John Meagher: 'I really wish that I hadn't bought my own home'
IT IS a rare day that I don't think about the terrible mistake I made in the summer of 2005, shortly after turning 30. Buying my own home.
Fed up with all those years of paying exorbitant rents for crappy shoebox apartments, I decided to take the plunge and buy a one-bedroom flat a few kilometres from Dublin's O'Connell Street for €296,000. That figure seemed reasonable at the time, especially as prices were constantly rising, and would continue to shoot up for another 18 months before the sky caved in.
Now, five years into this never-ending recession of a thousand cuts, it feels utterly obscene: two hundred and ninety six thousand euro for a 440-square metre property with one underground car space and no balcony. And yet, the true figure over the 35-year lifespan of the mortgage is just over €400,000 when all that interest is taken into account. How could I have been so stupid? I've made myself physically sick when I consider how much negative equity I'm in, and the sobering thought that the apartment would command a fraction of what I paid for it if I sold it today.
It wouldn't matter so much if I still lived there. But I don't – marriage and a baby have necessitated a move. Would it have been possible for two adults to bring up a child in such a small space? Probably. But it would have been utterly soul-destroying and incredibly trying to do, especially as it boasts so little storage space – the most common gripe of apartments flung up by greedy developers and sanctioned by toothless authorities in the boom years. So, eight years after thinking I would never have to rent again, I'm living with my family in a place I don't own, paying another landlord a hefty monthly rate, asking his permission if we want to make even the smallest change. But at least it's bigger and brighter and has lots of space to store our belongings and we've a beautiful room for our daughter to sleep in.
I've become a reluctant landlord, too – renting the apartment out to a lovely couple but having to make up the difference between the income and the mortgage repayment and cobbling together the cash to pay the €1,400 annual management fee.
It would be easy to blame the property speculators during the Tiger years or the lending institutions who threw money at my generation, or Bertie Ahern who bigged up the property market at every opportunity and wondered why those who urged caution didn't kill themselves – and I do all that, more often than I like to admit.
But ultimately, it was my decision to sign on that dotted line. I didn't listen to the persistent voice in my head going: "Don't do this. Don't commit yourself to somewhere that small for that sort of money."
I thought that if I didn't buy at that very moment I would be forever priced out of the market. And yet, at the back of my mind, I knew the madness couldn't continue. I just didn't realise how soon the crash would come. I would love to own a house with a back garden, but after being stung so badly I don't know if I want to put my head in that noose again – not that banks are as generous with the rope as they once were.