I find it hard to walk up to a gang of women I don’t know really well in the schoolyard or at a match, so I normally end up standing near a solitary dad and have a few short exchanges. If I hadn’t started chatting to one of those dads, we wouldn’t have been able to buy our house. In 2018 we sold our Celtic Tiger one-bed apartment to the council. We lost €100,000 but paid off the mortgage. The rent we were getting was high, but between taxes, fees and maintenance, we had never made a profit and only after it sold could we start saving a bit. Even so, we had officially given up on being homeowners because, with three children and rent to pay, a 20 per cent deposit was laughable. The banks had rejected us already and now, in our forties, we had limited time to pay back a mortgage.
When sideline dad told me about how he overcame his negative equity blues and left renting behind, I started to dream again. There wasn’t even a whiff of mansplaining when he told me that mortgage lenders could give exemptions to a certain percentage of second-time buyers that only required them to have a 10 per cent deposit. He said not all brokers worked with all lenders and that being rejected once should not be a deterrent. He found us a broker, recommended a bank and helped us to keep our financial noses clean in the run-up to the application. Be more methodical with saving and have as many flat whites as you want, he said, but remember they’ll be going through everything, including Revolut and looking for regular payments going out that could be family loans, childcare fees or red flags such as gambling sites.
The viewing was unspectacular but the location was convenient, so we bid. No one else bid, which was worrying
Buying a house was the only gamble we would be taking and, with his help and the help of a lot of others, we got approval in principle for a mortgage in March 2022. We had moved three times in four years, and wanted to stay roughly in the same area of Dublin’s northside. We queued under For Sale signs with all the excitement of waiting to put your bag through the X-ray machine at the airport. We mumbled apologies as we bumped into the same sets of viewers in humdrum houses and bumped into all the same estate agents. One told me that 90 per cent of bids start at €50,000 over asking. One told me to stop sending letters in with our bids explaining that we were a family from the area, “I love your house, community, blah, blah, blah. No one cares. Just put in a bid over asking to show that you’re serious.” Only once did an estate agent usher me to the house like it was a palace, showing genuine interest in and knowledge of the property, excitedly pointing out features and potential. It was over before it began, though, when he mentioned as I crossed the threshold that it was already at €60,000 over asking.
We kept getting outbid, even on houses that were €100,000 below our budget. I lost confidence that it was the right thing to do at all, getting a huge mortgage in a red-hot property market, like we did in 2006. My friend, who has nearly paid off her mortgage said she’d rather be a renter because being a homeowner is so stressful. I offered to introduce her to some of my most malevolent landlords, but I was worried that she was right and that I was chasing something that would leave me feeling empty.
We went to see a house that I passed four times a day for the past seven years and had never noticed. The viewing was unspectacular but the location was convenient, so we bid. No one else bid, which was worrying, but at least we weren’t bidding against ourselves, which so many people said they thought they had done. At least no one had said the words “over asking”.
Having never delved into the idea of spirits and energies before, I asked someone in the know how to make the bad feeling go away
We went sale agreed but I did not feel excited, having heard so many horror stories about the final hurdle with administration blunders and unscrupulous fresh bids leading to sales falling through. We were lucky to have a ferociously vigilant solicitor who battled for months to get everything right, even when the other solicitor sniped at her to “just relax”. It was not an easy time to relax. Two weeks before closing, we asked if we could visit the house to take some measurements and show the kids for the first time. We had viewed it three times before bidding and it was never pristine, but three months on, it was squalid. My husband was gagging, my four-year-old was crying, I was seething. It was such a kick in the teeth.
Solicitor letters were sent and skips were brought in. My 11-year-old and nine-year-old, who have moved six times in their young lives, were with me when we got the keys. It still stank. It was still grimy. We found ourselves in the kitchen. “We did it,” I said. I wept like I have not wept for years, nearly convulsing as waves of relief rolled over me. They held me tight. “We did it, we did it.” We owned our own home. It felt incredible.
Then bad things started to happen. The pong wasn’t going anywhere. I wanted to have a shower after having a shower in the shower because it was still crusty despite endless hours of cleaning.
My husband got sick and missed a once-in-a-lifetime family event. My four-year-old was hospitalised for over a week. The car croaked it and cost thousands to fix, and then croaked again.
I started suspecting that the bad luck came with the house. Having never delved into the idea of spirits and energies before, I asked someone in the know how to make the bad feeling go away. If he wasn’t a person of the sweetest disposition, I might have been insulted when he suggested that it could be me bringing the negative energy in because I was so resentful about the state of the house.
I needed to bring gratitude in instead so that the spirits or energy could be released. I tried to muster it up, to say “Thanks for everything, you can go now”. I think it knew I wasn’t being genuine, because a big ceramic bird bath fell on my head in the garden, shooting pain into my eye socket and jaw for a day. I lost earrings I’d worn daily for 17 years.
New fire alarms went off, plates jumped off the kitchen counter and smashed on the floor and thuds sounded in the wall in the wee hours. I googled “moved house bad luck” and hundreds of thousands of matches appeared. It’s a thing.
Make it yours, they said, and ask your friends, family and ancestors to help you bring in positive energy. We reefed up carpet and floors not knowing what was underneath, pared everything back to the bones. The air finally felt clean. It was starting to feel better until the last of eight layers of wallpaper came off revealing a large, deeply scratched, “F**K OFF” in the 50-year-old wall. That’ll be the poltergeist, I said.
We put up photos of our grandparents. We got gifts of sage and palo santo wrapped in ribbons, hugs and bubbly from gorgeous neighbours, a well-travelled kitchen table, lots of encouragement and some new cushions. Two months in, I walked into a room that had an unexpected bunch of flowers in it so big that they nearly touched off the four walls. It looked like our room, in our house. I finally felt the gratitude I needed to.
We are home.