Home economics: answering your property questions
Our property expert on living in vacant rental properties for a nominal fee and the implications of flooding on your house insurance.
Question: I read about someone who was renting a big house in Dublin but only paying a tiny rent in exchange for care-taking duties from, I think, a foreign letting agency. Is this possible and do you know anything about it? I would be interested in something similar.
Sinead replies: It's possible you are referring to Camelot Europe or similar. It provides management services for vacant properties which include having people live in them for a nominal fee (it's not 'rent', you are paying fees to the company which can be as low as €50 per week) in return for light duties including monitoring of the grounds, keeping it tidy, lights on, and reporting any untoward activity.
Some of the properties are unusual, such as old churches and schools, so it's not like care-taking a three-bed semi in suburbia. Most are also unfurnished and only have basic utilities. You may not get a full working kitchen but, generally, the properties are spacious (maybe too much so), and there may well be co-tenants living with you, depending on the size.
The owners are concerned about vandalism or squatters and having a presence in their property can alleviate such worries. All prospective tenants will be vetted, must have an income stream and abide by the terms. This might include you being there every night. Generally, you cannot have children or pets with you, so it really only suits single people. If you're on twitter, follow @camelotie, email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call them on (01) 686 9414.
Question: My house was flooded during the recent storms. We are not in a flood zone and it's never happened before. We managed to get most valuables upstairs, but there's a lot of damage. My insurer is sending out an assessor. Will I be refused insurance in future?
Sinead replies: You did the right thing - householders have a responsibility of duty and care of their property and the assessor will acknowledge that you made the best effort to protect your goods by moving them and not simply leave them in situ to get damaged.
However, an insurer may now be concerned that it could happen again and refuse cover for you and your neighbours going forward. Companies will have differing views on this, so although you may need to shop around, it doesn't mean you won't get cover again. In any event, the worst case scenario is that you'll get cover for theft, fire etc, with the water element excluded.
The loss adjuster will assess the value of the damage. They may be independent but if not, you are entitled to engage your own and let them negotiate between themselves.
Carry on with the claim, ask if your policy includes a 'live out' clause which pays for accommodation while the work is carried out (most do). When the claim is paid, you may initially find it difficult to get cover, so I would contact a good broker to do the work on your behalf.
See www.iba.ie for a list in your area. They generally have a good sense of which companies are prepared to cover post-claim. You can expect in any event to pay a higher premium.
* To the gentleman who sent me a letter on Stamp Duty before Christmas, I'm afraid I mislaid it. Perhaps you can resend.
The Ryan review
There's a rising divergence in house prices between the new and second hand market which is worth noting.
While new homes will always carry a higher tag, especially with the expensive energy requirements needed, the gap appears to be widening.
Pat Davitt, Chair of IPAV - the auctioneers' association - claims it's "unprecedented", particularly in Dublin.
In one south Dublin location, new four-bed semis are priced in the order of €600,000, while existing second-hands of the same size are transferring for €430,000-€460,000.
Over in a middle class northside suburb, a development of three-bed homes is selling in the order of €400,000 but only slightly smaller older ones at a nearby estate are a good €45,000 less.
Undoubtedly people like low energy costs, shiny new interiors and a house that is in turn-key condition, and they're obviously prepared to pay for it - both developments sold extremely well.
But Davitt's point is that it puts a spotlight on the costs of building when the Government claims to want affordable homes in the capital.
Developers have been told to manage their profit expectations and if new houses were available at the price of second-hand ones, we'd have a lot more activity in the market.
But there's a reason building is still turgidly slow and it behoves Government to find out why instead of wringing their hands.