Monday 20 November 2017

Smart consumer: How to bag a bargain

Bill Tyson

The worst recession in living memory is not all bad. It has, at least, turned our Rip Off Republic into a bargain basement.

And in a land squeezed dry of credit, cash is now king.

If you are lucky enough to have even a small amount stashed away, you can snap up incredible deals.

Wilson's Auctions, (near Citiwest on Dublin's Naas Road) is the place where bargain-hungry vultures pick over the carcass of the Celtic Tiger.

Fast cars, fine wines and other luxury items are going under the hammer to pay off a fraction of the debts racked up by their former owners.

And business is booming with more people than ever -- from all walks of life -- bidding to snap up a bargain, according to auctioneer Rickie Wilson.

"Auction attendances have increased by 30pc and online it's up by around 20pc," he says.

Recent months have also seen a jump in "the finer things in life" seized by the Revenue Commissioners as they step up attempts to plug the massive hole in public finances.

"Recent seizures would include luxury vehicles, boats, furniture, fine art, wine -- anything that the Revenue would find as equity to repay the taxpayer."

Examples of the bargains to be had included up to 60pc savings on wine sold off by the liquidators of a defunct major wine importer.

However, Wilson's main business involves vehicles, offering savings of up to a quarter on showroom prices

"For example a 2008 Ford Mondeo would cost €12,950 in the showroom. At auction you could get it for €9.5-€10k," Ricky estimates.

So what other bargains are out there?

Property is an obvious one. And rents have certainly fallen, says Ronan Lyons, economist with Ireland's biggest property website

"Rents are down 25-30%in some cases -- compared to three years ago (see panel) and that's a welcome bonus if you are not in a rush to buy."

But what if you are? Can he answer the million euro question -- is now the time to buy?

That's a call neither he nor other commentators are prepared to make. But Ronan does offer this advice: "I don't think there will be a single moment when the market bottoms out. Different areas and sub- segments will adjust at a different pace.

"In Dublin, for example, prices have fallen by 45-50% -- in some rural areas the adjustment has been just 30% and they have some catching up to do."

In general, Dublin and other cities are likely to hit bottom first simply because market turnover makes it tick over faster.

Ronan believes that smart people "might be able to get a good deal in the next six months" if they pick the right area and "hang tough" with vendors -- or wait for a bargain to pop up in sales by distressed or bankrupt developers.

If you are thinking of buying, he recommends, carefully assess the area you are considering.

"People are a lot fussier now, a lot less willing to commute. So if there are good strong job announcements in an area (as there have been in Galway and Cork) that's a positive to consider."

However, if the area is and is likely to remain an unemployment blackspot prices may not recover for ages.

Although the Consumer Price Index is slightly up in the latest figures for November (by just under 1%), this is mainly due to a 9% hike in energy and fuel costs.

Clothing and footwear, meanwhile fell 5.5% while alcohol and tobacco prices dropped 3.3% in the 12 months to November.

Other areas of falling prices include furniture, household appliances, education, restaurants and hotels.

There is even anecdotal evidence of a return to "haggling" over prices in shops -- something that would never be countenanced during the heyday of the boom.

One determined haggler is film director Declan Cassidy who reckons savvy consumers are helping to drive down prices in this way.

He recently shopped for a new state-of-the-art Canon stills camera which shoots video in high definition -- a very recent development that is exciting low-budget film-makers.

"I found one on sale in a Dublin store (Berminghams) with all the kit I needed for just €30 more than the best price I could find online -- which, realistically, is around the same when postage and packing is considered."

Declan, however, lives in Drogheda, and didn't fancy travelling to Dublin in the recent snow.

"I marched down to my local camera supplier and gave him the chance to match the price," he explains.

The retailer was shocked at how low the Bermingham's price was and seemed to believe it was below cost (which it wasn't).

"He got back on the phone to his supplier, I suppose, and heated words were exchanged.

"We waited for a return call and when it came the news was positive. I walked out of there with my camera kit discounted by €250 and saved myself a trip to Dublin."

He's also pleased to "shop local" after a recent negative experience shopping online.

"It means that if something goes wrong I have 100% come-back instead of trying to deal with someone in God-knows-what part of the world over the internet."

In this price-busting recession, even provincial towns, it seems, can match the best deals on the internet when consumers not only shop around but play hardball too.

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