What to look for when you're house hunting
IF you're a first-time buyer, the chances are you have been looking to buy for quite a while, or have been building up enough savings for the substantial deposit that most lenders insist on.
You're not the only one
According to statistics released last month from PwC and the Irish Banking Federation, first-time buyers, together with mover-purchasers, account for nine out of every 10 new mortgages issued.
But while you might assume that it's a buyers' market because of the weak property market overall, there is a serious gap between supply and demand in terms of properties that might suit first-time buyers (FTBs).
Anecdotal evidence suggests you will probably be jostling for space with other FTBs when looking at anything that looks remotely suitable, particularly in Dublin.
"FTBs now are so organised and know their areas, house-price history and local plans better than many estate agents," says Carol Tallon, a buyers' agent and author of the 'Irish Property Buyers' Handbook 2013'.
"They have had a long time to prepare, and most have been watching the market for years at this stage, just waiting for the right time, whether it's personal, professional or financial."
So how should you begin your search?
"I suggest that buyers start with a wishlist rather than a strict set of criteria," says Ms Tallon.
"It is important to be flexible, but, by prioritising the criteria, buyers have a better chance of getting the right property."
Of course, location remains the single most important factor because while you can change the house, you can't change the location.
"Most internal layouts can be altered and extended over time; the location and aspect can never be changed. Get those two things right and you can live in the house forever."
One example of being flexible is to lean towards a run-down house in a better area, rather than a beautiful house in a less-desirable location.
"The location needs to suit the needs of the buyer and their family in the long term; this means thinking about schools, shopping and neighbourhood facilities."
Buyers should also not assume anything in terms of promised improvements to the area in the short term, such as road improvements or new train stations, as they most likely won't happen.
"Simply put, whatever is outside the window is what any buyer will be looking at for the next seven to 10 years," says Ms Tallon.
Karen Mulvaney, managing director of the Buyer's Agent, suggests thinking of location as the most significant factor that will influence your quality of life, particularly as it is something you can never change.
"I have sometimes had buyers come to us and ask us for 2,500 sq ft with location not important, but that is not the way to go about a property search. What do you need when you step foot outside your door? Schools, shops within walking distance, restaurants, a park, the sea? It's all important to your quality of life."
At the same time, being realistic about your desired location is desirable.
"You might be adamant you want to live in a particular area that is good, but you have to know and understand what you can afford.
"You cannot rule out properties within budget because they are too small if that is what your budget dictates for the area," says Ms Mulvaney.
She confirms that problems with very limited stock are likely to keep asking prices high, so "when a good house comes up in a desired location, you will find plenty of bidders to compete with".
But even if you have identified a house you want to buy, in an area you want to live in, the research doesn't stop there.
Much of this will be to do with the house itself, such as its BER rating or looking to see where a seller has upgraded a house.
"Buyers know to choose somewhere where they can add value. What they sometimes forget is that if you can get the work done without paying for it, that is the ultimate gain," says Ms Tallon.
But she also suggests checking out the immediate area more thoroughly.
"The important features for me are the neighbours – is there any evidence of anti-social behaviour? If unsure, speak to the local gardai.
"Also, are children's toys left lying around the estate? If so, it's worth remembering that parents get less vigilant as children get older. Today's tiresome kids could be reflective of the attitudes of the area and turn into the troublesome teenagers in a very short space of time."
Parking is another big issue.
"Most developments planned for one or two cars per house but some will have three or even four," says Ms Tallon. "This will not be evident during the day but call back in the evening to see the reality."