Talking Property


The buzz of the boom was great but then we got stung, says ISABEL MORTON

IT’S BEEN one hell of a decade, one in which we saw the rise and demise of Irish property and with it, this little nation.

Looking back over the years, I find myself somewhat hysterically muttering the words of Mary Hopkins’s 1968 hit: “Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end . . .” and indeed, we didn’t.

The best years were probably the earliest in the decade, before we realised that we were king of the castle and God’s gift to the planet.

In those early days, there was a general buzz of childish excitement around the property business. And, as a nation of homeowners, we delighted in the excitement of it all, for a while anyway.

Last weekend, I re-lived the decade, looking through my numerous box-files filled with property brochures collected over the years. Arranged according to area or postcode, it was easy to lay my hands on a few of the more extreme examples of the “out of this world” prices achieved by certain “trophy homes” (as we liked to call them) but what was more amazing was the level of prices reached by some quite unremarkable houses.

The brochures told the story of millennium highs, followed by a dip in 2001 when the bubble burst. Then prices reflected how we had temporarily lost confidence in investing in anything in the months following 9/11 but made up for it again in late 2002 when we bought with a vengeance and didn’t stop for a second until the summer of 2006.

Back then every Thursday morning, I used to wake up unaided by anything more than my internal “property clock” and within minutes was up, dressed and driving down to my local newsagents, waiting for the papers to be unwrapped.

Those were the days when this supplement could have up to 56 full-colour pages to gawp at and would provide a seemingly endless supply of fodder for gossip and speculation. Who was selling what, and why? Who would buy what, and for how much?

Real property addicts (like me) would have a viewing list made out by 9am on Thursday. The “must see” (on behalf of clients or myself), the “like to see” (pure curiosity) and the “could be interesting” (if I’d nothing better to do).

The must-see properties were viewed by private appointment or during the one-hour Thursday lunchtime open viewings, as they were usually free of tyre kickers with the exception of the odd nosy neighbour, who just couldn’t resist a quick peep.

The like-to-see properties were allocated to Saturday afternoons, as the party atmosphere and numbers of guests invariably made it impossible to view anything properly.

At the time, sellers complained that they had to wash handbag marks off their staircase walls after a Saturday viewing, due to the numbers squeezing past each other on the stairs. (These days, they’d happily redecorate their staircase daily, if their property attracted even a tiny percentage of those viewers.)

South Co Dublin suffered particularly badly from the effects of property fever and gleaming four-by-fours were regularly seen indiscriminately abandoned anywhere within sight of an estate agents sign.

Intent couples, dressed down for the weekend in designer casuals, tried to look relaxed and somewhat disinterested, as they trailed their little darlings around an endless number of smart period family homes, their green eyes barely disguised behind their dark sunglasses.

Saturday evening’s social events were dominated by the postmortems. Houses viewed were analysed and all aspects of the décor, furnishings, fittings and even the fridge contents, would be discussed and dissected.

Sellers soon learned to edit their underwear drawers and bathroom cabinets of items, which might be considered personal.

Estate agents often ran out of brochures and, in the interests of safety and security, frequently had to restrict the numbers entering a property at any one time. Extra staff were regularly called in to help man a property, which had attracted an unexpectedly large crowd and on occasions, if the neighbours hadn’t already done so, they even had to call the Garda to control traffic and supervise parking.

Did it really happen or was it just a dream, which has now turned into a nightmare? I closed the last box-file, the one full of brochures for properties as yet unsold.

Over the past decade, property had become the number one national pastime. Indeed, it became a national obsession. And, it still is, but for very different reasons.

PS – Could anyone please tell me why we are permitting our banks to spend hard-earned taxpayers money on advertising, sponsorship and public relations? Talk about adding insult to injury.