Hot water bottles, tea and strawberry pancakes were among the tools used by prospective house buyers to help them through the overnight cold in Carlow over the weekend.
More than 30 people queued in bitter weather to better their chances of getting a home among the 18 new properties in Castle Oaks estate in the town, with the houses coming on to the market on Saturday morning.
Auctioneer June Doran maintains that the “unprecedented” interest comes from how work has been affected by the coronavirus; working from home has “freed up” people to consider moving beyond Dublin, she says.
“What I’m seeing is people who have left Carlow and who now spot an opportunity to return. These are people on good Dublin money who’re now coming back to Carlow while still able to maintain that salary. That’s going to have a very positive effect for the town.”
In the queue on Saturday, Aoife Kelly says she works in the head office of a bank in Dublin and lockdown brought its own realisations.
“I felt like I was just wasting money up in Dublin and not building for a future,” she starts.
“I’ve lived in Dublin for the last 9 years. I have been living at home with my parents since March and I eventually stopped paying rent in July, so the money I’m able to save by not living in Dublin has meant I’ve been able to double my savings. Just eating out is cheaper, going for drinks is cheaper, taxis are cheaper - it’s small things but it all adds up,” she says.
The pandemic means she now splits between working from home in Carlow and in the office in Dublin.
“That’s where Covid has made a difference. For me I’ve always thought I had to stay in Dublin because that’s where the work is. But now I’m buying this house on my own, and if I wanted to do the same in Dublin I’d have had to buy an apartment, but you want to be able to have a house and a garden and all those. Now you have the opportunity to still have the career you want in Dublin but maybe then settle further away at home.”
She admits though, that these work opportunities may not have been open to her if she stayed in Carlow earlier in life.
“It’s harder to get work in rural towns like this. I think it is a big appeal that you can still have the Dublin job and its money, but then the remote working and then get a house where you won’t be tied down to a massive mortgage.”
‘Help to buy scheme’
Aoife Doyle, originally from Carlow, cites the “quality of the houses, the location of the build, the price of the build and the Help to Buy scheme” as her reasons for choosing the estate.
“I’ve worked in Dublin, Belfast, London, Wicklow, before taking up a post with the HSE and coming back home to Carlow,” she says.
Dublin is “well out of the price” range, she adds. “Carlow is more affordable and it’s just so commutable. These houses are bang-on right out to the motorway.
“Like ten years ago I would never have said I wanted to live in Carlow - but I’m happy to come back.” Her father Jack and his wife Marian held her place in the line for around four hours in the middle of the night, so their daughter could get some respite in bed. He returned then early in the morning with tea to warm the spirits.
Dancing on the floors
Couple Kate O’Brien and Damien O’Toole were among the first to start a vigil, arriving shortly after 4pm on Friday.
“We’d heard rumours that there would be queues but it was still mad to imagine that you would have this in Carlow,” Kate says.
They had been on the hunt for a three-bed home in Dublin, where they both work, but decided to turn their attention to Carlow, Kate’s hometown.
“What did it for us was a house went up for sale across from us in Dublin and it was a two-bed, one bath, and it was 270 [thousand euro]. You’d have to have put another hundred thousand into it - it’s just not doable. Like a three-bed here is 239. We’d like to be able to try enjoy our lives after we do get a mortgage, we don’t want to be tied down paying that for the rest of our lives while we’re still young.
“I think the other realisation for us was, myself and Damien are working in City West. We can make it to City West in 40 minutes from Carlow and still be near one of our families at least.”
She laughs that she had Doran “scalded” with queries about the homes in recent months. The homes are built to a high standard, says O’Toole, with more “solid” soundproofing than their counterparts in the capital.
“How they’re built in Dublin is nothing like this,” he adds.
Their testing method included dancing with each other upstairs in Doran’s showhouse. “That’s what sold it for me. Nothing could be heard below.”