Talking Property


Buyers are the ones being greedy these days, says ISABEL MORTON

WE LOOK back on the Celtic Tiger years as the greedy years. Bankers were greedy, property developers were greedy and, in fact, we were all a little greedy.

But guess what? Nothing much has changed. We are all still just as greedy as we once were. The only difference now is that it’s fashionable to appear chastened, demure and saintly so we have mastered the art of hiding our greed very well.

But who do we think we are fooling with our newly adopted pious countenance? We might as well admit it. Greed is alive and well and living in Ireland.

As far as the property market is concerned, greed has just jumped from one side of the fence to the other. Instead of vendors holding out for as much money as possible when selling their property, purchasers are now attempting to save as much as possible when buying a home.

What has surprised me of late is the calculating approach adopted by some prospective buyers. Via a friend’s daughter, I was recently introduced to a couple in their early thirties who are enthusiastically looking to buy a second-hand house. Apparently I had to meet them in their (rented) apartment to fully understand exactly how seriously they were treating their quest to find the house of their dreams.

I headed off to the appointment full of sympathetic thoughts for this nice young couple struggling to buy their first home together. I hoped I could give them some helpful advice. Indeed, I was almost feeling maternal towards them and checked that I had an extra packet of tissues in my bag, should they be required.

Within minutes of meeting them, I realised that I’d got it all very wrong. What had I been thinking of? These were a pair of young, energetic, well-educated business people who had been brought up in a competitive era where the stakes were high. They had fought for success all the way along the line, from exam results to career moves. They were perfect examples of the Celtic Tiger generation.

However, I was amazed to discover that purchasing a house had, within a very short period of time, become an obsession, which now takes up their every waking moment.

On arrival, I was whisked through to the nerve centre (the apartment’s second bedroom), which was set up as their home office/computer room, with three of the four walls covered in large notice boards and white boards. The former had property brochures pinned up in neat rows below related ordnance survey maps which were appropriately highlighted. “Report” sheets and photographs accompanied each property, listing pros and cons and assigning points to each section, such as orientation, condition, transport links, décor, neighbours’ parking, etc.

More photographs, this time of some of the agency negotiators, were cut out from publicity material and pinned up on “personality profile” analysis pages (if they only knew how they were described!) and a large weekly planner reminded them to call estate agents, time commute trips and check gardens for shadows and overlooking.

The white boards were divided up into colour-coded sections marked with words like “verbal offers”, “written offers”, “strategy”, etc. They had carefully recorded and dated each contact made with each estate agent in relation to each property, what had been “said” and what had been “implied”.

I’m not often at a loss for words, but their “bunker” left me speechless. It was like a second World War operations control centre. Had army personnel been sitting there decoding property brochures (now there’s an idea!) and Vera Lynn been singing in the background, I’d not have been any more surprised.

I asked if they would be interviewed for Property, but no, they didn’t want “our cover blown” – at least not until they had successfully purchased their dream home.

Although somewhat reluctant to give away too many details of their modus operandi, I gathered that their research methods included a considerable amount of surveillance and inquiries made with neighbours and locals.

They also make a verbal offer on every property they like, regardless of how low, as without it they feel that the estate agent is unlikely to keep them in the loop.

They had five potential properties “under observation” last week, but admitted that quite a few had already slipped through their net for various reasons, usually because they eventually sold for more than they were prepared to pay.

Their current favourite is being sold by someone whose business is under pressure. They do a daily drive by the poor vendor’s place of work to assess the situation. Their informative whiteboard notes that the unfortunate man has already let three of his five staff go. They plan to put in an offer this week, with the “carrot” of closing the sale before Christmas.

Their ruthless strategy has yet to prove itself but I was left wondering if those Celtic Tiger years were really quite as greedy as we thought they were.