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the good information project

Are people actually leaving Dublin now that they can work remotely?

Estate agents are reporting an increased interest from Dublin dwellers looking to move out of the capital.

DO YOU MISS the commuting?

Around three quarters of a million journeys were made on public transport every day in Ireland in 2019. According to the last Census, almost 175,000 of us used public transport to get to work each day. And then over one million people drove to work each day. 

For many workers, that was just how things were. Commuting to work was a part of life, and influenced things like where they lived, how they got around, and how they spent some of their hard-earned money. 

The pandemic has changed the equation. 

Covid has allowed some people who were still working to boost their savings pile and, coupled with the lack of supply of housing in Ireland, it’s not surprising that prices have gone up since the arrival of the pandemic. 

The latest House Price Report found that house prices jumped by an average of €20,000 in the last 12 months as supply fell significantly, while the number of mortgages approved in the first three months of this year is the highest since 2007. 

The Journal also reported recently that home-buyers have raised concerns about property prices being inflated by bidding wars as people struggled to view houses during the Level 5 restrictions.

In a number of cases, houses sold for tens of thousands of euro above the asking price and, in one case, €120,000 above the asking price.

In the new world of work where a person can potentially do some or all of their job from their home, will it still be necessary to live in and around Dublin and other cities in the future? 

As we’ve pointed out so far in the Good Information Project, not everyone has a traditional office job that was upended by Covid-19. But, for those that do, they may have the option to retain remote working into the future.

While there are no definitive statistics available yet about where houses are being bought, anecdotally people in the property industry say homebuyers are looking outside the capital more than usual in recent months with remote working very much in mind as they do. 

The availability of broadband is the key consideration for these prospective homeowners as any move to elsewhere in the country will need to be underpinned by reliable internet if they are going to be home working. Another trend being seen in potential buyers are people wanting to move back to the place where they grew up or where they have familial ties.

Ed Carey, an estate agent in Enfield, Meath, says that Covid has changed the way that people make their decisions about buying homes. 

“I remember after one of the big snow events, I couldn’t sell a house in the country for ages after that,” he said, “because people were isolated for a couple of days during the snow [so] they wouldn’t have wanted to live out there. 

And then Covid happened. People can make very long-term, fundamental decisions based on events. They’re making these decisions based on Covid. For them, it’ll eliminate the commuting hell. While Covid may be the shock, employers are also realising they don’t need people there in the office anymore. It’s a big shift that’s happening here. 

Jonathan Quinn is chair of the Society of Chartered Surveyors in Ireland’s residential group and is based in Longford.

He has seen an increase in both the number of people looking to buy in the area, and the speed at which they’ll move to buy.

“It’s a little bit far to commute regularly [to Dublin],” he said. “People in Longford had been doing a bit of commuting with that hybrid of remote working too [before Covid], but that trend has just exploded.”

We had one property up for sale just before Christmas. We immediately had 11 sets of people book viewings and 10 of these said they would be remote working.

Quinn described the experience of one couple who, just before March 2020, had arranged a deposit and went sale-agreed on a house in Dublin city centre. 

“But what you can get for the money in Longford is dramatically different,” he said. “In the end, they opted against the small townhouse in Dublin. They bought in Longford instead. A 2,500 sq ft job.”

For this couple, Quinn stressed, they were moving back to Longford as they had links to the area. And this was a theme found by others in the field. 

Ed Carey, the Enfield estate agent, says the same thing: while his customers previously were primarily from Dublin, he has seen a trend of people moving out of the capital back to where they’re originally from elsewhere in the country in recent months. 

“The urban 3-4 bed semis are the best sellers,” he said. “Houses that were more difficult to sell were the rural bungalows.”

Carey said he’d usually ask sellers in rural areas about their well or septic tank.

“Now my question to them is ‘what’s the story with the broadband?’,” he said. “If they have broadband, then you’ll have remote workers interested [in buying the property]. If you don’t you’re in trouble.”

Karol Jackson runs the Wexford Town-based Menapia Properties. She said there’s been “huge demand” in recent months from first-time buyers in the area. 

“It’s primarily people moving from urban areas, specifically Dublin,” she said. “It’s really accessible by road. With the quality of broadband here too, people are saying we don’t have to live in the city. We’ve a good quality of life in Wexford Town. We’ve loads going on.”

On the supply side, Jackson said the number of available properties at the moment is “a bit short” due to the high demand but second-hand townhouses will still change hands for around €165,000-€170,000. 

“Oh, and absolutely broadband is essential,” she added. “You have to have that.”

Turn to remote working

Quinn said that he’s getting the sense from prospective buyers that they believe remote working is here to stay. 

“There’s one lady who’s making the move,” he said. “Wouldn’t have considered remote working and had a really good house in Dublin. Her company had brought in consultants to look at their policies and they raised worries about staff retention in the future. 

She was told ‘we’re not going to need you every day’, so she decided to look at remote working.

The sustained lockdown has meant that many people are now reassessing their options, even if most haven’t taken that plunge yet.

“People are much more house-conscious now,” Quinn said. “Saying ‘I wish I had this, I wish I had that’. People have been looking at how they want to live in the future a lot more. They’re selling up and moving elsewhere because they want to move into something different.”

In a poll for The Good Information Project, Ireland Thinks researched the appetite for people moving as a result of greater work flexibility. The vast majority seem unlikely to up sticks in the future but 21% of people offered a score of 6 out of 10 or higher when asked about an intention to move from where they currently live.

Managing director at the polling company Kevin Cunningham said, “There are variations here where some demographics are clearer indicators of a likelihood to move: younger people, those living in Dublin, living in rented accommodation, and those without children are all most likely to move.”

Regardless, the sharp rise in house prices is something that Carey believes won’t continue at the same rate once we begin to move out of the pandemic. 

“The no viewings is causing a real spike in prices,” he said, referring to the public health measure that restricts house viewings during Level 5 restrictions. “I’d a guy bidding on a place, and he turned around and said to me he was also bidding on two or three more. And that’s driving up the prices.”

The Meath-based agent said a steady market was preferable to one where prices shoot up and then down again in the future. He believes the re-opening of house viewings from next week will temper those recent rises, although demand will stay strong into the future. 

“The people looking to move closer to their roots is feeding into supply a bit now,” he said. “I’d say it’s a trend we’ll see continuing.”

This work is co-funded by Journal Media and a grant programme from the European Parliament. Any opinions or conclusions expressed in this work is the author’s own. The European Parliament has no involvement in nor responsibility for the editorial content published by the project. For more information, see here.

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