Lisnageer, near Cootehill in Co Cavan.
It was originally used as the local post office. It comes with a roadside site, and accommodation includes a sitting room, a living room, a kitchen, the shop premises, four bedrooms and a bathroom. The property will need a good deal of work and there are some issues in the kitchen where debris appears to have accumulated.
Enquiries to DNG O'Dwyer (049-8547622).
If you're not maxed out, stick the Visa card in your pocket and get along to Allsop Space's Ballsbridge Auction on February 25 to chase a tatty but cutsie one bedroom cottage in Lurgan near French Park in Co Roscommon.
The brochure says that the reserve will not exceed €15,000 – which suggests you could pick up this property for exactly half the price of our Avensis.