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First-time buyers: How to get to know an area before deciding to buy

Even if your house purchase is a long way off, you can do your homework on where to buy within your budget while you save

With the age of first-time buyers on the rise, many of us in our late-20s and 30s with the distant goal of one day buying a house in Ireland are restless – arms folded, one foot tapping, while waiting for our “deposit fund” to reach the necessary amount.

It is little wonder then that in the meantime so many of us placate ourselves with little luxuries such as gel manicures and fancy coffee – the former of which, my partner’s colleague helpfully informs him, “is the reason he’ll never own a house”.

In a world where progress is valued above all, with some invisible ladder we should all be climbing, I asked myself, is there any research I could be doing in preparation for the day when I can hand over a lump of cash, shake the estate agent’s hand and say, “I’ll take it”?

But first things first. Before you commit, you have to choose the areas where you would be happy to live and where you can conceivably afford a home. Compromise is inevitable, and making a list of what is most important to you can help.


In an ideal world, perhaps you would rent in your target area before looking to buy there. But with high rental costs and recent research showing 68 per cent of people aged 25-29 are still living at home with their parents, that is not likely to be an option for most.

So then, how can you get to know an area before you buy? I asked some estate agents to offer their advice.


“It’s the biggest investment someone is going to make in their life, so it has to be right,” says Kate Mullery, agent at Mullery O’Gara. “Doing your research from the outset is imperative.”

There is no substitute for walking around an area to get a feel for it, she says, and the times you do so are important, too.

“Night time is the big one. Walking around an area at night, you can get to know if it feels safe.”

You should also visit on weekends, says Mullery, “when there’s plenty of people walking around with kids, dogs – you can see who actually lives there”.

Local people are your biggest asset, she adds, so ask around your friends and colleagues to find someone you can speak to who has first-hand experience of living in the area. “Ireland is very small, through word of mouth, you’ll find someone.”

Failing that, try local shops and cafes. “Get talking to the people who work there, ask if they’re local. They’ll have the inside scoop on the area,” says Mullery

“One of the key pieces of advice I give people is find out who the next-door neighbours are,” says Owen Reilly of Owen Reilly Estate Agents. “There’s no point finding out afterwards that there’s an issue there because then it’s too late.”

You should also check out what kind of houses are in the area, says Mullery. “If there are houses that have been refurbished, it could tell you there is a younger demographic there looking to live in the area long-term, for example.”

She points out that you should always check the local authority website for the area where you wish to buy to check what developments are planned, “because in five or 10 years’ time, you don’t want to see that there’s a 10-storey apartment block being built behind you on a lovely green site.”

Brock de Lappe estate agency, which is based in Dublin 8, hand out maps highlighting the hotspots – for eating and drinking and going for walks etc – at viewings, says David Brock, and this is something prospective buyers can do for themselves on Google maps.


Although remote-working practices took hold during the Covid-19 pandemic, more and more workplaces seem to be shifting to a hybrid model, says Mullery, and so doing a midweek test drive of your morning and evening commute to and from your target area is important.

“Hybrid workers, I think, by the level of traffic [in Dublin city], seem to work between Tuesday and Thursday, so do the rush-hour commute first thing in the morning [on those days] to see what it’s like,” she says.

Also check out the Transport for Ireland website to check out the public-transport options in the area, and how long they take to get you to work, Mullery says.

“In Dublin, if you’re not on the Dart and you’re not on the Luas [lines], you’re relying on a car, buses or taxis. And the taxi situation in Dublin on the weekend is really bad,” says Reilly.

Reilly, Brock and Mullery all say the Luas is a big draw for prospective buyers in Dublin, and Mullery and Brock say the new Bus Connects scheme is also set to have an impact on commuters, so buyers should check if planned routes will be useful for them.

Cycle lanes are also important for prospective buyers, notes Brock, especially the one that travels along the Grand Canal.

In addition, Reilly points out that parking can be an issue, and you should research the parking situation before buying a home in a particular area, especially if you own a car or hope to in the future, or if you have friends and family driving to visit you on a regular basis.

Future planning

“Always think long term when you’re moving into a neighbourhood,” says Reilly. “You might plan to stay somewhere short term, but it could end up being a lot longer.”

“It’s important to look up schools and preschools if you have children or plan to down the line,” says Mullery. “Some schools may not be in the catchment area; you can call them and find out.”

School places have become such a concern for prospective buyers, says Brock, that many “work backwards” by choosing a school first before searching for a home nearby.

Taking these tips on board, there is no harm in settling on a few target areas while you patiently wait for the optimum time to finally buy your first home. So get exploring – start that online search with a steaming matcha latte cupped in your perfectly manicured hands.