Property profiles 2006-2016: Stories of boom, bust and rebound after the crash
Ten years ago house prices were approaching their peak. The subsequent falls changed some people’s lives profoundly. Six of them tell their stories of boom, bust and rebound
Níall Donovan: ‘I asked the bank if they wanted the house back. They said no.’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Jillian Godsil: ‘The bailiff came . . . the scariest thing of my life.’ Photograph: Garry O’Neill
Emma Lawlor: ‘For me it was a good thing that it all fell apart.’ Photograph: Ciara Wilkinson
A decade ago: Jillian Godsil with her daughters, Georgina and Kathryn, at their former home near Shillelagh. Photograph: family collection
Maria Murray: ‘After the break-up we discussed selling, but we probably won’t.’ Photograph: Alan Betson
‘I asked the bank if they wanted the house back. They said no’
Niall Donovan and his wife came back from Australia in 2006 to buy a house in Ireland. They bought a house in Swords for €428,000, having got mortgage approval “pretty much straight away”. He says it’s now worth less than €300,000. Donovan is an engineer, and his wife is a teacher. He lost his job in 2009, having warned the bank when he was given three months’ notice. They fell into arrears over the next two years but continued paying as much as they could until Donovan returned to full-time employment, in 2011.
“We had anecdotal evidence of our friends buying houses and telling us to get home quick, because the market was shooting up. When we got off the plane the first thing we did was start looking at houses,” Donovan says.
After buying a place, “It was two years of really hard struggle in a house we didn’t really want. We’d only intended on living there three years max, like everyone was doing, and then moving somewhere we wanted to live,” Donovan says.
“I asked the bank if they wanted the house back, and they said no. If they’d threatened me with that, I’d hand-deliver them the keys with a little bow on them”
In 2012 they applied for a mortgage to buy a house for €220,000 in Raheny, in north Dublin. “We had all our ducks in a row, but they just wanted more bits of paper from us. They kept moving the goalposts. We had the arrears in our past, but we’d gotten rid of them.
“Now we’d be in a position to pay a 10 per cent deposit – and they’ve moved it to 20 per cent. By the time we save that we’ll be in another age bracket, and it feels like we’re never going to get out of the cycle. The overriding feeling is huge frustration and anger.”
‘For me it was a good thing that it all fell apart’
Emma Lawlor began looking for a house in 2011.
She was set to buy a new three-bedroom end-of-terrace in Drogheda, Co Louth, but the loan, which was to be provided by a relative, fell through. “I was very disappointed at the time, obviously, but I left it then,” Lawlor says. She rented until 2013, when she was ready to buy again, this time having gone through a long and thorough mortgage application.
“I was in a stable job and earning decent money. I had the deposit, and I went through the whole mortgage-application process, which took the guts of a year through going back and forth with paperwork. It was very rigorous.”
Lawlor got the keys to her new house in December 2013; the property was almost identical to the one she’d been looking at in 2011: a three-bedroom end-of-terrace in the same development. The house cost €152,000, and she got a 92 per cent mortgage.
“It ended up being a good thing in the end that it all fell apart a couple of years beforehand, that I ended up having to wait. I’m in a much better position now: my mortgage is much more manageable.”
She is moving to California in the next few weeks; before Christmas an auctioneer assessed her house for renting. “I could rent it for about €1,200 a month, or the resale price now would be about €235,000, which is ironic, because that was the original price” of the house she was unable to buy, she says.
‘After the break-up we discussed selling, but we probably won’t’
Maria Murray and her partner bought a “small cottage” in Rathmines for €600,000 in 2006. She works in the public sector and he works for himself. Although it was a big mortgage it was approved quickly – and, she says, they could afford it at the time.
“We weren’t naive. We knew we needed to be able to cover the mortgage and have a life, and we could do that. Then wages were cut and the USC came in – and, same as anyone, that ate into our disposable income. I can still afford it, but it is much harder than it was when we took the mortgage out,” Murray says.
She and her partner separated last summer, and, although they considered selling, being in negative equity meant that wasn’t a viable option. Similar houses in the area have sold for between €150,000 “at the bottom of the market” and €240,000 more recently.
“After the break-up we discussed selling, but we’re probably not going to sell it for a long time. I’m planning to get some work done to make it a bit more liveable. It’s hard for both of us. We’re not married, but the house is now my home, and our daughter’s, but no longer her dad’s home,” she says.
“It’s exhausting, because there’s the practicalities of breaking up, and sorting out access arrangements with your daughter, and then there’s the house. Basically we’re stuck together until one of us wins the lottery.”
Neither Murray nor her ex-partner is in a position to buy the other out, but she says that, ultimately, she hopes she can. “It has definitely cast a shadow over my personal life, but I make the best of it. I’m stuck but happily stuck. My daughter has friends around here, we’re near family, and I like the area. As long as I keep my job I can keep going.”
