Our property expert answers your queries.
Question: I have worked from home for five years, from a spare bedroom converted to an office. My work load has increased substantially and my wife wants me out. Rather than renting office space, I'm looking at constructing something in the back garden because we have the room. I don't want a wooden shed. I need two rooms, an office and storage area but what is the heating and light like? Do I need planning permission?
Sinead replies: Home offices come in all shapes and sizes and using your garden space is as good a way as any of acquiring one. They've moved a long way from the potting shed. On the planning issue, you only need to apply if the structure is over 25 sqm. Most home offices are 9-13 sqm so unless you have huge space requirements, it isn't an issue. The best units have proper steel and concrete foundations, pressure-treated wood finishes and involve a week or more of on-site construction. They have full insulation, power points fitted, you can move walls to suit your requirements, while electricity and broadband needs can be extended from your main house.
I found three Irish companies (I'm sure there are others) who have a variety of options. Try Shomera's (www.shomera.ie) new 'Me Pad' which starts from €13,000 or look at Eco Garden (ecogardenoffices.com) or www.gardenroomsni.com for other ideas.
For less try Steeltech, whose steel-skinned garden sheds can be insulated, wired, wood-lined inside and windowed adequately for an all-in cost of about €6,000.
They are all quite stylish and cosy and your wife may well think you got the better end of the deal!
Question: I'm selling my house and have just been informed by the estate agent I need a BER certificate. Why is this my problem and will it cost me money?
Sinead replies: The Building Energy Rating (BER) cert is an analysis of the energy efficiency of a house. It is mandatory since 2009 when you are selling up in order that prospective buyers know the 'score' a property has in order that it can help them make a decision on both buying or to calculate any upgrade works which may be necessary.
The BER will give an alphabetical rating (from A to G), such as you would see on a fridge, for instance, with A ranges being the most efficient. It includes testing carbon dioxide emissions, heating, ventilation and light and is approved by Sustainable Energy Ireland (www.seai.ie) through approved contractors.
The Certificate will include the address, date of issue, date it is valid, the assessor's number and the rating itself. It is generally valid for 10 years if no changes are made. You will have to pay for it, and the cost depends on the size of the house; a National Consumer Agency survey found the average nationwide to be around €165 for a three-bed semi, although there is no set price, so you are free to shop around, as long as it's with approved contractors.
You could also have a look at the SEAI website for a list of contractors and the requirements.
The boom might have been getting boomier when Bertie was in charge, but it seems that the bust is getting bustier.
Almost 1,000 applications for repossessions are being tracked through the courts every month at the moment as banks finally lose the rag with long-term errant customers. While the latest figures from the Central Bank show the numbers in arrears for six months is down, the numbers tipping into the two-year box are up. This is the group that pretty much irrespective of what anyone does now short of a full debt write down, will not be in a position to repay. So, banks are taking back what's theirs.
The ending of the daft two-year moratorium has sped things along nicely and the tide lifting all boats in the property market hasn't done any harm either. In other words, Plan A is working.
Plan B, you'll recall, was to actually sit down with customers in arrears and mutually work through their arrangements for repayment; collaborating on income and expenditure breakdowns and perhaps agreeing that the original loan was a tad prolific and that the bank and customer could come to 'an agreement' whereby both save face, and a home is retained.
But Plan A looks better to the bean counters. As bank balance sheets improve suddenly having those properties back doesn't look so bad; more switch from the liability to the asset side. Judges of course, may take a different view. Most of them are extremely slow to grant Repo orders, and rightly so, until they are convinced all avenues have been explored, hence the relatively low 968 orders handed down in 2014. But this is up from the 626 granted in 2013 and is on an inexorable upwards path.