Hooking up with Ken
John O'Keeffe talks to Ken MacDonald of Hooke & MacDonald and discovers a man who is the King of the new homes market
KEN MacDonald, managing director of Hooke & MacDonald, will blush when I say this, but what the hell. He is to apartments and new homes what Elvis was to rock and roll.
He was one, if not the first person, to go skinny dipping in a market that no one else saw back in the '70s. In his company's new offices in Baggot Street, he is the captain of a ship which is certainly not suffering from Cabin Fever.
Here all the crew matter, and no one is forced to walk the plank. Ok, so you don't mess with Ken MacDonald, but at the same time you know you could introduce him to your mother and she wouldn't run away. So how has his company earned their stripes in this expanding market and where did the story begin?
"Firstly, apartment living is here to stay," says MacDonald without any scent of hesitation. "We sold the Pilot View apartment development at Dalkey off the plans on the actual site in 1979 without the benefit of any of the more sophisticated marketing tools that are now in existence, and it was an instant success.
"In 1980 we carried out detailed research and brought out a comprehensive report on the fledgling apartment market in Ireland. The publication of this stimulated the interest of the public and many developers to the potential for apartment living," says MacDonald.
From the very date that Hooke & MacDonald was set up, nearly 40 years ago, it has specialised in the new homes market. Over the past decade, the company has sold more new homes than any other agent and holds the lead position in this sector.
These guys were launching new apartment developments in Dublin back in the 1970s when you and I were ironing our Bay City Rollers pants and throwing shapes in the Dandelion Market.
How does MacDonald react to the snobbery which is still prevalent with regard to 'new homes'. "The new homes sector used to be regarded as the poor relation of the housing market, and most agents kept clear of it," says MacDonald.
"A decade or so ago, it constituted less than a third of all housing activity, but it has now passed out the second-hand market in terms of volume, and is a multi-billion euro market and a vital part of the national economy. A thriving new housing market, which we now have, keeps State finances on track as the Exchequer receives 36pc of the proceeds from every new home built in the form of one tax or another."
Why would he encourage young people to buy new rather than second-hand - other than for the obvious reason? "Most young people now go for a new home as their first choice for a variety of reasons," he says.
"The main advantages of buying a new property as opposed to a second-hand one are the stamp duty exemption for owner occupiers, the fact that it will require less maintenance and heating cost outlay in the years ahead, and with vastly improved design, building and insulating standards in recent years, you are getting a superior product which you can enjoy to the full."
What of the naysayers and doom mongers who have predicted a housing Armageddon over the last few years? MacDonald may come across as a cuddly bear but he is not afraid of a trap. "The various parties who have been found wanting in their predictions about the future of the market must be quite embarrassed at this stage as they have been proved wrong so many times. Some have been quite genuine in their assessment, while others have tried to gain cheap publicity at the expense of vulnerable aspiring home buyers."
Enough of that general stuff Ken - what about stockbrokers? Are these people the housing market's friend? "I believe the stockbroking community have done themselves no favours in their attacks on the residential market in recent years, with a few honorable exceptions.
"The poor quality of their research, the false basis of the bulk of their assumptions and the outlandish predictions for future market trends and the PR machines that they utilise to spread their message, call into question their credibility and impartiality."
While fence sitting is clearly not MacDonald's favourite position, he concludes with a positive. "We have a great country here, with a strong economy, a vibrant young population, a superb sporting tradition; yet some people prefer to ignore the positives and find the negatives."
While MacDonald regards the current market as buoyant for one and all, he adds some words of warning for the future, particularly in the Dublin area. "Our research shows that we have only enough land and sites left in Dublin city centre to last another eight years based on present policies and practice in relation to density and height.
"What will future generations be told when they want to live in Dublin city centre to enjoy all the amenities of the city? The stark reality is that there will be no new developments when the present valuable land resource is used up, and you can imagine the affect this is going to have on future prices in this area."
As I slide out of Hooke & MacDonald's plush new offices, I can't help but feel that should the land dry up in Dublin, Ken MacDonald is one of the few people who might just find more where the rest of us thought there was none.
As far as new homes are concerned, Ken MacDonald may not yet be able to turn water into wine - but you get the feeling it's only a matter of time.