Friday 20 April 2018

When it comes to houses, I'm a head-over-heels type

Katy McGuinness
Katy McGuinness

Some people talk about falling in love with a house in the same way that they talk about falling in love with a person, while others take a more pragmatic approach. I'm a head-over-heels type, and the idea that you can have a romance with bricks and mortar, and tumble hopelessly, seduced by foibles and future promise, blithely ignoring the practicalities, is one that resonates with me. In much the same way that you might find your insides turned to mush by the endearing way that a particular lock of hair falls over someone's eyes, steadfastly ignoring the fact that they are otherwise committed, or live in a different country, or haven't even noticed that you exist, you can fall hard for a house. (You had me with those 14ft ceilings.)

I am full of admiration for people who go shopping for a house in the same way that they would go shopping for a new car. Of course, we have basic requirements when we go looking for a new home - a minimum number of bedrooms, for instance, within reach of public transport, perhaps. But beyond that I can't imagine being so set on what you want to buy that you can't allow yourself to be led astray by something wonderful and unexpected. A beautiful window, maybe. The glimpse of the sea through the trees. A tree heavy with fruit in the remnants of what was once a kitchen garden.

I know that a house is the biggest purchase that most of us will ever make, but it is so much more than that. Your house says something fundamental about you, and do you really want that something to be that you are the same as all your neighbours?

These days, the estate agents I meet tell me that everyone is looking to buy houses that are ready to move in to, that are "turn-key". They say that families just don't have time to take on a refurbishment project that may take months to complete, that they want somewhere that has already been done, where someone other than them has taken on the risk.

Part of the reluctance to take on a renovation is that people don't have confidence in their own ability to envisage what needs to happen to transform somewhere sad and unlovely into a home. We Irish are not well-educated in design; it's just not part of our national competency or psyche to be able to visualise potential. So most of us opt for safe, identi-kit purchases when, if we were prepared to throw caution to the winds, to take a risk on something a little out of our comfort zone, we might end up with a far better house.

So, if you're house-hunting at the moment and you haven't found it yet, why not - just for a week or two - look at some options that don't tick every single box on your list. So what if they have oil-fired central heating rather than the gas that you want? So what if there's no off-street parking? Perhaps they have other charms that can form the basis for an enduring love affair...

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