Kildare Living: a tale of two counties
While property prices are on the increase in north Kildare, recovery has been much slower in the south of the county
The thoroughbred county: Horses being schooled after racing at The Curragh, Newbridge. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan
The shortage of family housing in Dublin is spilling over into Kildare, most notably in areas closest to the capital.
“The residential market is very strong here, with a huge scarcity of three- and four-bedrooms,” says Eamon O’Flaherty of Property Partners Brady Maynooth. “The typical scenario for us now is that when we get a three- or four-bed semi-detached house we’ll have 20 to 30 viewings and five or six bidders. Almost all are first-time buyers who were renting in the area.”
Both house and apartments prices are up 20 per cent on last year, he says, with investors beginning to come back into the market too. The lack of supply is unlikely to ease any time soon: “Prices will have to rise more before builders will be able to start building again,” he adds.
When it comes to property, Kildare is a tale of two counties. North Kildare, including towns such as Celbridge, Clane, Leixlip and Maynooth, fared better in the recession than those, such as Newbridge, Athy and Castledermot, in the south.
Maynooth weathered the downturn relatively well. “Being a university town helps and we’ve also got an improved rail service, with frequent trains to and from Dublin and Connolly Station just 35 minutes away,” O’Flaherty says.
Naas, a sizeable town with a population of 31,000, has had good news on the employer front in recent years too, with the arrival of the Kerry Group. It is currently developing a state-of-the-art €136 million R&D plant in the town, the benefits of which are already beginning to flow.
Its arrival, and the prospect of more than 1,000 jobs, many at graduate level, has been a huge fillip to morale here.
“Work has begun on its plant and the group has already leased a number of commercial buildings around the town. It has been a huge boost for the commercial and retail property sector here too,” says Richard Doyle of DNG Naas, who has recently taken on two new staff members to cope with the upturn in demand.
“We’re extremely busy and the market here is very strong, but we’re suffering a shortage of three- and four-bed homes.”
It’s a situation he hopes the rising market will ease. “There’s still a number of parties struggling with negative equity but, hopefully, as the market continues to rise more and more people will be lifted out of that situation and will be in a position to start thinking about moving or trading up again. We are seeing a significant increase in the number of loan-approved buyers compared with this time last year.”
The further south you travel in Kildare, however, the softer the market becomes. Athy in particular took a hammering when the property bubble burst, with not just plummeting prices but ghost estates to contend with.
What it has going for it now, however, given the sharp rise in prices to the north of the county, is cheap property.
“We are seeing far more activity than last year because prices are very affordable here. You can get a three-bedroom semi-detached house in Athy from €60,000 to €100,000. You couldn’t construct one for those prices,” says Charlie McDermott from Sherry Fitzgerald McDermott in Athy.
The bulk of activity here is at starter-house level. “For the mid market, the three- and four-bedroom country bungalow or two-storey house on half an acre, things are not as buoyant as they are in Dublin but are still up on last year. At the top end of the market, over €350,000, it’s still very slow.”
It will take some time before the rising tide hits south Kildare properly, he reckons. “Athy has a lot going for it in terms of being just three-quarters of an hour from Newlands Cross and with the rail service, but it will be another 12 to 18 months before we see a significant upturn here.”
Part of the problem is that between 30 per cent and 40 per cent of the houses on his books are receiver sales which are slow to process. On the plus side, ghost estates are being brought back to life.
“There are only two ghost estates left here that are still not addressed, and a couple of apartment developments. But things are moving.
“We disposed of one such estate, The Hollands on the Kildare Road, three months ago, when 17 units were sold in three days. There are buyers out there with loan approvals they have to use as soon as possible, unfortunately the mechanics of recession, in terms of receiver sales, tend to slow things down,” says McDermott. Even in south Kildare, however, prices are beginning to nudge upwards, by more than 10 per cent on last year, he reckons.
Thoroughbred county has a unique niche
Kildare’s property market has one driver that is unique – it is the headquarters of Ireland’s bloodstock industry.
“Ireland’s affinity with the thoroughbred is well-documented, particularly so in terms of being the birthplace of national hunt racing,” says Ronayne O’Mahony, head of equestrian properties at Knight Frank.
“To focus specifically on Co Kildare, affectionately known as ‘the thoroughbred county’, and to establish why Ireland is the third largest breeder of thoroughbreds in the world, producing in excess of 40 per cent of the EU output of thoroughbreds and 11 per cent of the total worldwide, one must look at the bedrock of Kildare, its soil,” he says. Kildare’s soil is a happy mix of carboniferous limestone, sand and gravel, he says. As such, it not only provides good drainage but the limestone helps foster strong bones in thoroughbred athletes.
“For flat-race horses especially, which you see on track at the Curragh and Naas racecourses, racing away at just two years of age, good strong bones are always going to be an advantage.”
This advantage has led to an industry cluster which includes not just the county’s racecourses at Punchestown, the Curragh and Naas, but bloodstock sales house Goffs, industry bodies such as Horse Racing Ireland and The Racing Academy plus internationally known businesses such as Thoroughbred Remedies Manufacturing and Berney Brothers Saddlery.
The county is home to world- class breeding studs including The Irish National Stud, the Aga Khan’s Gilltown, Sheshoon and Brownstown Studs and Sheikh Maktoum’s Darley Studs at Kildangan and Blackhall. Kildare is also home to leading trainers such as Dermot Weld, John Oxx and Arthur Moore.
The downturn has presented serious industry players with an opportunity, according to O’Mahony. “Land values have effectively been rebased, down 30 per cent to 50 per cent, depending on location and the product itself. We have seen renewed interest in equestrian properties while pure land holdings have been consistently high in the past year and activity is increasing,” he says.
Kildare is about the only part of the country where farmers don’t view horses as an ineffective use of land. “The payback is so big if you get the right one as to make it worth it,” explains Clive Kavanagh of Jordan Town and Country Estate Agents in Newbridge.
Land values are moving back up, averaging between €12,000 and €15,000 an acre compared with €10,000 a year ago.
Demand these days is mostly from farmers and those with bloodstock interests. “Land will always be at a premium in Kildare among trainers, if the location and the quality are good.”