Home truths: Blanch is Dublin's most desirable spot
Perception is a funny thing. Back in the Celtic Tiger years, I talked to a Russian engineer about the housing choices made by Eastern Europeans when they arrived in Ireland - many coming to take jobs on then-thriving construction sites. I noticed that few among our new wave of 'Dubskis' chose to rent in the very areas to which native Dubs had always aspired.
Piotr was delighted with himself for having just obtained a lease for a new house in Blanchardstown in west Dublin, which he was preparing to share with three other compatriots. I asked him why none of the incoming migrants from Russia and other former East Bloc countries seemed to have any interest in the "leafier" parts of Dublin 2, 3, 4, 6 and 9? Weren't the houses far more elegant? Weren't these locations more central?
He screwed up his face in obvious distaste: "These have nothing but dirty old cold houses." He explained that Russians almost always preferred a new home to an old one in just the same way as they preferred new clothes to old. He couldn't fathom why Dubliners got so excited about period property. "In Blanch the houses are modern and new and clean, and we are right beside one of the country's best new shopping centres and some of the best roads. For little money we can afford more space to entertain at home. We are also far from the noise of the city and near the countryside for picnics at weekends."
Piotr was pleased too that lots of other Russians were living in the area. "We can have lots of Russian parties, yes?" For the Russians in 2005, Blanchardstown was the best address you could have in Dublin bar none. And when you think about it in a detached way, this view makes sense.
But a decade on, long established Irish views on housing are changing fast - perhaps even in line with Russian thinking. There is a growing feeling - for largely practical and cost-effective reasons - that new is good and old is bad.
Although I wrote 15 years ago that we were witnessing the death of the semi-detached house, it's demise was postponed by a seven-year long property crash. Many 'new' semis today are either located in towns outside the main cities or are a hangover from plans put on ice when the crash kicked in, and restarted more recently.
But with the market recovered and new homes being designed and constructed from scratch once more (albeit in small numbers), it is becoming apparent that Irish city houses are undergoing perhaps the greatest transformation seen in 100 years.
The changes are happening thanks to the increasing cost of land, of heating and energy; thanks to growing environmental concerns, to tightening regulations, because of improvements in technology/materials and lastly, because of changes within society itself with smaller and more fractured families becoming the norm.
Look at our New Home View section today and you will see a selection of family properties in the cities which are almost unrecognisable from the long standing Irish suburban norms - these are three storey, high density homes with super high levels of insulation. With land costs high again, not an inch of space is wasted. Different materials are employed. Heat pumps generate warmth almost gratis from the depths of the earth and super efficient A-rating insulation keeps all of it in.
Because there has been an almost complete hiatus in new home construction since 2007, these changes have become suddenly apparent. And the revolution continues to move at speed. Soon most homes will be constructed in a factory and assembled on site. Bathrooms and kitchens will arrive on a truck as 'pods' already completed to order.
We are also witnessing the beginning of a complete re-evaluation, from younger Irish home buyers in particular, about what they really want from a home. Whereas the first-time buyer of 2006 might have been happy to buy an old red-brick terrace in the city and do it up, the first timer of 2016 will have a far keener eye on energy consumption. Older, larger houses and the semis constructed from the 1950s on are therefore destined to fall in popularity as energy saving/generating technology continues to improve. Passive House technology for example (currently being sought for dwellings by Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Council), can reduce energy bills to almost zero. In contrast, the semis constructed in 2001 will stand you a bill of €200 per month plus.
Perhaps the greatest change in perception will take place in rural Ireland in which the Celtic Tiger saw thousands of 'McMansions' constructed over a 10 year period - 3,500 sq ft houses with six bedrooms and five bathrooms but with no proper insulation to speak of. Their owners will be feeling that this winter either in their bones or in their pockets. And just like 2005's 'Dubskis', in the capital younger buyers will be soon be hankering for Saggart, Swords, Ashtown and Blanch.