Home economics: Sinead Ryan answers your property questions
Q. I've bought an old but small terraced house. In each bedroom there is a fireplace that I will never use. The chimney breast and hearth is taking up room I want to use for other things as I can't even fit a wardrobe and twin beds in. How difficult would it be to remove them? I have gas heating throughout so have no need for a chimney either.
A. This sounds a little more complicated than might be imagined, so I asked Michael Gaynard of ArdCo Construction for his advice.
"Depending on the structure of the property and more importantly, if it's feasible to spend money on removing the chimneys totally in relation to what space you would gain, it's an intricate but very doable job.
"It would be advisable to contact your neighbours prior to works as for both parties it would be beneficial to get a dilapidation report (which assesses the condition of the property) carried out.
"The house would have to be vacated during works with the initial job starting up top on the underside of the roof area to demolish the chimney from there down, dropping it internally and carefully, to be taken for disposal. It is crucial that the upper section which would adjoin your neighbour is securely propped to avoid any disturbance to it during work.
"An engineer would need to be brought on board to spec the supports needed for the roof structure and also the surrounding walls and propping adding to the overall cost.
"If on the other hand, the entire chimney does not need removing and it is simply removing the hearth and a slimline chimney breast, then that would be much easier and more cost efficient. The floor would have to be reinstated and the chimney liners properly draughtproofed with the chimney opening infilled with brick/plasterboard and plastered to match the existing wall."
As ever, get several quotes and recommendations before commencing. As an aside, this work would qualify under the Home Renovation Initiative to a maximum of €30,000 + VAT.
Q. Our mother is in a nursing home and has Alzheimer's disease. We recently read about a Government proposal to change the rules about letting out the houses of people in the Fair Deal scheme. While we would like to do this, the amount that would be taken from the rental income doesn't make it worthwhile. In addition, we're concerned about who would be responsible. She has no capacity to make this decision, so would the rental income be deemed as coming to me, as her power of attorney, if I make it on her behalf?
A. It has long been an unfair anomaly of the otherwise excellent Fair Deal scheme that families are forced to board up the homes of their elderly relatives when they access nursing home care, rather than sell or let them.
The reason, as you've pointed out; is that in renting, 80pc of total income is taken (this can actually end up being more than the income itself), and in a sale, the cash reverts to an un-capped 7.5pc pa for life, instead of ceasing after three years.
The new proposal is to try to circumvent this in some way but I'd be very surprised if the HSE allowed rental income to slip the net altogether, or the sale proceeds are left fully intact. In any event, it's just a proposal and would require a change in the legislation.
If you do let it, the income (or sale proceeds) belongs to your mother as the property owner. As Power of Attorney, your job is to administer her finances; they don't become yours.
I'd ask a solicitor before making a decision if only because any other beneficiaries of her estate in the future may object to your choice, and it's better to tie these things down while you can.
The Ryan review
I've just returned from Amsterdam after settling in my daughter for a Master's programme.
As a foreign student, they are falling over themselves to help her out. The course is in English and like with many Dutch degrees, there's reduced fees and subsidised accommodation.
This is in the form of a block of purpose-built identikit bedsits, constructed in 2014, perfectly proportioned at around 20sqm containing a kitchenette, study area, seating and bed with wardrobe and storage. There is a separate bathroom and nobody shares. Ten floors offer 342 units with bicycle storage, communal laundry, security, a post lobby and even a residents' group. Myriad bus routes and a train station are within five minutes' walk. The city centre is under 5km away, putting the flat in the equivalent of Rathmines or Fairview in Dublin. It is completely private and secure. This for €570 per month, utilities and internet included.
There are more than 170,000 students in Ireland, with a deficit conservatively, of 25,000 beds, according to the Higher Education Authority. While building is happening, it's not enough, and not soon enough.
The New Mill, in the Liberties for instance will offer 400 rooms, but a single ensuite with a shared kitchen will top €270 a week, or over €1,100 per month. For one similar to my daughter's it's a whopping €349 a week, or €1,570 a month, almost triple what she's paying. Why?
And how many hours working in fast foot restaurants would you need to squeeze into study time to pay for that?