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There are bargains to be had for house-hunters looking back home

Irish expats based in the UK are shopping for bargains in the property market at home as house prices continue to plummet. One estate agent in the south-east of the country told the Irish Independent that over the past 12 months, a quarter of all his sales have been to Irish emigrants.

A week after the Central Statistics Office (CSO) revealed that countrywide prices were 49pc below their 2007 peaks, estate agents from Donegal to Kerry said that they'd witnessed a significant increase in interest from Irish people based in the UK.

"The market remains very difficult but we are seeing higher volumes of sales due to the excellent value on offer and far higher levels of affordability," said Gerard O'Toole, an auctioneer and surveyor in Mayo.

While a daft.ie report published this week said house prices were on the rise in some parts of the country, bargain-hunters can still snap up a property in Ireland at 65pc of the asking price from just four-and-a-half years ago.

Cormac Meehan of Meehan Chartered Surveyors in Donegal believes Irish people living in Britain are buying now as they plan for their retirement. A fifth of his businesses' sales in the past year have been to those living overseas and he doubts that trend will cease anytime soon.

Another who predicts more Irish property purchases from overseas is auctioneer Ed Carey from Meath, who believes "with the improving global economy, emigrants may well decide there's value to be had".

The Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland maintains that the restricted access to financial assistance remains a major barrier to a recovery in the market as qualified buyers are having difficulties getting mortgages.

But for Irish emigrants, this is no longer the insurmountable difficulty it once was. A combination of savings and smaller loans can generate enough funds to pick up a property which, just a few short years ago, would have been completely out of reach.

On the online property portal 'Rightmove Overseas' interest in Irish property began to rise when the Celtic tiger bubble burst and now there are around 45,000 searches for Irish property every month, making it the 10th most popular country on the site.

As well as conventional sales, banks continue to offload repossessed properties for knock-down prices at auction. In September, a ground-floor, two-bed unit at Shelbourne Park in Dublin had a reserve of just €130,000 (£108,000) and was sold to an Irish buyer based in England for exactly that amount.

And yesterday, the Irish Independent reported on a Dublin city-centre penthouse pad that attracted an asking price of €4m (£3.3m) at the peak of the boom but could now be sold for 86pc less at €575,000 (£476,000).

So if you always wanted to get on the housing ladder at home but could never even dream of reaching that first rung, now may be the time to use the property downturn to your advantage.

• The London Life page in last Thursday's edition of the Irish Independent, dated March 29, was omitted due to a production error. We apologise for the omission.

Irish Independent