I swore off all property websites . . . then I had a moment of weakness
After almost a decade of property site abstinence, I thought, one little look won't hurt
There was still a paddock big enough for Merrylegs (I could hardly live in a place like that and not buy a Shetland)
Through the early years of being stuck in negative equity, I swore off all property websites, studiously looked the other way when I passed estate agents’ windows, never so much as considered going to a house viewing. What was the point if you weren’t free to pursue it?
But then one Sunday evening, after almost a decade of abstinence, I had a moment of weakness (Room to Improve had just ended for the season; it’s always a difficult time) and I thought, “one little look won’t hurt.” And so I logged on to a property site that may or may not be affiliated with this newspaper, and there it was, waiting for me – my dream home.
I had no business ringing the estate agent, finding out when the open viewing was on, getting myself and the toddler out of our onesies, and tearing off to take a look, but it was a former stud farm just an eight-minute drive from our home.
The house was right on the edge of the city and most of the land had long since been sold off, but there was still a rambling garden, including a vegetable patch and some glasshouses. The asking price? €500,000. Just €20,000 more than we had paid for our 92sq m semi-d in the same postal area.
It was even more charming than I imagined. Fine, so it was next to a sprawling industrial-style development that had the appearance of a meat rendering plant (it turned out to be a school). The view from the kitchen window – of horses grazing in lush fields – more than made up for it. And ok, so the agents, after much pestering, admitted that the boarded-up stables now actually belonged to Nama. But there was still a paddock big enough for Merrylegs (I could hardly live in a place like that and not buy a Shetland).
The house belonged to an elderly lady. In one of the rooms, a huge panic alarm system had been set up beside a bed. I thought of the woman who used to mind me and my brother after school – she had lived alone in the farmhouse next to us, and she had slept with her dog on the bed for protection. We, in turn, had no grandparents around and so we became like family to each other.
Before I was born, the farm had been a showjumping yard. We did our homework at the same table where Eddie Macken and all the other famous showjumpers of that era had once sat, striking deals, buying horses. We played in the old tack room with hundreds of fraying rosettes won years earlier at the Dublin Horse Show. We trained the dog to hop over peeling show-jumps in the overgrown sand arena, helped to feed chickens and lambs, rambled about the orchard and the empty meadows. It was idyllic.
Between Center Parcs and Ballymahon’s magnificent Maura Higgins on Love Island, Longford was having a moment
Maybe our children would get to experience a childhood like mine in this old stud farm. But the timing was bad. We had bought our house at the peak and were still a few years off getting our heads above water again. I considered everything – one of those negative equity loans, selling my blood plasma on the internet – but where I can be impulsive, my husband is rational and measured.
Wasn’t it possible, he tactfully asked, that it might be a bit isolating living there? And the house was old and preternaturally cold; who knew how much it would cost to renovate. And how would this country living fantasy even work, given that he was allergic to feathers, wool, cats and horses?
“But it’s not like I’m going to bring Merrylegs inside,” I almost replied, before remembering that invoking the name of an imaginary pony rarely helps your position in a debate. And besides, he was completely right and I knew it: this was a flawed, impractical house. We didn’t bid on it. A few weeks later, someone else bought it.
Well, that learned me, as we say in the midlands. I was done with unsuitable viewings for unsuitable properties. I couldn’t go through that again. When we finally emerged from negative equity and made the move to a seaside village earlier this year, we rented. We would not begin searching for a house of our own until Brexit played out, and until we were completely ready to make a move on something sensible and modern and not at all ridiculous.
But then something unexpected happened. My parents came to stay for a weekend and fell completely in love with the seaside village. They went straight home and put their house of more than 40 years on the market. Their timing couldn’t have been better – between the opening of Center Parcs and the sudden fame of Ballymahon’s magnificent Maura Higgins on Love Island, Longford was having a moment.
Their house quickly went sale agreed, and it hit us all: this plan was actually happening, and at breakneck speed. They would very soon need somewhere to live, and so over the course of the summer we hunted for a new home for them.
One day while trawling listings for my parents, I couldn’t help but notice that a house had come up for sale around the corner from us, a house that would suit a family. Yes, we were supposed to be holding our fire, but this was not an impractical, romantic property that was going to weave a spell on me. This was sensible and modern and not a bit ridiculous. One little look wouldn’t hurt. I walked in the door and instantly it felt like home. Here we go again, I thought.
Caroline Madden is a freelance writer