Monday 11 December 2017

Home truths: Airbnb the cure for granny flat elbow

Airbnb. Photo: Getty
Airbnb. Photo: Getty
Mark Keenan

Mark Keenan

Granny flat elbow - a rare but not uncommon and expensive affliction among middle-aged Irish people.

It takes hold like this: widowed mother of a senior age can't look after herself anymore - last week she put the cake on the doorstep and the cat in the oven. Since then, the Dundalk gardai picked her up near the Border asking directions to Donnybrook Fair.

Family conference ensues. The 'do good' sibling proposes building a self-contained "granny flat" at great expense to the side of his or her family home. The other siblings readily agree - it's the perfect solution.

'Do good' sibling and subordinate spouse then take granny on a Sunday drive to the posh hotel with one too many Baileys at the end of it. The proposal is put. Granny agrees. Everyone is happy.

'Do good' gets underway with the project, converting the garage and the back utility room into a one-bedroom self-contained home with a living room/kitchen, a bedroom and specially fitted age-friendly bathroom and shower. It comes with its own entrance, but also with an access door to the main house for family contact and emergency.

And, when it's all done, granny is informed she can move in.

Her response to this is: "What?"

"Why would I move in with you when I have my own perfectly good house?"

I have heard of three bad doses of granny flat elbow in recent years - a very expensive affliction in city middle-class circles given that big investment like this has seldom paid off.

But in the last year or two things have changed: now there's a 100pc effective cure for granny flat elbow - a strong dose of Airbnb.

The Airbnb revolution means that ordinary punters are now cashing in by letting out every granny flat, spare room, attic, tarted up garden shed, caravan, farmhouse, henhouse, outhouse and doghouse to tourists who can't get into them fast enough.

But back to granny flats: a friend of mine who recently built one for the occasional visits of foreign based in-laws (who do make good on their promises) tells me that his wife stuck it up on Airbnb for the considerable amount of the year when her parents aren't there. Located in a part of Dublin which is not particularly tourist popular, he says it's never ever vacant - and brings in a steady €75 per day.

That's €2,250 per month or €27,000 per annum (excluding the weeks the in-laws have it). And you don't have to worry about all the pesky rules, regulations, lease terms, obligations and niggles that go with renting out accommodation by orthodox letting channels.

Even in the current supply-starved and desperately inflated Irish rental market, the going rate for this sort of self contained annexe accommodation would be somewhere in the order of €1,400 or €16,800 per annum for my friend's particular location in Dublin.

And herein lies the problem: at this kind of big money and on these sorts of easy and flexible terms, why would you let out a spare room or a granny flat on a regular basis to a leased tenant? Indeed, let's take it a step further: why would you let out a self-contained apartment or a house on a regular basis if the terms are similarly attractive and the occupancy is so good?

Tourism is booming in Ireland at the moment and the three big cities are hot targets for Airbnbers as a result.

So what effect is Airbnb having on the supply of 'regular' property to let? This is extremely hard to quantify.

According to a recent report in the Dublin Gazette, for the very reasons outlined above, Airbnb may now be impacting on the supply of long term property to let.

We can probably assume that Dublin, Cork and Galway are already following the better researched trends in other European cities like Berlin, where Airbnb has caused controversy for draining off regular lettable accommodation in such numbers that the burghers have created task forces to tackle the issue. In Berlin, it seems the authorities are currently trying to bring two thirds of the short term let apartments back into regular rental stock - equating to roughly 12,000 homes. (a website which compiles Airbnb statistics) suggests a total of 1,469 homes/apartments are currently available to rent in the Dublin City Council area alone through Airbnb. This compares with 1,279 houses and apartments currently available to let 'regularly' through

Of course, we can't tell where gets its figures and whether they are reliable. But some sort of proper Government-led research might be a good idea at this point in time.

In the meantime, as Airbnb goes from strength to strength in Ireland, we are likely to see more Irish grannies getting the granny flat elbow than giving it. With potential earnings of €2,250 per month and more now up for grabs, antsy grannies might find themselves left in Dundalk.

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