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Why I'd pull up a deckchair, skive off work and queue in the rain to buy a house

For me the process of buying a house was a draining and, at times, demoralising process.

Paul Hosford

WHEN I TELL people the story of how myself and my fiancée bought a house, there’s often one detail I leave out.

I tend to omit the fact that we paid a €5,000 booking deposit on a house we had never set foot in. In fact, we hadn’t even seen the show home, let alone examine it thoroughly.

So, when I see people queueing to buy houses for five days in the rain to buy a house in Dublin 15, my response is not one of derision or scorn – it’s one of solidarity.

This week saw a group of homeowners queue outside a new development in Ongar, Dublin 15 in order to put a deposit on houses that likely won’t be built for the guts of a year.

The stories and photos brought clucks of derision from the sidelines, with many lamenting that the crash had taught us nothing and this was the gravest of national sins – a symbol of Celtic Tiger excess.

IPAV, the Institute of Professional Auctioneers & Valuers which represents 1,100 auctioneers nationwide responded to TheJournal.ie story this week and said “nobody should have to queue for homes”.

A noble sentiment if not for the fact that it is auctioneers who have the power to stop exactly that. The system of not releasing house prices, demanding booking deposits on release day and generally not treating house buyers like they are actual customers spending hundreds of thousands of euro certainly is not an invention of buyers.

And with the housing market the way it is, I genuinely can’t find it in myself to snort at those who are waiting in the rain.

Draining

PastedImage-22564 People queuing overnight in the rain to secure a house in Dublin 15. Source: Garreth MacNamee

From the outset, I know that myself and my fiancée are very lucky to be in our position.

We are lucky to be in a position to buy a house full stop, as many thousands of people will go to sleep tonight in emergency accommodation.

We are lucky to have grown up in Dublin and not have to move for work, lucky to have families who let us live at home while we were saving and lucky that those family homes are close by so we could see each other while living at home.

But, in my own experience, the process of buying a house was a draining and, at times, demoralising process.

Starting in January 2017, we looked at more than 20 houses and went through the gamut of emotions.

First we’d fall in love with a house that was within our budget, we’d enquire about a viewing and be told about an upcoming open viewing.

If you’ve never attended an open viewing, it’s essentially an auctioneer’s best tool in creating mania. For 15 or so minutes, a home is thrown open to the world and potential buyers invited in. Approaching one is actually kind of a buzz and you can get a bit of a feeling of excitement by the immediacy of it all.

However, this would be followed by a serious feeling of competition. You pull into a housing estate that’s crowded with unfamiliar cars and wait for the estate agent to come and open the door. In this time, you’re looking at the other people’s cars trying to work out what that means for their net worth and mortgage ceiling. If they drive a 13-D and I’m in an 05, they can obviously bid higher, right?

Once that’s done, you and 20 strangers get to go through another stranger’s house and pretend that this is a normal use of a Saturday morning. All the while, you’ve got one eye on en-suite bathrooms and recessed lighting and the other on the estate agent. Who’s asking for his card? Who might be interested? Are we interested? Should we be interested? Should we make a bid even if we’re not? What if this is the last house ever on sale anywhere?

All of this goes on for about 15 minutes and then you leave the house and move on to the next open viewing of the day.

Of course, the irrationality of many of your own thoughts is easily recognised after you’ve left, but in that quarter of an hour, you can genuinely convince yourself that you can overlook a nest of rats in exchange for owning your own home.

Lack of supply

In the Dublin 15 area (which itself is pretty large) where people were queuing this week, there are 39 available homes on Daft.ie that come in around the same specs (similar price, similar size).

There are almost as many, 25, in the Beechfield development where people were queueing this week. So it’s obvious that those who tell these people to “just look somewhere else” haven’t done much looking.

And that is before you get to the standard of the houses being sold and the personal taste of those buying.

For example, while looking at second houses, we came across:

  • A house with an unflushed toilet – from a number two
  • A house with wires hanging from the outside roof
  • A house with anti-vandal paint on an inside windowsill
  • A house with a bedroom door leaning against a wall in a bedroom
  • A house with a plastic box where the electric shower was supposed to be
  • A house with mould in the wardrobe

I am, of course, kidding. That was all one house.

There was the house that a Fingal County Council engineer said would take €50,000 just to make liveable, the house that jumped by €15,000 in price in the four-minute drive from the train station and the open viewing that had the estate agent announcing the bidding as if this was an episode of Storage Wars.

It was this hope and disillusion cycle which sent us to a new-build home. After viewing a house that can only be described as apocalyptically filthy, we went to have a look at a house in a development in Meath.

There, we found a house we liked, at a price we could afford that would be habitable when we got the keys.

That’s not to say the deal was easy – or completed. A contract problem meant we had to pull out of the sale, causing us to frantically reassess our options because we had now lost four months and prices were again creeping up.

This led to us looking in the window of a showhome before parting with our money. Faced with the prospect of re-entering the market or taking a chance, we took the chance.

So, when I see people on deckchairs who are sleeping in their cars to get their forever homes I’m not filled with derision. I’m glad it’s not me, but cognisant it very well could be.

What to do

So, what’s to be done?

The obvious solution is to give people tickets on a first-come, first-served basis and stop releasing phases of houses that are nowhere near completed. That, and thousands more houses built by the government…

In reality, this is an imperfect system and I’m not entirely sure there is a perfect solution. But the least we can do is recognise that and not scoff at the people who are caught in it.

On Newstalk’s Lunchtime Live this week, property advisor Carol Tallon urged buyers not to dance to the tune of those who benefit from hype and higher prices. But what do people do otherwise?

For me and my fiancée, the option is wait at home with our parents until the next crash (presuming we keep our jobs) or get into the equally awful Dublin rental market.

Given those choices, and the absolute brilliance of our parents notwithstanding, I would personally be pulling up a deck chair and telling work I wouldn’t be in this week.

Paul Hosford is a journalist with TheJournal.ie

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