Here I am, house-hunting again. But this time it’s in Sydney

Wed, Jul 3, 2013, 01:00

I’m house-hunting again. That’s not a sentence I thought I’d write any time soon, particularly not as the last time I was house-hunting was in 2007. And we all know how that ended.

We found a house we liked and could kind of afford, and moved in mere minutes before our second child was born in early 2008, which is roughly the same time Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Life and Permanent were embarking on what they charmingly called their “rinky dinky”.

It was all as easy and straightforward as setting fire to piles of nice, crisp €500 notes. Since then, we have spent a lot of time saying things to each like, “But it only matters if we want to move”, and, “A home is not an investment anyway”.

Yet here I am, six years on, house-
hunting again. In many ways, it’s a totally different experience this time, not least because I’m doing it on my laptop and in a series of anxious, late-night conversations with my husband, whose voice is surprisingly clear for someone on the other side of the world, where he is presumably drowning in a pile of brochures.

The reason I have had to relinquish control of the search to him is that this time, we are house-hunting in Sydney, where he will be working for the next 10 months. In a few weeks, we’ll pack up a few suitcases, hand the keys of our house to a relative who has kindly agreed to look after it for us, and get on a plane to a country I’ve never visited.

But for all the differences this time around, there are some things that are alarmingly familiar.

First, there are the eye-watering, gasp-inducing, astronomical prices. Let me say at the outset that I’m not particularly fussy. I reckon we’ll be spending so much time outside, it won’t matter much what the inside looks like. I don’t need sea views or a swimming pool, or any of the other features apparently prized by Sydney estate agents. I’m pretty sure a “rumpus room” is not on my list of requirements, since I’ve no idea what one is. By rights, finding a place to call our (temporary) own should be the easy part of the move. Instead, it’s like we fell asleep and woke up back in 2006.

In one north Sydney suburb where we would like to live – it’s close to my brother but not too far from the city centre, where my husband will be working – rental prices for a three-bedroom family home start at A$995 (€700) and rise to A$12,000. That’s per week – and no, they don’t come with their own staff, hovercraft or lifetime supply of champagne, strawberries and foot rubs.

Most of them don’t even have furniture.

There are places where prices are slightly less eye-watering. In Parramatta, which was recently named Sydney’s most affordable suburb, three-bedroom places cost between A$400 and A$600 per week. In Bondi, you would pay between A$900 and A $1,200 per week.

To put this in context, even in south Co Dublin, which experienced the biggest jump in house prices in the second quarter of this year, average monthly rents for a three-bedroom property in the first quarter were €1,662, according to, which is €175 less per month than you would pay for one of the better three-beds in Parramatta.

Getting to see places is not easy either. At any given time, only 1 to 2 per cent of all the rental properties in Sydney are available for rent. Viewings are held twice a week on an open-house basis and last strictly 15 minutes. Competition is intense.

If you make it through the viewing with your nerves intact, you submit an application along with just about every bit of paper you have ever received, short of your 25m swimming certificate, and a week’s rent as a holding deposit. Then you wait a few days for the owner either to accept or reject you.

Despite all this, most people in Sydney still regard renting as the best option.

The average weekly rent may be high at A$500 for a house, but actually buying anything is like trying to get a foothold on Mars as the average house costs A$670,000 and the price is expected have risen by 19 per cent by 2016.

But it’s one thing Sydney acting like the global property crash never happened. It’s another thing parts of Dublin behaving like it.

The news this week that asking prices in south Co Dublin have risen by anywhere from 3.9 per cent, according to, which is owned by The Irish Times, to 12.2 per cent, according to, even while they continued to decline nationally, may have left some of us gobsmacked, but it won’t have surprised many of those who have been looking to buy a home in the area.

In recent months, stories recounted by house-hunting friends have been giving me uncomfortable flashbacks to 2006 (bar the part where, now, the banks carry out due diligence on putative borrowers.)

The overcrowded viewings; the uninterested estate agents; the feeling of desperation as the bids creep skywards; and the agent’s refusal to take your calls until you have got all your documentation in place.

Part of the reason for this is the shortage of three- to four-bedroom properties in the area – a situation that is not helped by people like me, stuck with houses we paid too much for, on tracker mortgages we are terrified to lose.

But that doesn’t explain all of it. It can’t account for the slight whiff of desperation that seems to have once again taken hold of parts of the market. Most are still in the doldrums of course.

Figures released last year by the Central Statistics Office suggested that more people were opting to live in apartments, and almost three in every 10 people were renting. Yet in the most affluent area in the country, property prices have begun to recover at rates that suggest that even what was, by many estimates, the worst property crash in world history wasn’t enough to shake the Irish obsession with home ownership.

Economists in Australia are warning that there are parallels to be drawn between housing price rises there, and the property bubble here. But Irish people can take some cheer from the Australian property experience. For all the problems we have, our rental market is still comparatively affordable and reasonably user-friendly.

No, you can’t have the sombrero

Anybody else struck by some of the things Nigella Lawson chose to take when she moved out of the home she shared with Charles Saatchi? The pots, the blender and the paintings all make sense. There’s no accounting for sentimentality, but did she really need the oversized Mexican sombreros? The children’s toys? The single can of Cannabis energy drink?

Not that I’m one to judge. With an impending move in sight, I’ve been tackling the mammoth task of sorting out a house lived in for five years by four people. My decluttering has so far turned up such treasures as an unopened CD of music from the Vatican featuring the voice of Pope Benedict, a voucher for Brown Thomas denominated in pounds, my debs dress, and a set of Davina McCall dumb-bells I bought four years ago, promptly placed in the bottom of a wardrobe and didn’t discover again until last weekend.

There are numerous psychological studies to show the negative effects of living in a cluttered house. Clutter is closely related to procrastination, which in itself is related to perfectionism.

In other words, people like me wait to declutter until we are sure we can do it perfectly, which may be never.

In the interim, the experts suggest that you should place whatever you are not convinced about parting with into a bin.

After a week, whatever you can name from the bin gets to stay. Everything else needs to go.

What kind of charity has €1m to spare for rent?

Dublin city councillors have wisely decided not to go ahead with the ban on charity shops on Grafton Street. After all, they could hardly be regarded as lowering the tone in the same way as sex shops, fast-food outlets and amusement arcades might.

It may prove a moot point in any case. It’s hard to imagine charity shops being able to justify paying the kinds of rents demanded of tenants on Grafton Street, even if those rents have fallen by 52 per cent from their peak. The recently-
vacated HMV store, for example, went on the market at a rent of €1 million, while the amalgamated Zerep/Richard Alan store, which is being redeveloped by Nama, is expected to fetch €750,000.

You would need an awful lot of donations from decluttering householders to come up with that kind of money.

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