Heading for home turf
Orlando OLeary, Peter OConnor with their baby Ellie at the Sherry FitzGerald property show in London last Saturday
Up to a few years ago Irish people based abroad looked on, amazed, at the money being paid for houses at home. Now that prices have dropped more ex-pats are beginning to see value in residential property here
Planning their retirement years, Anthony Reynolds and his wife, Kirsten, looked with interest at the photographs of hundreds of houses listed for sale at Sherry FitzGerald’s property show in London last weekend.
The Reynolds have given thought to their needs: near an airport with good links to London, good public transport so Kirsten can return to Britain frequently to visit relatives. So far, north Co Dublin is proving the best fit.
“We looked at Waterford and Wexford, but they are too far from transport,” said Dublin-born Anthony, who, with his wife, runs Image Diagnostic Technology, a company providing online medical imaging.
Early last Saturday morning, they were among the first to enter the one-day exhibition at the Copthorne Tara hotel – formerly owned by Aer Lingus. Over the day more than 100 people attended the show.
Many of those in the UK showing interest in Irish property are Irish-born, or second-generation, but with strong connections to Ireland: “People have a very strong sense of place. In Australia, you’ll see mention of the townland people came from,” says Sherry FitzGerald managing director, Mark FitzGerald.
Some of those attending Saturday’s show were emigrants from the 1980s, now thinking of changing gears in their 50s: “It would be good to have a base at home, rather than staying with relatives all the time,” said one man, who preferred not to be named.
Traditional holiday spots are attractive: “Enquiries are definitely up,” says Diarmuid McMahon of Ennis-based Sherry FitzGerald Mahon, who is now dealing with interest from UK buyers for Ballykilty Manor in Quin, “just 10 minutes from Shannon”.
In Cork, Sheila O’Flynn is dealing with calls from potential buyers “from Saudi Arabia, China, even Sydney”, about a €1 million luxury home outside Kinsale, complete with indoor swimming pool: “People are coming to look because of the prices,” she says.
Website traffic illustrates the interest. In just six weeks this year, the company’s site had 79,000 visits from 913 locations across the UK – a 25 per cent increase on the same period two years ago, with nearly half the interest coming from Greater London.
In Ireland, fury about the household tax continues, but UK buyers find the debate “hilarious”, says Elaine Daly of Kenmare, Co Kerry-based Sherry FitGgerald Daly: “Some of them pay that a month in charges.”
Prices in the Kerry tourist spot are down by 50 per cent, though little of that fall has been caused by residents running into financial difficulties because of overspending during the boom years: “Most of them weren’t of the age to be getting involved in that.”
Sterling’s strength is encouraging many British-based buyers to enquire further, says Sherry FitzGerald residential’s managing director, Michael Grehan, even though it has weakened a little in recent months.
Interest, too, is coming from Irish based further abroad: “These are people who have done very well, but even they could not afford to buy during the boom. Now they are buying, so that their children can be educated in Ireland.”
A third of the market “at the top end” is filled by ex-patriates: “They will continue with their international lives, but their families will be raised at home.
“And they are buying with cause: 43 per cent of last year’s deals were cash-buys.”
Mark FitzGerald adds that €6.1 billion worth of property was sold in Ireland last year – half of it in Dublin: “But it is a recovery based upon shortages,” he says.
Even so, a move to Ireland is not without questions: “Questions about the health service are a bit scary, since the whole thing is very different,” says Yorkshire-born Kirsten Reynolds, “but I want to try living in Ireland.”