We made a pandemic move to the country

After renting for a decade, the Robbins family swapped a cramped Dublin three-bed for a large house and garden in Co Wexford

After a few years of sporadic attempts at house-hunting in Co Wexford, Dublin-based Guy Robbins found he had a renewed focus and incentive during the height of the Covid-19 restrictions.

His wife Tess, recently returned from a career break to work as a paediatric occupational therapist, had been redeployed to a Covid test centre in Wicklow. As a cameraman, Guy's work was on hold and he was at home with the couple's four children in a small three-bedroom bungalow in Rathfarnham – home-schooling and trying, along with the rest of the country, to keep everyone's spirits up.

As days and weeks slipped by, the couple decided Guy should put the extra time on his hands to good use, focusing on trying to find the type of house in the country that he and Tess had dreamed of for years.

The limitations imposed over the stressful height of lockdown served to highlight the many benefits in favour of such a move. They needed space. They wanted a different lifestyle. The lure of the countryside, the nearby sea, proximity to family, a manageable commute and more affordable property prices was an irresistible combination.


It was a turnkey property with all mod cons ...   Could this be the one, they wondered

The couple had been renting in Rathfarnham for almost 10 years. The eldest of their four children, 13-year-old Sam, was due to start secondary school in September. Tess’s job location was commutable from north Wexford; Guy’s work as a cameraman didn’t demand a Dublin base.

In the previous number of years, the couple had moved a few times.

"We had originally lived together in Oxford in the UK, where Tess and I met at college. Then we moved to Australia before moving back to Ireland, so Tess could be nearer to her family. We had bought a small apartment in Rathfarnham in 2005 before moving on from that when the children started coming and it got too small. Then we rented a house in Rathfarnham, where we spent almost 10 years. We decided three or four years ago that we'd like to move down to Co Wexford."

The pandemic, says Guy, focused their attention.

Viewing safely

While uncertainties around property-hunting during Covid-19 gave initial cause for concern, research and contact with agents allayed their concerns, reassuring the Robbins’ it could be done safely.

While Tess carried on with her job in Wicklow, Guy, complete with guidance from his Cushinstown, Co Wexford-native wife, got on the internet and narrowed his search in the Model County.

Having viewed about 10 properties over the previous three to four years of sporadic house-hunting outside of Dublin, Guy says narrowing the geographical search to three specific areas in north Gorey made the process more efficient.

One particular property he looked at online caught his eye. He and Tess examined the details. It was a four-bedroom dormer on half an acre near Gorey, on the market for €415,000. The photographs looked promising; a virtual 3D-simulation tour of the house ticked all the boxes; the garden on screen was gorgeous; proximity to beaches was exciting; proximity to the motorway and populated bases: convenient; it was a turnkey property with all mod cons, but with the added charm of some rustic touches, even including its very own Aga! Could this be the one, they wondered?

They contacted Jim Kinsella of Sherry Fitzgerald O'Leary Kinsella agents in Gorey. It turned out that the property was located across the road from Kinsella's own home at Inch. It also turned out that the Robbins family were not the only ones making enquiries about moves to the countryside, with Kinsella and other estate agents reporting a marked increase of enquiries around rural properties.

The Robbins, the agent explains, were quite typical of the type of enquiry they had been receiving since they reopened a few weeks ago after the more stringent period of lockdown.

“We came back to a wall of demand from people looking for a different lifestyle in a different location. Most of the enquiries were coming out of Dublin, but lots from the UK too. The typical caller was someone with connections either in the area, or in Ireland generally. So, the new clients we were meeting were very much people looking to come back.”

Surge in demand

Most of those Kinsella dealt with, he says, spoke of the effects of the pandemic and a new realisation that a lot of their work can be done from home. They spoke of the shift in employers who are more open to flexible working arrangements. Value for money and proximity to travel links was an attractive draw for clients, particularly for those with property to sell, looking to relocate out of Dublin and the UK.

With north Wexford properties having easy access to the M50, properties in that area have seen a big growth in enquiries and sales.

The surge in demand for properties outside Dublin from both Irish and overseas clients, also seems to be stretching to locations even further South. Waterford-based Margaret Fogarty of Remax has seen a significant recent rise in enquiries.

We've noticed more enquiries from people saying their working conditions have changed and they can now work from home

“We’ve noticed there’s a growth in numbers of people considering a move out of Dublin to somewhere at a commutable distance, which is to be expected. What’s different though, is that we’re also seeing increased numbers wanting to move even further afield.

"There's a significant rise in enquiries from people, for example, with connections in Waterford who are considering moving home. We've definitely noticed more enquiries from people saying their working conditions have changed over Covid and they can now work from home.

"Another thing we're seeing is people wanting to come home so they can have family support nearby to help with different ways of working in these uncertain times. The enquiries and sales we've had, have been mainly with clients moving from Dublin, but also a number from the UK, and even one from Switzerland. "

Satisfying experience

For the Robbins family, their property hunt in Covid times times was a pain-free and successful experience. Having been drawn to the property online, Guy took a trip down from Dublin to see the house in person. The agents were very accommodating. They put all the necessary precautions in place in light of the pandemic, and Guy was given access to view the house alone. It was, he says, a very satisfying experience, where he didn’t feel rushed and could spend time in the space, really getting a feel for the house.

After Tess took a trip down to see the house her husband had fallen for, they were at one and the decision was made. On the July 14th , Guy, Tess, 13-year-old Sam, 11-year-old Mia, 8-year-old Jack and 6-year-old Emma crossed the threshold of their new family home.

Having left pleasant but tight accommodation in Dublin, the girls now share a spacious bedroom with an en suite. The boys have a bedroom each and Mum has a favourite room too, Mia explains enthusiastically, as she opens the double doors into a vast, shelved hot press.

The mature garden, which was planted when the house was originally built in 2001, has been beautifully maintained and boasts a raised area where the distant view of the sea and horizon reflects the lights of the Rosslare-Fishguard ferry in the evenings. They’re excited about honing their gardening skills and, with the help of a newly downloaded gardening app, are identifying all their plants and learning about how to care for their new charges.

Mindful of the children and making friends in a new neighbourhood, the family have signed everyone up to the local GAA club, a move that has already seen great results. Even in the vicinity of their home, in the heart of the countryside, the children have discovered there are other children their age nearby.

Sam, who has just celebrated his birthday in the new home, is looking forward to starting at his new secondary school in the coming weeks, as are his younger siblings, who will attend a primary school nearby.

All in all it’s been a positive move for the Robbins family. It’s early days but so far so good, and all six are giving the experience and their hopes for the future a big thumbs up.

Would they recommend such a big move to others contemplating taking the steps towards a new way of living, a different pace of life, an escape to the country? Hands down – yes.