Home economics: Sinead Ryan answers your property questions
We live in a rambling period house which we love, but it means that the usual home insurance sellers won't talk to us about cover. Our current broker is now quoting an increased rate of nearly €300 this year, taking our annual premium to over €2,000 for the first time, which is very expensive for us. Is there any other solution you can offer?
A. Insuring period houses, listed properties or not, creates added headaches for owners and insurers. The typical 'buildings' cover needs to ensure repairs are done in line with planning authorities, traditional craft materials and specialist repairers, for instance. This costs more and may need 'displacement' cover as it is being undertaken, says Graham Devine of Crotty Insurances, which works in this market. He says, "The accurate calculation of a reinstatement value can be difficult to assess, as they may have unique internal features like ornate ceilings or fireplaces. Most insurers will want to know the electrics and plumbing have been brought up to modern standards also. Internal wooden floors are also an issue so the 'estimated maximum loss' (EML) is usually viewed as 100pc, pushing up the premium."
The Irish Georgian Society adds that cover on some properties can be separated depending on the type of building. "First loss cover is suited to large estates with buildings attached, reducing the sum insured to any particular building. For instance, a three-winged property is unlikely to experience total loss to all three wings in a fire, so 'first loss' may cover any one wing. Agreed value insurance is best for works of art incorporated into the fabric of the building, which corresponds to the cost of proper conservation."
The main insurers in this area include Hiscox, Lloyds and some of the UK specialist 'heritage insurers', but it's worth sourcing a broker who is a specialist in this area. Also, getting a surveyor to properly assess risk will aid an insurance quote.
Q. I'm a landlord with two currently vacant units in an urban town outside Cork. I've only ever had family tenants but despite the market allegedly being buoyant, I find it difficult to rent all the time and spent the last tenancy constantly chasing rent. I'm considering applying for the HAP scheme. What is involved and what are the guarantees under it, and how does the tax relief work? I would want to be certain the properties are maintained properly.
A. The Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) has been rolling out since 2014, creating a lot of interest from landlords, and it is now countrywide. It works by routing housing support through the local authority, enabling tenants to take up employment and keep their benefit, replacing rent supplement for those with a long-term housing need.
HAP recipients are responsible for finding their own accommodation in the private sector but the council will direct payments to you. The benefits to a landlord are: you can avail of increased tax relief, deducting 80pc on your mortgage interest against rental income. If you make the accommodation available for three years, you can claim the remaining balance up to 100pc, according to Barry Flanagan of Taxback.com.
You won't need to worry about chasing rents any longer - payment is made on the last Wednesday of every month directly by the local authority. Your responsibilities include showing evidence of ownership, a tax compliance cert and proof that your property meets certain standards (this will be inspected).
The relationship remains between you and the tenant: you will have no contact with the local authority once everything is in place and you need to comply, as now, with the RTB, etc. They can't 'guarantee' a good tenant and the usual caveats apply.
The Ryan report
New housing minister Eoghan Murphy says he "doesn't want to get ahead of his own review" while he is reviewing the reintroduction of bedsits.
They were banned, you'll recall, by his idealistic but not realistic predecessor Alan Kelly when he fell over himself getting all PC with 'standards'.
Those 'standards' meant that some people, who hadn't heretofore realised they should have been angry and disillusioned living perfectly contentedly for 20 or so years in a one-room-fits-all arrangement were suddenly forced into, in many cases without a shred of irony, an even smaller B&B bedroom but one with a crucial ensuite, and told they were better off.
The bedsit owners promptly boarded up their properties and watched, aghast, as the homeless piled up around them. It was cheaper than the enormous expense of converting them all into, ahem, 'apartments'.
Bedsits, while not ideal accommodation, suit a purpose in a place and time of housing crisis. Why, for instance, are we retrofitting expensive 'family hubs' with communal kitchen and living spaces but not allowing someone to live privately in their own, albeit small, self-contained space?
Why are we spending millions of euro a month on hotels when we have Georgian properties languishing vacant for want of a dual-aspect window and a loo?
So, review away, Minister, and while 'standards' are good and wholesome things, don't forget 50pc of those on housing lists are singletons, many of whom were doing just fine before being turfed out of the place they called home.