‘Now my salary is all I have. At this point I don’t actually care’
William Ralph moved home from the UK in 2006 to join a GP practice in Gorey, Co Wexford. Borrowing on the strength of the practice, he built his family home.
Ralph got a mortgage but ran out of money, and when the bank refused to lend him more he went to a local bank. “Small- town Ireland being what it is, being the doctor of the town and a pillar of the community, they gave me more money,” he says. At the time the practice was making enough income to cover the mortgage, but by 2011 the business had started to feel the effects of health budget cuts. The practice continued to provide services, and didn’t cut staff or staff hours, which affected the partners, including Ralph.
“I couldn’t just work to pay the bank. I couldn’t put any money aside for my kids, I was driving an 11-year-old car, and we weren’t living the high life.”
Ralph went to Australia on a sabbatical in 2014, came back eight months later and resigned shortly afterwards. He moved to Melbourne in December 2014 and has been there since, working as a GP.
He was making interest-only payments until it became too difficult; then he rented the house to pay the mortgage – but the house needed repair, so Ralph stopped paying the bank last June.
“We’ve just been negotiating with the bank, saying we need to come to a final settlement, because this business of kicking it down the line is not a position in which I want to return to Ireland.”
“Now I have my salary and that’s all I have. I put all my savings into the house, and I’ve lost all of that. It’s gotten to the point where I don’t actually care. If they said they’d take the house and that’s the end of it, I’d be happy with that. I don’t want to go home to this grey area.”
‘The bailiff came . . .the scariest thing of my life’
Jillian Godsil's house near Shillelagh, in Co Wicklow, was valued at €1.65 million in 2006. She had a mortgage of €800,000 and her public relations business was doing well. Godsil then “hit the recession and divorce at the same time” and began the process of trying to sell the house. In 2009 a cash offer of €1.1 million fell through
“Then the price started to drop and drop,” Godsil says. Her ex-husband went back to the UK and declared himself bankrupt. Godsil was left with the full mortgage. She moved out and began renting the property to pay the mortgage. After making a YouTube video to sell the house she had a cash offer of €500,000. “The banks refused to consent to sell, which seems incredibly stupid.”
Godsil’s business had begun to struggle at that stage. “Finally, I had to close the business, and the bailiff came – and that was the scariest thing of my entire life.”
The banks foreclosed the house and repossessed it, selling it 18 months later for €155,000.
“I got very angry, because people know the banks aren’t social workers, and they’re not there to look after us, but people used to be naive and think the bank would make good commercial decisions. They don’t always.”
She became what she believes is the first woman bankrupt under the new insolvency laws, in 2014, and felt a lot of shame was attached to that.
“You shouldn’t have to be ashamed: you worked hard and you’re allowed fail. It’s bad enough to lose everything, but then to feel you were guilty? Bad things happen to ordinary people.”
She has been unemployed for three years but has done some freelance writing recently to pay the rent on a house for herself and her two daughters, who are 19 and 21. She says that losing her house knocked her confidence, so that even with an extensive CV she couldn’t find a job.
“You can’t earn money; you can’t figure it out; you can’t get out of it. It’s been a very tough 10 years, and 10 years is a long time out of your life. That’s my 40s to my 50s that I’ve been battling the banks. That is soul-destroying.”
“On an intellectual level you can rationalise these things and say, ‘It’s okay: I’m starting again. They’re only possessions. I have my kids; I have my health’ – but it is tough.”
‘I can’t ever see myself in the house’
Having qualified as an accountant in 2006, Catherine regarded “getting a foot on the property ladder” as the logical next step, so she applied for a mortgage.
“I got an offer conditional on getting a letter saying I was going to be promoted and what salary I’d be on. I should have thought, I can’t afford to do this – but at the time we were getting inundated with emails about mortgages, and I felt a pressure,” Catherine says.
She bought a house in Co Louth for €365,000 – it’s now worth about €200,000 – but made interest-only payments for two years. She felt she was working simply to pay the mortgage, and the stress took a toll on her mental health.
She had to leave her job in 2009, and for six months she spent all her savings on her mortgage, only then telling the bank that she was unemployed.
She moved home and rented out the house. “The only reason I rented out the house was to pay my mortgage. Because I wasn’t living in the house I wasn’t entitled to the mortgage interest relief. For me it was a no-win situation.
“I was getting rent and that was going directly to the bank, and then I was trying to pay €50 out of my social welfare, which is €180, and they still kept hassling me for more.”
She’s now renting a house in Dublin, having found a new job. “I was doing really well, very successful in my career, and it knocked my confidence. I’m only in the last year getting back on track careerwise,” Catherine says.
She’s still renting the house she bought, but she says she never imagined herself as a landlord and can’t think too much about her house. “I can’t go into it any more because it’s a house I thought would be my family home, but I can’t ever see myself living in the house. I don’t know how I’m ever going to get to the point where I’ve paid it all off. It’s still always sitting there. If I could hand back the keys tomorrow I would.”