Confessions of an accidental homeowner

I went from 27-year-old partying in Coppers to worrying about inheritance tax

Journalist Seán Dunne outside his grandparents’ house in Kilcavan, Co Laois. Photograph: James Flynn/APX

My grandfather was 94 when he died last year, just a few weeks shy of turning 95. Never believing he was 94, Jack Dunne was a well-known figure in the local Kilcavan and Clonaghadoo community in Co Laois. His death came as a shock to us all as he lived the life of a man much younger.

His name was one that everyone in our small community knew. If he wasn’t cycling by the local school with a great wave for all the school children, he was cutting the church lawns and was often spotted zipping around the church on his prized ride-on lawnmower with his straw hat on.

Most people couldn’t believe he was a man in his 90s but that’s who he was and we had never known him any other way.

Jack Dunne, grandfather of Seán Dunne

He retired in 1985 from the local county council and had enjoyed  over 30 years of retirement. He had also enjoyed over 50 years of marriage with my grandmother Elizabeth [Lil] until her passing in 2005.


Having raised three children, the latter years were enjoyed on the eight grandchildren they shared, of which I was the second youngest.

Their house was a small white cottage with rose bushes in the garden just a few hundred metres away from the local church and primary school.

Our community is small, the nearest town is Mountmellick, but for our local community the school, church and football field were three very important elements in their lives.

As grandparents they loved us all unconditionally. They never asked questions when we would appear to be up to mischief. There were never any questions asked when you would show up with a punctured wheel on your bicycle; instead Grandad would take it to his workshop to fix it.

They were of a generation where they were able to fix everything and do everything themselves. There was no need for third parties to be involved.

A few weeks after Grandad died last June, I was informed that I was to be a beneficiary of his will. To be honest, at the time I didn’t think too much of it.

I assumed it was a watch or perhaps his bicycle. He had never owned a car; instead, a lifetime had been spent cycling the roads.

I was informed that I was to inherit the family home. The little white cottage that Jack and Lil had spent over 50 years happily living in and raising their family was now mine.

My immediate reaction to my father telling me was to say: “What am I going to do with a house”. My Dad smiled and told me it was mine to do with whatever I chose.

The thoughts of being a homeowner frightened me – I had gone from being an average 27-year-old working and renting in Dublin to suddenly being as I like to call it, “An accidental homeowner”.

I went back about my day-to-day life in Dublin and the house sat there gathering dust for over a year.

I would occasionally pass by it when I would be home at the weekend but didn’t go in. It just wasn’t the same. They were gone and the grass grew longer and trees overgrown.

It was only after the first anniversary of my grandfather’s death that I started to think about the house.

This was perhaps going to be one of the hardest decisions of my life as I never could see myself living at home in Laois. I enjoy the life I have in Dublin.

Last month, I decided it was time to clear out the house. Armed with storage boxes, and having ordered a skip for anything that wasn’t being kept, I unlocked the door one Saturday morning.

It was my first time in the house on my own ever and there was a chill in the air. The fire in the kitchen had not been lit in over a year. The china and ornaments had become dusty.

The old-fashioned kettle was still on the stove full of water. The night my Grandad was taken to hospital he had filled the kettle ready for his morning tea.

I had moments of guilt removing the china and ornaments from the cabinets. It felt wrong but it had to be done. The large clock that had always been ticking in the kitchen had been taken down and there was just a silence in the house.

Piece by piece, I boxed up my grandparents’ lives. I kept my Granddad’s watch and one of his caps that was really his signature look. A glass vase that belonged to my grandmother painted in green with a gold trim was another memento, I held onto for my own house.

Wandering around the house in my granddad’s cap, each room became a little less crowded.

Little by little, we moved furniture that wasn’t wanted into the skip. Even the prized chair my granddad loved so much had to go.

As the lorry loaded the skip onto the back and drove off down the country road, I stood looking around a now empty house. I felt a great tinge of sadness that it was all gone. All the religious pictures had been boxed up and the china taken from the cabinets in boxes. The house didn’t feel like a home anymore.

I had so many questions for my grandparents, I wanted to ask what was I supposed to do now. Did they want me to live in the house?

While inheriting a property has given me the best start to my own transition into adulthood, it came with responsibilities.

With it came a bill for inheritance tax and so I had two choices: to sell the property or become a landlord.

Gifts and inheritances can be received tax-free up to a certain amount. The tax-free threshold varies depending on your relationship to the gift giver.

As a grandchild, I can inherit up to €32,500 tax free. The house has been valued at over €100,000, which means I am liable to pay 33 per cent tax on the difference.

I felt guilty thinking about selling. Would it be disrespectful to the memory of my grandparents to let their house go?

After a long discussion with my own father, I decided to put the house on the market. It had been the family home, the base for over 50 years, but it suddenly didn’t feel like that. The best two people in the house were gone.

For me, the accidental homeowner, it's time to create my own little home here in Dublin and I hope to buy a small house in Kilmainham later this year.

My grandparents have given me the opportunity to become a homeowner much sooner than I expected and in doing that remain very much a part of my future.