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Highs and lows of making a nest

'You timed it well," chuckles Michael McGreevy of Westside Auctioneers on Leixlip's main drag before explaining: "The locals know to avoid the town centre just before and after shift changes at the main plants as the workers spill out on to the streets with their cars simultaneously."

And he should know. Michael has been an auctioneer in lovely Leixlip since 1976 and has watched it grow from a village into a mega-town with well in excess of 16,000 inhabitants and multinationals Hewlett-Packard and Intel the main employers.

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House prices have sky-rocketed here in recent years and, on average, it's more expensive to rent in this town, 16km from Dublin City Centre, than in any other urban centre outside of the capital.

"A three-bedroom semi-detached house will cost around €1,200 a month. And don't forget tenants have to pay a month's rent in advance at the start as well as an additional deposit of a month's rent," says Michael.

Local man David Mooney, his partner Ailish Claffey, and 18-month-old daughter Phoebe live in one such three-bedroom house and while they say their rent is manageable, they can see the rates increasing all around them. "Friends of ours are moving out of their three-bedroom house and the rent is going up by €400 for the next tenants, so that's €1,400 a month," says David, who works in construction.

Having lived up the road in Dublin for nearly 20 years, he and Ailish- a dance artist who is due to have the couple's second child at the end of July - only returned to Leixlip once Phoebe was born. David explains that the continental system of long-term leasing could well suit their growing family better than buying in the near future. "After the downturn, so many people found themselves in negative equity so perhaps leasing is a more sensible option," says David.

John Bosco French of French Estates told me a lack of stock is a huge problem locally. "When Intel and Hewlett-Packard are recruiting here, you find the supply virtually drops to nil. If there's anything left, landlords are placed in a very strong position and prices go up. Although isolated, there was an incident recently where a rental property was actually bid up by parties from €1,300 to €1,900 per month for a three-bedroom semi in the Rinawade area of the town beside Intel."

The former Kildare footballer added: "Landlords can identify the tenants they want, there is so much demand. We have a database of people who we contact if a new property comes on the market and it seems to be growing all the time."

As I stroll down the Main Street, the number 66 Dublin bus passes me on the way into the city. And the town is served by, not one, but two train stations.

But an hour-and-a-half away, at the other end of the M9 motorway, I find an altogether different scenario in Waterford City where rental prices are still amongst the lowest, on average, in the country.

"A brand new standard two-bedroomed apartment in the centre, which was fetching €700 a month during the boom, could now be yours for around €550," explains local estate agent Joanie Hutchinson.

In the home of Carina and Miley Joyce, a young couple from Galway, who moved to Waterford from the UK last October, I find a modern detached three-bedroomed house, a sizeable back garden and an adorable little boy with big blue eyes.

Hughie Joyce was just one-month-old when his parents moved back to Ireland after Miley secured a job as a physiotherapist with the HSE in Waterford. "Its been great," says Miley. "I can run to and from work, which I do a couple of times a week, the house is lovely and the rent manageable at €800 a month."

And Carina, a qualified primary school teacher, tells me they feel they got lucky when looking for accommodation in Waterford. "We hadn't even seen this house before coming back - we looked online and took a chance," she says. "It was tricky, when we were looking there were only three suitable houses in the whole of Waterford City. Down the road, we hope to have our own house but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

Auctioneer Michael Griffin believes young couples in Waterford face huge challenges when they try to rent their first home. He told me: "It's especially hard for those in the 18-25 age bracket. I'm seeing them outbidding each other by fivers and tenners to get a place to rent. They're desperate to get that first place but can't afford to spend too much. We desperately need more supply here."

Fighting to build Waterford City back up again following the closure of the main facility at Waterford Crystal in 2009, the local Chamber of Commerce and others have been doing everything they can to attract more investment and jobs to the city. Recently, the Government announced a major urban renewal stimulus package with the city centre to be given a €10m facelift. And companies such as Bausch and Lomb have committed to investing in the city and creating much-needed employment here.

"We expect that, as the economy improves and Waterford attracts more investment, rents will increase by approximately 5pc this year alone," explains Joanie Hutchinson. It's a gradual increase... but still well off what's being charged in the flat lands of Kildare.

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