Talking Property


First-time buyers are bypassing apartments for three-bed semis in good locations, says ISABEL MORTON

PROPERTY PRICES may have been slashed in half of late but it’s not all plain sailing for buyers, who are now at the mercy of their lending institutions and must cough up a hefty deposit, prepare for interest rate hikes and subject themselves to FBI-style background checks to ensure they are suitable candidates to be in receipt of one of the banks’ few precious loans. Mortgages are (as my solicitor describes them) as rare as hen’s teeth at the moment.

But, once they have actually managed to navigate their way through the mortgage minefield and have jumped through numerous flaming hoops, licked a few pairs of boots and prostrated themselves before their bankers, property purchasers then find themselves galloping up the home straight.

In the sure knowledge that they can now buy far more bricks for their bucks, first-time buyers are bypassing the first rung of the property ladder and rejecting smart apartments in favour of sensible suburban family homes, similar to those bought by their parents in the 1970s and indeed, their grandparents in the 1950s.

Once synonymous with the Celtic Tiger era and lifestyle, open-plan apartment living has been tried, tested and rejected. And as the first generation to have experienced living within the restrictive confines of many modern Irish apartments, their rejection of them now leaves us under no illusions about their obvious design flaws and failings.

Or perhaps Irish people are just not suited to apartment living or have an inherited obsession with owning their own little house with their own little garden?

Either way, classic well-located three-bed semi-detached houses with gardens, situated close to good transport links, schools, shops and other amenities, are in strong demand and in short supply.

“It’s all about growing their own vegetables and fruit, having space for recycling bins and bicycles, and wanting to revert to open fires rather than the remote control gas ones,” reported one middle-aged estate agent who said that the mood had changed and people wanted to revert to a more simple way of life with less gadgets and more “apple pie”.

Where once they wouldn’t have considered moving into their newly purchased abode until they had fitted, kitted and furnished it to the nth degree with brand new designer goods, people are now furnishing their homes in a more gradual fashion with second-hand items, family cast-offs and auction finds.

Almost overnight, the nation has discarded many of the trappings of the boom times and instead adopted an eco-friendly classic hippie existence.

This change of heart is in part due to the change in attitude by our lending institutions who were once so understanding of our sensibilities that, in addition to our basic mortgage, they kindly provided us all with another tranche of cash to cover the cost of such imperatives as temperature controlled wine cellars, integrated steam ovens and synchronised sound and lighting systems for our landscaped gardens.

Needless to say, banks will no longer finance such vagaries; indeed they’ll no longer even cover the cost of basic renovation work let alone anything else.

The days of proudly presenting your home as a gleaming reflection of your glamorous minimalist lifestyle are over.

Your white marble floors, designer wet rooms, sleek glossy kitchen units and integrated appliances, no longer impress buyers.

According to estate agents, today’s canny buyers are not taken in by lavish furnishings or distracted by smart décor.

They know precisely what everything costs and are only interested in getting maximum value for money and ticking as many of their myriad boxes as possible.

Buyers have gone back to basics. Location is, of course, their number one priority.

The old advice regarding buying the worst house on the best road rather than the best house on the worst road is now more applicable than ever.

Orientation is another big issue and estate agents report that asking prices must reflect the property’s orientation, as regardless of anything else, buyers are not prepared to pay as much for a property with a north-facing back garden.

Proximity to good transport links also rates high on buyers’ lists and prior to even viewing a property, they will have timed how long it takes to travel to and from work at peak rush hour and will have checked out local amenities.

If the property for sale ticks the above-mentioned boxes, then anything else is considered a bonus as far as today’s buyers are concerned. But, they are not prepared to pay for anything they now consider as unnecessary extras.

So, your expensive architect-designed glass box kitchen extension may well end up being replaced with a cosy farmhouse affair, more suited to housing numerous recycling bins, an eco-friendly range cooker and Wellington boots (your smart box hedging having been dug up and replaced with rows of vegetables).