Monday 21 October 2019

Home Truths: Embrace an ugly house and save a pretty penny

You know it’s wrong: Carpet in a galley kitchen, plastic sheeted overhead fluorescent lights, cheesy 1980s board room units: We’ll take it!
You know it’s wrong: Carpet in a galley kitchen, plastic sheeted overhead fluorescent lights, cheesy 1980s board room units: We’ll take it!
Mark Keenan

Mark Keenan

My kids think it's hilarious that at their age I was devoted to a science fiction comic about the distant future - and it was called 2000AD (!!)

But the millennium was a long way off when it started in 1977. This was the comic book version of punk rock for kids, with stories that were edgy, rebellious, cerebral, anarchic and side-splittingly funny. Authority was lampooned and skewered with deftly wielded satire. Big stuff when you're 10. And you had to hide it from your parents!

2000AD is still going today (its bosses simply ignored the obvious expiry date quandry). Its early artists and writers went on to became global game changers in the graphic novel movement and inspired a score of hit movies.

One of its best yarns was about Otto Sump, the world's ugliest man and a contestant on the big network TV show Sob Story. The show brings protagonists on to live TV to beg from viewers. The saddest tales of woe make the most money from public donations.

Otto relates how he was born so ugly that his parents abandoned him on the steps of a plastic surgery clinic. As an adult he was too ugly to be hired for any job other than "rat-scarer". And he lost that job when animal rights activists complained. Otto's story brings floods of tears and donations, making him the highest grossing contestant ever.

With his new fortune, Otto transforms the world to suit his own perspective by opening a chain of exclusive "Ugly Clinics," the polar opposite of a beauty clinic. Rebellious young trend setters in popular rock bands rush to get "uglied up" and key influencers in Hollywood are bribed to go under the knife and "get an ugly." They're hailed as "brave" by the press and a public which decides it is fed up with the beauty myth. Sump's ugly clinics offer dab-on pimples and shampoos to make your hair frizzy; drops to make your eyes bulge and toothpaste to give you bad breath. Ugly becomes a universal trend and Otto Sump embraces the new society he has created in which the squint-eyed man is king. The end.

If Otto Sump were an estate agent, he'd compile a powerful windowful of properties that combine everything we collectively hate about the 'wrong' types of homes. But as Otto's parable tells us, there's sometimes big money in ugly. Indeed buyers struggling to find a home which qualifies for a mortgage, could do worse than get 'uglied up.'

Savings can be had from homes which don't fit the common billing of what a pretty home should be. Those who can find an 'ugly' can also end up with far more space than they would otherwise have been able to afford. In Britain and the USA, this is called "contra trend" buying. There's even a hugely profitable firm in the USA called HomeVestors, which operates across 45 states with the slogan: "We Buy Ugly Homes." HomeVestors pursues the sorts of homes that most of us eschew, for the benefits of profit on rents.

To "go ugly" as a homebuyer, you will have to be prepared to tolerate unorthodox layouts, looks and configurations. Here are a few of the home types that fit the 'ugly' bill and could save you money on yours:

Flat Out: Most of the home buying public runs a mile from homes with flat roofs because of what is largely a myth about leaking. Most modern apartment blocks have them without issue. Flat roof homes from the 1970s and 1980s are particularly out of favour but the sheer value to be had can be enormous.

An estate in Dublin 24 has recently seen four-bed flat roof homes within walking of the Luas sell between €200,000 and €280,000. In the same area three-bed terraces are making €270,000. The flat tops rent for €2,200 per month. Long-time inhabitants who missed having an apex roof quite simply shelled out and had one added. Just for appearances. Exit Stage Left: Many buyers won't touch homes with recessed entrances to the side, which can mean the house ends up being far cheaper than a regular equivalent in the same location and size.

Also, a popular build type for many years by the local authorities is the maisonette terrace which looks like a regular home until you go around the back (or front). It has a 'front' entrance on both sides with one to a downstairs home and the other leading to another upstairs.

Generally speaking this combo provides the equivalent of two decent two-bed apartments, one over the other. Buyers don't like them as much as apartments but they are usually better built with far more space for the money. Dirty Secret: Dirt is a great leveller and if you can find yourself a truly filthy property (in otherwise good condition) then you're likely to bag yourself a bargain. But I'm talking proper filth: sticky carpets, stained curtains and long term exposure to pet pee. Estate agents will tell you that for many buyers, deep dirt is actually a deal breaker. With an average semi, abject mankiness can knock €15k off the value when it might need just €3,000 spent.

That 1970s House: While 1970s interiors are cool again, there hasn't been a rush to buy heavily styled structures of the era with smoked windows and car ports. Similarly 1980s "plastic" neo Georgian terraces have a look that buyers generally don't dash for. So once again, they can be cheaper. Fools Gold: The pyrite disaster saw homes in North Dublin, Kildare and Meath start to crack up because the expanding mineral was used in the aggregate deployed under the foundations. More than 20,000 properties were affected. Many buyers are now reluctant to acquire homes in pyrite estates. It means the price of those which have undergone the €70,000 rehabilitation process can be much lower, even despite the problem having been properly addressed. Clad in Value: Back to the 1970s and the craze for covering exteriors in the type of pave cladding made popular on Vera Duckworth's Coronation Street pad. It cost a fortune back in the day to put it up and today it costs a fortune to remove it. If you can tolerate the broken cream cracker look, you could save €30,000 on the price.

So if you're ever home hunting, it's profitable to remember that ugly is also in the eyes of the beholder.

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