'The chances of owning our own home are slipping away'
Diary of a Househunter: Ciara Kenny's first installment of a new series on the challenges of buying a home
“At those first few open viewings, we asked nervous questions of the estate agents.”
The hideous wallpaper was peeling from ceiling to floor, damp blossomed up the walls and the carpet stains betrayed a history of some spectacular leaks, but we were in love.
Had I been asked what my dream first home would look like before I found the listing online, I would have described this house almost exactly. It was a pretty little redbrick, squatting on the end of the terrace on a street lined by cherry blossom trees, with a mini front garden and its own iron gate. There was a ramshackle kitchen-come-sitting room and tiny bathroom downstairs, three small bedrooms upstairs, and at the end of the decent-sized back garden there was even a brick shed, enough of an asset in itself to sell the property to my co-investor boyfriend.
Perhaps those incessant first-time-buyer mortgage ads had cast a spell on our sanity, but the idea of late-night painting sessions and weekends spent sanding and making seemed terribly romantic. The hard graft needed to make this old house a home didn’t deter us; we wanted a doer-upper we could make our own.
Best of all, the house had been sitting on the market for months and the price had been cut by €50,000.
Kidding ourselves into thinking it was still a buyers’ market (what is it, 2012?), we went to view properties with asking prices tens of thousands of euro over our budget
We hadn’t started seriously house-hunting when we fell for this one. In fact, it was one of the very first properties I came across on MyHome.ie, during a bored trawl of the internet while recovering from the flu last November.
We had been dallying for a while with the idea of investing in our first home, since both of us finally locked down permanent jobs – mortgage approval tick-box number one – a few months previously after a decade of temping and freelancing and contracting since college. But once the search began, we couldn’t stop.
The banks were quick to put a halt to our gallop. We needed at least six months permanent employment behind us before we’d be considered. So we’d have to sit tight for a while longer, which meant watching the little gem on the redbrick terrace go to sale agreed early in the New Year.
We decided to take the time, pressure-free, to view a few more properties, scope out potential areas, figure out our top priorities, and what type of house we could afford where.
Two beds or three? Can we sacrifice a garden for a bit more indoor living space? Is a quieter street worth an extra €50,000, and how safe is safe enough to feel when walking home late at night? Is it a home for life we are looking for, or just a home for now?
At those first few open viewings, we asked nervous questions of the estate agents, while observing how other house hunters (now firmly considered our staunch rivals) tapped walls and peered out curtains, while whispering about knocking, opening, converting and extending.
Everyone keeps telling us to hang in there
Hearing the agents greet familiar faces, “Morning, good to see you again” was an early indication that we could be getting to know these people pretty well too over the coming weeks and months.
We literally made a meal of those early viewings, dissecting what we’d seen and heard while reading and rereading the glossy brochures over brunch. Kidding ourselves into thinking it was still a buyers’ market (what is it, 2012?), we went to view properties with asking prices tens of thousands of euro over our budget, convinced the vendors were just chancing their arm.
Reality quickly dawned. As the weeks went by, the viewings got busier and busier. Within minutes of the front door opening, asking prices were already being offered up.
One of the most recent places we were interested in went to sealed envelope bids, having already gone €140,000 over the asking price.
Everyone keeps telling us to hang in there. “After Easter is the busiest time,” they said. “Maybe after the May Bank Holiday,” was next. Yet the pre-summer rush of houses we were assured would flood the market has yet to materialise, and interest in the few that do pop up every week intensifies.
Our wish-list becomes more compromised as the weeks go by
I’m trying to ignore the increasing frequency of articles on irishtimes.com about small city homes asking outrageous sums, and we stopped watching RTÉ’s weekly series on Ireland’s Property Crisis. We were witnessing it first-hand for ourselves, every Saturday morning.
We are well aware of how incredibly privileged we are. We are not homeless, we are not on a housing list, and we are not living in fear of an unscrupulous landlord who can up the rent on a whim. We both have full-time, decent paying jobs. We have a good deposit, thanks to a part-share of a property I inherited after my father died, which we had hoped would give us a head start over other first-time buyers. And we now have mortgage approval. We know we are lucky.
And yet it feels our chances of buying a modest starter home in an area we want to live in are slipping further from reach. Our wish-list becomes more compromised as the weeks go by, and the redbrick on the terrace is a distant dream.