Saturday 16 November 2019

Home truths: In the desert with a house with no name

Mark Keenan

Mark Keenan

A particularly upbeat estate agent I know has been operating a home christening service as part of his overall sales package for about a year now. Glenn Burrell heads up the residential arm of Finnegan Menton, a well-established small to middle sized agency which sells homes of all shapes and sizes in all locations around Dublin.

A unique aspect of Glenn's sales service to his clients is that if their home doesn't already have a name, he'll give it one. Or if they want to christen it themselves, he'll help them find a suitable monicker. Glenn is of the firm belief that a house with no name is a contributor to a desert of viewings.

His argument is that most homes have a character all of their own and therefore the nameless house is needlessly lacking in an important aspect of personality. Unless you live in a modern estate, where all the houses are identical and won't benefit from the distinction, then Glenn thinks you should sit down, think up a name for your abode, have pretty plaques commissioned and attach one at the gate pillar and one beside the door.

The house I grew up in until age 11 was an 1890s cottage called 'Shruleen'. To this day I have no idea what number it was on that street. We always called it Shruleen - and this was the word our family used for 'home' for 10 years. Long after we moved out, I began researching what that name meant. The Gaelic translation is 'little stream'. This is interesting because when that house was knocked down to build apartments in the 1990s a small culverted stream was revealed to have been flowing right under it. We never knew it was there.

The point here is that most homes are named for something consequential in their environment and Burrell believes a new name given to a home that lacks one, should generally follow this rule.

"There was a really great mews that we sold off Elgin Road in Dublin and it was right next to a lovely old church. The house had no name so we christened it Church Mews. There was a notable increase in interest because of that little additional touch of personality.

"So it's also important how you name your home. Tree names are usually boring, they're everywhere so leave them out. Your chosen name should reflect something about the house or the garden or the area or the history, but also perhaps a sentiment or aspiration you attach to it. If you've seen the classic film It's a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart then think about Bedford Falls versus Pottersville. How much better is Bedford Falls? Where would you prefer to live?"

Indeed anyone who knows the acclaimed Capra film will remember the old Granville House, which becomes so symbolic of the relationship of George and Mary Bailey. They transform it from a wreck at which kids throw stones (break a window and make a wish), to their improvised honeymoon hotel, and later to their cosy, if erratic family home in which they bring up their children. It's been replicated in real life and in virtual sims online. The name carries gravitas. And the iconic movie home just couldn't have been based at plain old '320 Sycamore' could it?

But Burrell's interest in naming unnamed houses isn't based purely on sentiment. His job after all is to get the best price possible for his clients. He also knows that homes with names, with that little additional tag of personality, attract more buyers; and ultimately a higher price.

"A name adds interest to a house. In my view that bit of extra interest can also mean additional monetary value, perhaps as much as 4pc or 5pc."

His claims are justified at the very top end of the market where very few trophy homes are listed for sale by street numbers for good reason. We all know Ireland's most expensive house ever is 'Walford' on Shrewsbury Road in Ballsbridge which sold for €58m at the height of the Tiger. Few will remember that the house is at Number 24.

Similarly we all know the name 'Gorse Hill', from the long-running saga about the solicitor Brian O'Donnell who resisted repossession of the palatial house at Killiney Road in Dalkey. Big homes have names not just for grandeur, but to separate them from the posse. This adds value. Burrell believes that this logic applies equally at the smaller end of the accommodation scale.

A tiny artisan dwelling at Eugene Street in Dublin's Coombe area had been for sale through another agency for six months without success. When Burrell took over at the request of the owner he urged them to give the house a name to add that extra personality. 'Primrose Cottage' was decided on simply because the house was indeed a cottage - and cottages are intrinsically appealing. "Primrose, simply because it's a bright flower and it makes you think of something positive. It's homely." Burrell says the house drew additional numbers of viewers with no additions (other than a new name) and as a result it sold within six weeks. It also achieved €9,000 more.

Another house with a lilac in the garden was christened 'Lilac Lodge' for sale purposes. There were extra viewers and they all wanted to see the namesake lilac. A larger more affluent home at Brighton Avenue in Rathgar had similarly been on the market for six months with no offers. "We christened it 'Vilamoura' after the Portuguese golf club (there were no obvious pointers for us) and similarly it sold within six weeks for close to the asking price. A good name is always good for marketing."

So what's in a new name? Not only personality and identity, but it seems shorter sale runs and a good a few dollars more. Not bad for a bit of sentiment and a pair of painted plates for €40.

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