A Dublin househunt: I found ‘the one’, then the survey results came in
Helen O’Rahilly: Within 10 minutes, I was in love. I wanted this house to be mine
“I’ve been lucky with my ‘falling in love’ instinct. So far.”
Buying a house means you fall in love, out of love and back in love in the space of a few weeks. It’s head-spinning. I’m in the middle of such a turbulent love affair in Dublin, my first time to buy here.
Over 30 years in London I’d fallen in love with two Victorian houses and I knew it, felt the love instantly even though I’d spent only 15 minutes previewing each one. I had long years and happy times in both homes. I’ve been lucky with my “falling in love” instinct. So far.
In Dublin, like anyone trying to buy, you get on the treadmill: scanning estate agents’ emails in the inbox, heading out at dawn on Saturdays to be first in the queue, a wan smile to those who want to beat you to the purchase.
I saw and smelled a few horrors: wee-soaked floorboards; a river at the back of one house with a frolicking family of rats; a miasma of damp not hidden by a spray of Febreze.
You sneak side-glances at the other would-be buyers: the couples with mam and dad in tow, smiling politely as you ease past each other to look down the vendors’ lavatory bowl, then walk into a bedroom where two men are already measuring for the window shutters they want painted in a shade of Farrow & Ball’s Elephant’s Breath™. Your mind is racing, working out the runners and riders: they look richer than me; I bet she’s inherited a lot; those two are just here for a “nosy”.
Then I saw “the one”. I instantly knew it was going to be my house: a stripped-down redbrick with a state-of-the-art kitchen extension, walking distance to the city. Within 10 minutes of the first showing, my old infallible instinct told me to go for it. I struck: a whisper to the estate agent – full price, cash offer. He was taken aback: “I’ll get back to you.” Days later, he told me the owners wanted to continue to show it. Cue the sound of screeching brakes in my head.
Who can blame them? “Some ‘just back from London’ eejit wants to offer us the full price, sure we might get even more if we hold on.” Welcome to the Dublin property circus, I said to myself. I’d wait. It worked. No other eejit offered more. The house would be mine. The deposit was paid. The solicitor instructed.
Now came the nights of waking at 4am, clicking on the myhome.ie site to see my house. I loved the way the living room ran seamlessly into the kitchen as well as the full glass wall looking out on the garden. I was running away with myself, throwing barbecues in the searing summer sun of Dublin, cooking for my first family Christmas there. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive...
Reality bit. Rule one: pay for a full survey. I’d spent 10 years from assistant producer up to editor of the BBC’s consumer TV series Watchdog and I’d seen almost everything that can go wrong with a house purchase. I was well-armed, well ready. So I thought.
The €900 survey arrived in my inbox days before Christmas. It instantly ruined my festive spirit.
A stomach-churning number of structural and cosmetic defects were listed: “cracks”, “the parapet is leaning”, “out of true”, “damp issues”, “odour”, “chimney needs urgent rebuild”, “complete repointing needed”, “missing bricks”. Hire a chimney expert who uses a special camera, I was advised. A plumber was needed to examine the ‘odour’ and a structural engineer brought in to examine the cracks. I was gutted. I was hoping the house wouldn’t have to be as well.
Being Christmas, the estate agent, solicitor and surveyor were on holiday. I cursed my luck, my instinct had abandoned me. The thought of starting from scratch, traipsing around Dublin in cold January staring down more loos, at more kids’ cute art on fridges, filled me with dread. Two grand down the pan.
Rule two: be resilient. I would banish the January blues. All was not lost, yet. Instead of quibbling over the phone I simply sent the entire survey to the estate agent and asked the sellers for feedback. They could just walk away. A long, silent week followed. I started to click on new properties popping up in the inbox, just in case the whole deal was off.
I’d taken a risk by showing them the brutally honest survey. The owners were probably unaware of most of the faults. It’s a big deal to be told your turnkey house needs some major work.
I was patient. Give them credit, the owners got their original structural engineer back to examine the issues. Within a week, I had a builder’s estimate on how much it would cost to make good the defects. The sale price was reduced. The purchase continues. Now, I’m checking those photos at 4am again: hanging my pictures, stacking the bookshelves. I’m back in love. No brass ring yet. Watch this space.