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The harsh reality of buying property in Ireland – as described by estate agents

Three agents who have been through the process share their experience

The buying process is an ugly experience where, in the current market, the person with the most financial heft bags the property with all other bidders simply priced out.

It’s a demoralising experience that requires tenacity and a great deal of luck. Even estate agents have to engage with it if they want to get on or climb the property ladder. Does having such expertise and insight into the market and how it works give them any sort of advantage over ordinary mere mortals?

Paul Lappin, director of Property Team Lappin Estates, hadn’t moved house in two decades when he put his extended four-bedroom house on the market in August 2020. He had first set up home in Stoneybatter, Dublin 7, and later moved out to Baldoyle also on Dublin’s northside to what was then a one-bedroom cottage. “We moved into the house and did the bare minimum until we could afford it. It had woodchip wallpaper and a single-block extension, where the kitchen and bathroom were, for five years. It was so cold you couldn’t go into it late at night.”

Back then they were able to bid on a house and put theirs on the market at the same time knowing they’d get bridging finance and, if need be, the people they were buying the house from would simply wait.

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It’s different now. This time around, he put his house on the market before starting to look. The hope was that it would be sale agreed by the end of the month – August – when the new property season traditionally begins and they would be ready to pounce, he says.

“You can’t buy without selling,” he says. “You don’t go to the shops without your wallet. Also I was afraid I’d see something I’d like and not be in a position to buy. We were entering into it in good faith and knew what within our budget was realistic. We weren’t looking to buy a €1 million home with a budget of €100,000.”

There were many, many sleepless nights, he recalls. “We had bids on our own place but there was nothing coming to the market. We saw one and bid on it. We told the agent that our contracts weren’t signed. Someone who wasn’t subject to a sale put in a lower offer and the agent went with it.”

Plan B was that if something else didn’t come up, we’d go to our purchaser and ask to extend the closing date, he says.

“In my job I see people selling and in the time it takes to complete, the market has moved and their purchasing power has diminished. They end up looking at inferior stuff to the home they sold. We kept searching, but if something hadn’t come up we would have had to withdraw from the sale.”

Properties in poor condition are achieving way over their asking, says Lappin. “I looked at a big lump of an old house that would have swallowed a lot of money”, and the offer he put in reflected that. “We couldn’t have lived in it as it was. We didn’t get it. The vendor wanted more and we couldn’t stretch to it. Regarding building works, most auctioneers should be able to give you a ball-park figure on building costs.”

He has managed to stay in Dublin 13 and has done a few minor jobs to the house he did get. “I would love to be able to update the kitchen and bathrooms but we won’t be able to afford to do that for a couple of years.”

Peter Keaveney, a senior negotiator at The Lansdowne Partnership, sold a one-bedroom, 65sq m apartment in Stepaside in south Dublin that he bought during the Celtic Tiger years. Since then his partner moved in and when they sold they moved in with the in-laws.

“We’d have liked to stay in Dublin but were almost priced out. Wicklow represented better value for money so we mapped a boundary and started to take long drives to see what parts within that driving distance we liked, noting estates that appealed.”

By factoring in driving distances and fuel costs he determined that Wicklow town was as far out as they could go to allow his partner to commute to work in Bray and for him to drive daily to and from Blackrock.

“We registered with the property portals and with all the new home developments. We had loan approval and were under pressure. We had a six-month window to buy. I would advise going to a broker rather than a bank. The latter was willing to give me only one-third of what I ended up getting from a broker.”

He says you need to have all your paperwork ready to go before you start looking or bidding. “This gives you a budget to work to. When bidding, we had a clear line in the sand that we would not cross. Know your limits.”

He advises physically viewing properties to open your eyes to what you can afford. “When I saw something I liked, my approach was to put my best offer forward at the start. Often times it didn’t work. ”

The dormer bungalow he ended up buying had previously been sale agreed. “The reason we didn’t look at it was that at 110sq m it also had two reception rooms and a separate kitchen – a whole lot more space than one open-plan living kitchen. We expected it to go for €30,000 or €40,000 over its asking.”

This would have priced it out of their budget. “Then it was re-listed. Straight away I asked if there were any offers on it. There weren’t.”

His preference is to ask agents questions face-to-face because you can also add queries such as “Are they looking for the asking, or will they take below?” and “Are they looking for a certain price?”. If so, ask what that number is.

You need to know what you’re looking for, he says. Write down the areas you’re interested in and visit at different times of the day to get a feel for the neighbourhood.

“Conveyancing slows the process down. It takes eight to 12 weeks if you’re lucky.”

Like many other buyers, Ivan Tuite, associate director at O’Connor Shannon, was looking outside the capital. Already based in Co Meath, Tuite bought outside the town of Trim in the countryside, which had always been part of the plan. “My partner and I both grew up in rural locales. We’ve enrolled our child in the national school that I went to.”

Be organised, he says. “Get your ducks in a row financially so when you see something you like you can bid on it for no agent will take you seriously unless you can demonstrate the ability to sign a contract.

“If something fits the bill, make a bid. If made in person, follow it up by confirming the bid via email. In it, highlight if you happen to have a strong loan-to-value status or show that you have [loan] approval in principle, redacting the figure you’re funded to,” he says.

During the bidding process you need to take the emotive aspect out and be seen to be decisive so when an offer comes in against you that you come back relatively quickly with a counter offer or to say that you’re out. “If you’re not answering an agent’s calls or responding to emails, it demonstrates that you’re not in a good position.”

Most sellers get to a figure that allows them to move on. After that, the sale goes to who is best able to complete, says Tuite. “Agents will make a call on whether the buyer is really up to completing. First-time buyers looking to embark on a significant project saying things like ‘We’ve never done a renovation but we watch Grand Designs’ could present a red flag.”

The property will go to the person who best demonstrates an ability to complete the sale, who has a solicitor in place, who has asked pertinent questions such as “Will the vendors allow extra time for a would-be buyer to sell up?”, and who demonstrates intent, employing a building surveyor the day they go sale agreed, for example.

He says being open, transparent and courteous goes a long way but there is a lot of competition for properties. “Weigh up in advance what price you’re willing to go to. When multiple parties are bidding it is highly unlikely that, if you come in with an additional €1,000, it will do it. Have a budget and work to it. If it’s €500,000, for example, then once bidding hits that, opt out.

“Bear in mind that if your bid is successful and you need finance to complete, the lender will send an independent valuer to evaluate. If it’s too far ahead of the market, finance may be turned down.”

Is there better value in the commuter belt? He sees country towns as a viable option. “Consider moving a little farther out if starting a family is on the horizon. A place where there may be room to add an extension. With construction costs high, try to buy a home that you can grow into. There is probably value in properties that are down at heel, that need only mild refurbishment – that’s if it’s in a good location and you can make do for now and extend in two to three years.”

And if it doesn’t go through, remember that in nine out of 10 cases something much more suitable will appear.

propertyteam.ie, lansdownepartnership.ie, oconnorshannon.ie