Emer McLysaght: I’m a bestselling author but I’ll struggle to buy a house in Ireland

As a single woman on an average income the odds are not in my favour

27/02/2014 Property /for Sale signs
Homes for Sale  on the Sandymount Road in Dublin.Photograph: Cyril Byrne / THE IRISH TIMES

“Go and find 10 recent articles written about the Irish housing market and see if you can find an answer.” This was the advice given to me recently when I went looking for counsel on the best time to try to buy a house. I was forewarned that I’d find no consensus: 10 different answers, each tinged with gloom.

My own home ownership journey has barely begun and it’s already heavy with gloom. I’m a single woman paying €1,200 a month in rent, splitting bills with nobody and earning a lot less than most people imagine a bestselling author might rake in. To make exciting money in books you need to go international and even then, long-term security is never guaranteed. Buying a house in Dublin or its surrounding counties is not on the cards for me, and that’s okay. I’ve been planning to move west for several years now, way before all of my nemeses made a break for it during the pandemic and bought up all of the gloriously renovated cottages I had my eye on. The ones that look small from the front but then have three bedrooms, a very spacious kitchen and a utility room. And yes, those wooden beams in the en suite are original, thanks for asking.

My thoughts about buying a house are increasingly clouded with desperation. In doing my homework and reading the 10 articles, I learned that the Economic and Social Research Institute says one in two people aged 24-35 won’t own a home by the time they retire. I’m a few years beyond the age cut-off, which only compounds the fear of uncertainty and indignity in older age without a fully paid off roof over your head. Meanwhile, the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland reported that even though the rise in house prices is set to ease off, most properties will remain out of reach for those on average incomes. And for first-time buyers? Well, you might as well not bother. Of course, there is the Government’s new Help-to-Buy scheme for first-timers but that only covers new-builds, and if there’s anything we know about this housing crisis it’s that there aren’t enough new-builds to even shave the top off demand.

Ah yes, the Government. Frustratingly obtuse about all things housing. Committed to droning on about “units” and “competence” while dangerous-sounding cuckoo and vulture funds sweep in and steal the underfloor heating from beneath our feet. In fairness, more units is the answer but we’re missing a sense of urgency. We want to hear that they’re building more houses! Easing planning restrictions! Taxing vacant properties! Protecting renters! Successive Government policies which favour profit over people have led to a crisis that has homelessness at its critical centre and fans out to people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and into retirement stuck in rental situations and unsuitable housing that offer no comfort or dignity.


The mortgage application process has an oral history similar to that of the brave hobbits who make it to the fiery hellscape of Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings

Gone are the days when leaving Dublin to buy a house was the solution to affordability issues. Now the whole country is an affordability issue. In my 10 article jaunt I came across one piece offering a selection of what was on offer around Ireland for under €200,000. There were a couple of decent semi-ds – one in Cavan, one in Limerick – but anecdotally we can assume that competitive cash buyers weren’t long sending the price above the €200,000 threshold. The only one in the capital was a one-bedroom terraced cottage the size of a postage stamp in Dublin 8, which came in about 37 cent under the €220,000 cap. It was accompanied by whimsical language about refurbishment potential and extensive modernisation, but looked like a neglected garage. It will probably be ultimately resold for €600,000 and described in the property pages as a “bijou delight”. It would be remiss of me to not acknowledge the hypocrisy of the media bemoaning the state of the housing market and crisis, while also propping up preposterous standards and prices for clicks and ad revenue.

As I consider applying for my first mortgage, my focus shifts from the nebulous monster of the housing crisis to the more particular hell of the application. The mortgage application process has an oral history similar to that of the brave hobbits who make it to the fiery hellscape of Mount Doom in Lord of the Rings. Anyone who’s been through it reports back about the endless quest for documents, printed in Elvin blood and kissed by the wings of a unicorn bat. Oh, and did you buy a scratch card in the past 27 years? Well then you shall not pass…into the mortgage approval club.

If I do manage to pass, I suspect I might only summon enough mortgage power to purchase a tiny, rocky site in rural Sligo, but at least it will be my tiny, rocky site in rural Sligo. Nothing a log cabin and a guard dog can’t spruce up. Maybe I’ll go off grid? There’s no incentive like committing yourself to hundreds of thousands of euro of debt to really amp up some anti-capitalist sentiment about property ownership being a scam.