Thursday, 4 September 2014

House hunting fever

Today I heard on the radio about that new development in Swords, which is going on sale on Saturday. Apparently there were people already queuing since Tuesday (!) to  be sure they'd secure a house when the sale starts.

Wow!, I thought to myself, are we back in 2006 or what? As it happens, there seems to be less than 10 people on the queue at the moment. But if it keeps on going, I can't imagine the state of the place on Saturday. I can already see fights, screams and anger amongst potential buyers.

All of this brought me back to the time when we were house hunting, and trust me, it wasn't pretty. We bought an apartment in 2006, at the height of the Celtic tiger. But we were looking for a property for at least a year before. It was a stressful time and it seemed we were never going to find something. The demand was huge, the supply sadly wasn't. 

On one occasion, we went to a public viewing of a 2 bedroom house in the Blanchardstown area. The price on offer was 175000 euros. The viewing started at 7pm, but by the time we had stepped in the house at 7.10 pm, we couldn't afford it anymore. The offers had gone up to 290000 euros. IN 10 FECKIN MINUTES !!!
The same happened to house we visited in Stamullen. There was only one property left for sale in the estate. It was small, the garden was facing North, the bedrooms were like shoe boxes, but still, we were amongst 50 potential buyers. And it was a case of who would put the more money on the table. It definitely wasn't us. 

The worst experience we had was trying to buy a house off the plans in Slane. We had seen the ad on the newspaper and rang the Estate agent, who told us to get there the following morning, as the sale was starting at 11am. Now, who in their right mind would want to buy a house, off the plans, for 270 000 euros?  For all we know, it may have never been built!! But I still went.
I arrived around 9:30am, thinking I was early enough. I didn't know it was already too late. There were a good few people already, but the rule was that the Estate agent would start giving tickets at 10:30am. In the mean time, I learned that some houses had been pre-sold. Seriously?? And that some potential buyers had come the night before to get tickets... A bit unfair, don't you think?  Anyway, I waited patiently and when the guy came out of his little portacabin to give out the golden tickets, it was every man (and woman) to himself. There was rushing, running and a lot of pushing. I eventually got my ticket and stood in the queue. Every single person in front of me was buying a house. Not an apartment, not a duplex. They all wanted a house. So of course when my turn came, the last one had just been sold. I gave up and went home in tears. 

In the end, we didn't get a house. We bought a 2-bedrooms apartment for 275 000 euros. We're not even in Co.Dublin. But you know what, we were just happy to finally find a place that cost less than 300 000 Euros.

The whole thing was surreal. I'm a rational (most of the time) person and couldn't get my head around how crazy people were. How crazy the banks were as well. But at the same time, we were obviously not thinking straight ourselves. We were caught in the whirlwind of house hunting, mortgage lending, money spending. Get your foot on the ladder! In 2 years time you can sell your house, make a profit and buy bigger. Get your foot on the ladder! That's all you could hear, see, read everywhere. I should have known better. I come from a country which experienced several property bubbles. I knew it was going to happen at some stage. I didn't think it was going to happen so soon.

A couple of years after we bought, recession kicked in. After 8 years, we still live in the same apartment. The view I have from my balcony is that of an unfinished apartment block. There were supposed to be shops all around the complex. There are none. Sorry, I'm mistaken. There is a TESCO, which is probably the reason why no other shop moved in the area. I like where I live, it's by the seaside, the school is great and it's a village, which is perfect as I'm not fond of big crowds. But... All I really want is a house. A garden. A bit of grass. I want my children to be able to play outside without having to supervise closely in case one of them climbs and falls from the balcony...

We're in negative equity like thousand of other people. We can't sell, we can't rent as it wouldn't cover the mortgage. We are stuck. I hope there is not another bubble on the way. It's too soon. Have we not learned anything? 

Another thing crosses my mind. There are so many ghost estates everywhere. And there is apparently a shortage of houses. Really? Can these estates not be finished instead of building new ones? Maybe I'm stupid and don't understand how it works... How about all those NAMA properties. What happened to them?

In France, lands are sometimes bought by the council. Instead of contracting a developer to build 50 exact same houses, they sell plots of land to private individuals. Then, those people contract a company to build their house. There are a few building companies who sell "key-in-hand" properties. You choose a model from their catalogue, you can personalise your style ( the amount of bedrooms, the shape of the kitchen, a garage etc). And it costs less than here. But I guess the developers wouldn't be happy about that...

I'm sorry for the long long rant ( and I haven't even talk about the quality of buildings, it could be another entire post!), but I couldn't resist writing on the subject after what I heard this morning. 

I hope it works out for those people who are queuing at the moment, and hopefully the sale will be well organised and riot-free. Buying a house is a life investment and it's supposed to be a big decision. Yet, it seems a lot of people here (and me included) end up buying a house in a rush. We all need some more rational thinking.