'Our dream home was lost to somebody with deeper pockets' - First-time buyer couple on the online hunts, the viewings and the ruthless bidding wars
Who could have guessed that buying a house would be so little fun? Well... I suppose the answer is 'everyone', but when we started our hunt last November I really felt like we would be the exception.
We scheduled our first day of viewings for the morning after our engagement party. What could be more perfect than a young couple waking up together on a crisp Winter morn and going out to start a bright new future together. We were going to find the home of our dreams and live happily ever after.
That was the plan anyway.
Instead we were two hungover slouches lurching from one overcrowded viewing to the next.
It didn't get much better the next Saturday, or the next or the next... well you get the point.
So what type of buyers are we? Well we are a couple in our early 30s with a reasonable deposit looking for a three-bed home in North Dublin within the M50. Our price range is between €300k and €400k with a bit of wriggle room, but not much.
Like any couple there are areas we like and areas we are not too keen on.
A south facing aspect would be preferable but not essential and neither of us wanted a major 'fixer-uper' – I'm no Dermot Bannon.
My rental experiences have influenced my thinking as well. We would like space for two cars in the driveway, gas fire central heating and decent neighbours.
The Online Hunt
The days of staring at advertisements in the windows of estate agents are over. Now you can do all the preliminary work on Daft or MyHome.
And a search on Daft taught us that within our parameters there were well over 100 properties. I started to wonder what all this panic over a housing shortage was.
Then you start to whittle them down: discounting approximately half due to the areas and condition; another 20+ due to value and you are left with around two dozen that you could see yourself living in.
This is still an ample number.
Soon we realised, however, that a large number of these properties have already been sold and the estate agent had neglected to remove them from the websites.
One estate agent operating on the Northside in particular appears to do this leading to a frustrating waste of time.
Our first viewing, a three-bedroom semi-detached home in the Glasnevin with an asking price of €300,000 looked like a great prospect. Unfortunately it had no rear garden and would have required at least another €150,000 to bring it up to scratch.
A corner home further north in East Finglas for €295,000 looked superb until we discovered that the owner was in the process of building another two-storey house immediately alongside it and a further bungalow to the rear. These minor details were not mentioned in the literature or in the online advertisement and when the estate agent called me back on Monday to gauge my interest she claimed that it “wasn't necessary or relevant to mention this”.
The estate agent at another house in East Finglas told us that it was “about to go sale agreed” so we “needed to make an offer by Monday” to be in with a shout. We liked it, it was in good condition with plenty of space to the front and back. We were concerned that we would lose out in the race but we ultimately decided that we weren't going to bid on the first property we liked so opted out. Five months on, that property is still being advertised online.
We had decided to start our search in November thinking that many other buyers would be distracted by other things in the run-up to Christmas. Hundreds of others had the same idea.
While we had nothing to show from our first day of hunting it did teach us some valuable lessons about the type of house we wanted.
After kissing a few frogs we thought that we had finally found our prince/princess. This came in the form of a terrace home in Whitehall. The well-maintained early 20th century property had three bedrooms, a good attic conversion and a massive back garden.
The asking price was pushing our maximum budget but we decided to go for it anyway. Our offer was quickly countered and then a third bidder came in with another couple of grand.
Over the next four days we saw the price jump by €35,000 and, with very heavy hearts, we were forced to bow out – our dream home lost to somebody with deeper pockets.
Dejected and rejected we placed a bid on another home in a nearby estate. It was a nice house with a great kitchen conversion but it lacked the appeal of our previous love.
We placed a bid €20,000 below the asking price, naively thinking that this might slow the bidding down... it didn't.
Soon that property had rocketed past €400,000 and ended up going for as much as the first.
We had suddenly found ourselves 15 minutes into a cup final trailing by two goals.
Those we were bidding against were ruthless and in order to find a home, we too would have to be prepared to bid high and fast.
We tried a few more times to bid on homes that we were interested in but quickly found ourselves way above what we wanted to pay.
Suddenly our earlier demands were thrown out the double glazed pvc window as we started hunting for ramshackle properties in areas previously dismissed. Our budget, once a clearly marked out figure, was now a moveable feast.
At one point I showed my fiancee a nice home in Drumcondra with a reasonable asking price.
She instantly shook her head and when I questioned why, she responded: “That place is far too nice, there is no point even bidding on it.”
Everyone we met at viewings was now the enemy and we would try to psych them out by groaning and pointing to imaginary water damage.
In properties that we were bidding against one other potential buyer I am aware that we probably drove the price up. It makes me deeply uneasy to think that there are new homeowners in Dublin today who have paid up to €30,000 more for their property, all because we stayed in a bidding war. This is the frustration of the blind auction, you never know when the other bidder is going to blink because you can't see their eyes.
We have become deeply suspicious of estate agents and we learned the lesson very early that they are not there for your gain.
In one particularly unsavoury incident I was told by an agent that the couple selling a home would accept an offer of €380,000. We agonised over it for a weekend. The home was not ideal but the prospect of nailing down a property was too much to resist so we made the offer. We had a house at last, or so we thought.
Twenty-four hours later another agent from the same company contacted me to say that the homeowner had “done their sums” and decided that they actually needed €385,000 to go sale agreed. This property was bought in 2012 for €218,000. Soured by the experience we did not pursue this further but the last I heard, that property had an offer of €390,000.
I do not blame the homeowners who want to get the price for their homes or the estate agents who will do whatever they can to make the best commission. There is a lack of supply and while this continues house-hunters will always be at a disadvantage.
While it may be a frustrating process, we understand that we are both in a very privileged position where we have jobs and an ability to buy a home. There are hundreds of thousands who are not so fortunate.
We will continue to give up our Saturday morning lie-ins, forego burritos for lunch and get involved in bidding wars because, one day, we want to own our own home.