Asking a househunter to register their interest in a property is routine enough: they type in their name and contact details, and expect a call or an email. For a developer or their sales agent to ask potential homebuyers not just whether they are availing of the Help to Buy (HTB) scheme – a Government loan to first-time buyers of 5 per cent of the purchase price, up to a maximum of €30,000 – but for their application number, access code and “entitlement amount” seems unusual.
If a first-time buyer expresses interest in the Clonrath scheme of mostly four-bed houses under construction on the Skerries Road in Lusk by McGarrell Reilly, and indicates on the online registration form that they are availing of HTB, they are then asked for the additional details.
This has caused at least one househunter to express disquiet. In a tweet addressed to Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin, after indicating on the form that he is a first-time buyer, David said: “Registering interest for a new development & in the form, they’re asking for the application code & access code for our help to buy before they’ll tell us what the prices are. Doesn’t feel right to me that I should give that info to a private company. Is this allowed?”
Ó Broin (who this week accused Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael of crying "crocodile tears" over affordable housing policy) replied to David, saying he would raise it with Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien.
While we didn’t raise it with the Minister, we did raise it with McGarrell Reilly chief Seán Reilly, who said the houses are not just for first-time buyers; the four-beds were designed with an eye on people who have bought starter homes nearby and want to trade up in the area. With regard to the specifics of the HTB registration, said Reilly, “we do not have people in our office collating that information.”
It turns out the developer did not ask for this information to be given in the registration process. Rather, it seems the sales agent REA Grimes seeks the information "as part of the process of profiling buyers . . . to ensure people are organised and ready to go" when the houses are launched – in June, said Paul Grimes. He says people can opt in or out of the HTB section, and that only about 7-10 per cent of first-time buyers fill in their details. And when it comes to retaining data, he insisted: "We're in business 50 years and integrity is core to everything we do."
Meanwhile, Reilly said the company’s executives will review the situation and if they find it inappropriate they will ask the agent to remove the request for the specifics of the HTB application from the website.