Am I ready to give up my bijou city box for more space beyond the Pale?

Tanya Sweeney: Location or house size is a conundrum not easily solved

Location, location, location or . . . um, extra bedroom, extra bedroom, extra bedroom? It’s the dilemma that most house-hunters of moderate means must weigh up, and one I found myself pondering recently.

Some pals of mine recently moved out to the commuter suburbs. As in, out out. An hour from Dublin; a drive away from everything. It’s a new-build estate, and it’s taking a while for the community to settle in and find its feet. No spontaneous trips to the shop for milk, or a swift neighbourhood pint, or a browse in the local charity shop. But what they lack in a characterful, vibrant neighbourhood, they’ve more than made up for with an ultra-stylish and spacious detached house.

If we've forgotten milk, we traipse down the road by foot. We may not have a Smeg, but we do have hot yoga across the street

I admit I was more than a little covetous when I walked in the front door and realised that the hallway alone was bigger than my Dublin 7 sitting room. There were bells and whistles galore: a boot room, a pantry, a robe room (a new one on me, granted), and five bedrooms. The guest room, where I stayed had an en-suite and walk-in wardrobe. Each bedroom was big enough to house – wait for it – sofas. Kitchen islands, waste disposal system, a shiny American fridge, a toy room for the kids. Each family member had plenty of space. There was no need for the Kitchen Tango of Death, as there is in my small kitchen whenever we make meals. Yep, pretty green with envy.

With my head duly turned, I began badgering my partner. Surely we need extra bedrooms and a boot room? He looked sceptical. He loves where we live, thank you very much. It’s certainly bijou – the baby still sleeps in our room, and is likely destined for the office-cum-spare-room-cum-storage-area when she gets older. But every amenity is on our doorstep. There are transport links every which way you look. We can walk into town. We like our neighbours. If we’ve forgotten milk, we traipse down the road by foot. We may not have a Smeg, but we do have hot yoga across the street. To have a big house and garden like our pals, in this area, would likely set you back close to a seven-figure sum.


It begs the question – is there a point in life where one’s priorities change, and the emphasis switches to house size, as opposed to location? Do we need more space the longer we are in relationships or marriages? I suspect the answer is yes.

I have a young family now, so the nearby vegan food trucks, hipster bars, barre classes and indie cinema are largely lost on me. I really don’t need to be near them, and I don’t need to be paying a premium for immediate access to them in a “sought-after” area. I could, however, really use an extra room or two.

Public transport links

While traditionally location has been considered the most important factor in property buying, Which? magazine in the UK found that it came eighth in a list of priorities, behind local crime levels, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and local public transport links.

In London or New York, a small living space is the price denizens willingly pay to be close to the action. Yet in Ireland, house size has always been inextricably linked with status. We have long defined ourselves by our house size. I mean, it rains a lot here, so we spent a lot of time in them. It stands to reason that our homes are extremely important to us.

Some wouldn't give up Dublin city, with its myriad problems and shortcomings, for the parochialism that often lies beyond the Pale

But the location versus house size conundrum has shape-shifted even more recently. In Dublin at least, even small homes in leafy areas are out of the reach of many. Expectations have had to be razed to the ground and rebuilt. When it comes to exacting a divine balance between location and house size within budget, it’s often a question of buying small in an “upcoming” area, adding an extension on when finances allow, and hope that the wave of gentrification rolls into town.

Of course, there’s also a downside to living where faraway hills are greener (and have bigger kitchens). There’s the daily commute for a start, which doesn’t allow too much time to enjoy a sizeable garden. Often, those living in far out commuter towns wind up living far from family and friends, resulting in its own sort of isolation. You end up ferrying the kids hither and thither in cars all day. And some wouldn’t give up Dublin city, with its myriad problems and shortcomings, for the parochialism that often lies beyond the Pale.

In this house, we’re on top of each other a lot, but it does mean we’ve had to get very good rubbing along well together. The boot room and the kitchen island will just have to wait until a lottery win happens. But there are many reasons that where we live works for us. It has an energy, a vibrancy and sense of community that no walk-in wardrobe is likely to top.