How lockdown allowed some couples finally to buy their own homes
In a year marked with ups and downs, 2020 is ending on a good note for thousands of first-time buyers.
Ireland’s lockdown between March and June afforded some house-hunters an opportunity to save money, plan and prioritise.
With mortgage experts forecasting the first quarter of 2021 to be “the busiest in recent history”, the Irish Independent spoke to first-time buyers who recently got the seal of approval.
“The Covid-19 pandemic strangely ended up helping us,” said Amanda Keogh from Dublin.
Ms Keogh and her partner Joey Broderick, both in their early 30s, had been saving for their forever home for the last two-and-a-half years while also renting in the capital.
After two false dawns, they finally got their mortgage approved in November and have just gone sale agreed on a three-bed house in Walkinstown.
“House viewings were actually much better during the pandemic as there was none of the open viewing madness seen before, everything was done privately,” she said.
“We had been finding it really difficult to get a house but everything just managed to fall into place. I’m glad something positive came out of 2020.”
Mr Broderick was forced to go on the Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP) during the first lockdown, but was fortunately able to work during the recent coronavirus Level 5 restrictions.
“I don’t think we would have got the mortgage approved if Joey had to go on the PUP a second time,” said Ms Keogh. “There was talk of banks being OK with people being on the Covid payment but we found this not to be the case. We both had to provide letters from our employers confirming we weren’t receiving any Covid supports, so we’re lucky.”
Spending more time at home prompted many to reassess their situation. Megan Walsh and Gary Fox, a 25-year-old couple from Cork, were fed up paying extortionate rent for a two-bed property.
They got a mortgage approved in June and have just moved into their new four-bed home in Ballincollig.
The mortgage repayment works out €600 cheaper than their monthly rent.
“We hadn’t planned on buying for another four years but my fiancé’s father spotted a house on the market that was just too good to turn down,” Ms Walsh said.
“At the time it was sitting on the market at a very low price and we thought, what the hell, we’ll go for it. Of course as soon as we did there was loads of interest and we ended up in a bit of a bidding war. We eventually got the house for €293,000.”
She is a primary school teacher and Mr Fox is a member of the Irish Naval Service.
The pair are both on incremental pay scales and their savings exceeded expectations during the first few months of lockdown.
“We’re both very young so it is absolutely surreal,” Ms Walsh said. “We still can’t believe that it’s ours.”
Niamh Delaney (27) and her partner Alan Dunne (29) are also looking forward to spending their first Christmas in their new home.
The Dublin couple moved in with Ms Delaney's mother so they could focus on saving for a house.
“The rental market in Dublin is madness so it just made more sense, I genuinely don’t know how people can afford to rent and save,” she said.
“We went sale agreed in March 2019 but we had to reapply for a mortgage three times. We reapplied for it at the end of May, pretty much in the height of the pandemic, and finally got approved.
“We both have secure jobs luckily and had to sign documents confirming that we wouldn’t be availing of any mortgage breaks during the pandemic. I’m the last of five siblings to buy a home.
“My mam will definitely be coming over for Christmas and it will be the first time she hasn’t had to cook dinner since having children.”
More than 5,000 mortgages were approved in October this year.
Mortgage experts believe there will be a further surge in approvals next year driven largely by first-time buyers.
Vaccine-confidence and a growth in savings will also be a factor, according to Joey Sheahan, head of credit at MyMortgages.ie.
Mr Sheahan said there has been a 106pc growth in first-time buyers applying for mortgages in 2020.
“There were periods this year in which very little could happen, but at other times, we were busier than we’ve ever been,” he said. “And I know our experience in this regard mirrors that of other brokers throughout the country.
“We will be leaving 2020 on a strong footing in terms of the volume of mortgage applications we are working on and I have a suspicion that quarter one in 2021 could be one of the busiest in recent history. I expect that, similar to 2020, it’s the first-time buyers that will dominate transaction activity.”
Mr Sheahan also predicts lending exemptions will take centre stage from early in the year, with first time buyers in grappling for some sought-after exceptions.
“We currently have seven banks offering exemptions, which means a borrower can borrow more than 3.5 times their income or a second-time buyer can borrow up to 90pc. And we are expecting more banks to open for exemptions over the coming weeks”.