I began the search for my ideal home as a single person in September 2020. Automatically outpriced of a house in south Co Dublin, I concluded that a two-bed apartment was the only option within reach. I set about arranging numerous property viewings. With three years of savings and mortgage combined, I had a reasonable budget of about €280,000.
Armed with a 12-month mortgage approval in principle, I was, as a sole applicant, fully aware the bidding process would prove to be a battle. I be competing not only against couples and families with more flexibility pricewise but also against property-hungry buy-to-let investors.
At the beginning of the process, my research led me to two conclusions. The first was that I should not set my sights on just one property. The second was that I should present myself to the estate agent as a “package”. I was in an advantageous position: as a first-time buyer with proof of funds, I wasn’t part of any buying chain and was therefore ready to purchase straight away.
One apartment I viewed had what the estate agent claimed to be a water leak. The liquid actually came from two angry-looking bulldogs in the property overhead
I compiled a list of questions to ask each estate agent. Key considerations included the year the property was built, the reasons the owner was selling and whether they had received any offers yet. I sought the help of parents and friends who kindly offered to join me at viewings, which soon became a tedious task.
My first property heartbreak occurred when I viewed a spacious top-floor two-bed apartment in Dún Laoghaire with an asking price of €280,000. It had a modern, open-plan living area, two large bedrooms and a balcony that caught the sun throughout the day. Following that viewing, I emailed my bid to the estate agent and assured them I was a serious buyer. When this was met with silence, I followed up with a call days later only to be advised that an offer of €310,000 had been made. I felt I couldn’t compete.
It quickly became apparent that an asking price was merely a starting point in a bidding war. Most of the properties I looked at ended up selling at prices between 10 and 20 per cent above their advertised levels. In addition to this, I found that with any two-bed apartments within my budget, there was always a catch.
One property within my range was above a creche that produced staggering amounts of noise, while three other potentials had major fire-safety and insulation issues. Most memorably, one apartment I viewed had what the estate agent claimed to be a water leak. The liquid actually came from two angry-looking bulldogs in the property overhead. Coming in a close second was the not-insignificant mould outbreak that had been glossed over with what can only be described as a yellow-pack paint job. The agent claimed he was unable to see it.
Annoyingly, there is no cap on the amount you can bid on a property. On one apartment the estate agent advised me of an interested party who was outbidding me in increments of just €500 each time. It was ludicrous
I arranged 11 apartment viewings over a few months. Outbid on every property I viewed, the possibility of "phantom bids" – non-existent bids created by unscrupulous estate agents – became a concern. Unfortunately in Ireland, there is no way of distinguishing real bids from fake bids that can push you to increase an offer. Even more annoyingly, there is no cap on the amount you can bid on a property. On one apartment the estate agent advised me of an interested party who was outbidding me in increments of just €500 each time. It was ludicrous.
By January this year I had enough of what had become an exhausting cat-and-mouse game and decided to search further afield. While the imposition of Level 5 lockdown restrictions led to a cancellation in physical viewings, I managed to get a last-minute appointment to see what appeared to be an idyllic house in Bray, Co Wicklow, just a 15-minute drive from my family.
Despite not having the budget required, I threw caution to the wind. As soon as I stepped into the house, it felt right – when you know, you know. With two bedrooms, one bathroom, an open-plan living room and kitchen, it was perfect and it was a house (something I had never deemed possible).
With the estate agent hammering home the message that the vendor was seeking the asking price, if not more, I contacted my mortgage provider and pushed hard for an exception that, if I was lucky enough to get granted, would mean I could borrow more than 3½ times my salary. It felt like a lottery, but a few days later I got the news that I was being approved for a higher mortgage amount. Unfortunately, I was still €5,000 short of what I needed.
With Covid-19 running rampant across Ireland once again, the remainder of my viewings were cancelled. Then, by sheer luck, I came across a property of the same size in the same estate in Bray. Going on the images alone, I contacted the estate agent and, on a whim, began negotiating on price.
Eventually my offer of €315,000 was accepted. Although I had only viewed it virtually, I was comforted by the fact that my 2 per cent deposit was fully refundable if I didn't like what I saw in person. Without delay, I transferred my deposit to the estate agent on the condition that the property was taken off the market. Having been through house-hunting hell already, I had no desire to repeat it.
Rebecca Lee is a freelance writer and broadcaster