London calling ...
The UK's "lost" Irish generations are coming back and they want to buy your house, writes Mark Keenan
WHEN former UK pub chain boss Sue McGoldrick discusses her plans to move her life -- lock, stock, and barrel -- from London to Roscommon, she talks about "coming home", despite the fact that she was born in Birmingham and has lived in the UK all her life.
Now in her 50s, Sue and her partner, Tuam-born demolition contractor Gerard Hession, are currently buying a house on two acres for €100,000. The house is within reach of Boyle, Co Roscommon, where they both have relations. "The same property in the UK would cost us at least £500,000," she adds.
Sue's father left Boyle in search of work in the UK in the 1940s. He landed in Birmingham, checked into a guest house and later married the landlady's daughter -- Sue's mum.
Driven by the perception that the quality of life in the UK has declined in recent decades, Sue and thousands more first and second generation Irish have recently begun cashing in their British assets in the face of crashed Irish prices to "come home". An Irish property is on top of their shopping list.
"I've had enough of sitting in traffic jams on the M50. I've worked hard for 40 years, now its time for us to come back and take it easy."
Sales of Irish homes to UK-based purchasers have surged by 39pc in the last 12 months. A survey of 50 Irish estate agencies which is about to be published by the Real Estate Alliance confirms that UK-based purchasers now account for a whopping 13pc of all sales nationally -- and as high as one-in-five sales in more remote western counties.
As a result of this extraordinary UK-fuelled surge of purchases, the REA network is heading to London next month to bring our bricks and mortar direct to our "lost generations". The event is expected to attract thousands of expats to the Hilton London Olympia hotel on Saturday February 22 -- the same day that Ireland faces England at Twickenham in the Six Nations rugby championship. All properties for sale through REA members will be on show.
"We have found that around 60pc of our UK enquiries are now coming from Irish emigrants wishing to return, with more than half of UK-based buyers acquiring homes for their retirement," says REA CEO Philip Farrell.
A new survey of 50 REA member businesses on UK buyers shows that 84pc of British-based purchasers are aged 50 and over, with the majority living in London and the south. Meanwhile 87pc of them are paying hard cash -- indicating that they are selling up their UK properties to make their Irish purchases.
At the same time it is ironic that the latest CSO emigration figures show that 89,000 people left Ireland in the year to April 2013 -- a level of departure not seen since the Great Famine. It is not without some irony that the most favoured location is the UK.
"I can see how Ireland isn't ideal for a young person looking for opportunities at the moment but for someone of 60 years of age looking to wind down and relax like me, it is looking pretty good right now," says vehicle leasing company owner Mike Moylan, whose family left Ireland for the UK in the 1960s when he was 12.
"And I'm not being derogatory when I say that rural Irish prices are 'small change' at the moment by British standards. I've just bought a four-bedroom house with five acres for €200,000 in Co Waterford.
"My plan is to work here in London three days a week and commute to Ireland for the rest. From where I work in Croydon it's literally two hours door-to-door via Gatwick and Cork Airports. Consider that some of the people who work for me do a much longer commute on UK roads twice every day.
"The new house has five acres and I plan to keep a few horses and chickens, to just take it easy and enjoy life. Ireland is good for that -- for getting away from the fuss."
The 'small change' factor is a big influencer. With Irish property prices having crashed by 60pc in the regions and UK house values currently at a premium amidst a decent exchange rate of 83p on the euro, there's never been a better time for an Irish person in the UK to cash in their British bricks and acquire their own chunk of The Sod.
Alex O'Rourke is a businessman in the equestrian sector who owns a number of properties around Britain. Based in Devon, he left Ireland with his family from Castlebar 60 years ago in 1953. Then aged 10, he always intended coming home.
Now in their 70s, Alex and his British born wife Sandra are looking for an Irish property.
"A three-bedroom bungalow with land in somewhere amazing like Bantry is available for €190,000. That's for nothing.
"We're going to sell a few properties here and invest the lot in a blank canvas site somewhere scenic in the West of Ireland. We'll build a log cabin with solar panels and bring a load of our horses with us.
"It's not just about the economics and my roots, it's a lifestyle choice. The standard of life in the UK is fast going downhill -- particularly for older people. I have friends in Ireland so I know that certain values are still holding true over there, particularly regarding the treatment of senior citizens."
Despite the recession, the economic collapse in Ireland and the desolation of health services, British-based senior citizens see pensions and benefits as being far better for older people in Ireland.
The historically attractive property value exchange ratio, along with the perception of a friendly society and a better quality of life overall has been enough to ensure that 40pc of UK-based Irish purchases in the last 12 months have come via British citizens with no Irish roots.
While returning Irish expats accounted for 80pc of UK-based sales in greater Dublin and 55pc of sales in coastal Munster, they are outnumbered four-to-one and more by "rootless" British in cheaper counties like Mayo, Leitrim and Roscommon.
Among the 100pc British buyers are equestrian dentist Diane Wilson (47) and her partner, retired farrier Eric Wonnacott (73).
They claim that the two-bedroom house on 10 acres that they purchased during the summer for €160,000 in Arigna, Co Roscommon, would have cost them the equivalent of €500,000 in their native Devon.
Of the "British British", 16pc are coming to both live and work here while 29pc are buying in Ireland to work from home and continue their jobs in the UK.
"It was a lifestyle choice and a big step up on what we had in Devon," says Diane.
"We're horsey people and we've been coming here for years on holiday to attend the Ballinalsloe Fair and other events. I still travel to the UK for work, flying out of Knock and Dublin Airport when Knock is closed. But it's worked out really well."
Mr Wonnacott adds: "We're really pleased with our decision. Both sets of our children are grown up now and we'd been renting cottages here for years. We just decided to make that leap to come and live in Ireland and so far, we're delighted we did."
* Further details on the forthcoming REA London Property Exhibition, and a list of local agents, can be found on www.realestatealliance.ie