Catch a tiger by the tail

After a spectacular boom and bust, the Irish market may have bottomed out — and British buyers are now looking for bargains, says Audrey Ward

12 May 2013
The Sunday Times

James Masterson didn’t grow up wanting to be a farmer; it was the world of finance he was heading for. But having bought a whopping 75-acre property near Kilkenny, in the southeast of Ireland, for only €750,000 (£630,000), the Kent-based banker is thinking of a drastic career change. Initially, Masterson saw the site, with its four-bedroom farmhouse and collection of barns, as somewhere to put his spare cash, because he was “absolutely paranoid that the world was falling apart”. But that was last year, and now that he’s become an expert on drainage and fertiliser, he’s obsessing over organic orchards and honey bees.

“My Irish wife, Aoife, and her family keep telling me I couldn’t be a farmer, I couldn’t hack it, which is really annoying,” says Masterson, 40, but that hasn’t stopped him planning a permanent move to the farm. “Ultimately, we’ll move to Ireland and our two kids will attend a local school. In the meantime, we’ve spent every single holiday there.”

Masterson says he is one of a number discovering the extraordinary bargains to be found across the Irish Sea. “Even my British colleagues working in our Irish office have started buying. One of them bought a property in Waterford with a 17% yield.”

The latest research from Knight Frank estate agency reveals that Ireland was the fifthmost-searched country on its global website by those from Britain over the past year, with people looking at the likes of west Cork, Kerry, Waterford and Dublin for second homes. “Some are looking to move here for tax reasons, and they will want to be close to an airport, so anywhere in Cork close to the Waterford border, Dublin, Meath and Kildare is of interest,” says Roseanne DeVere-Hunt, divisional director at Knight Frank. “The price bracket they are looking in ranges from €1m to €5m.”

Increased interest from British buyers is also reflected in findings from the currency broker World First, which saw an 84% spike in clients looking to convert cash in order to buy property in Ireland over the past 12 months, compared with the same period a year before.

“Britons are investing while prices are low, and they’re hoping to see a return on their investment in the years to come,” says Elisabeth Dobson, head of private clients at World First. “This suggests that, after a long period in the doldrums, Ireland could be making a comeback.”

The country’s housing market has certainly suffered more than most eurozone nations. A recent report by the Irish property website Daft.ie revealed that prices for a one-bedroom flat in south Co Dublin are down 62% from their 2007 peak, while in some parts of the west, such as Co Mayo, they’re down almost 72%. Meanwhile, the price of a detached home has fallen more than 40% in Dublin. Yet many believe that property prices have bottomed out in the capital, if not the rest of the country. “Everyone’s in agreement that this is about as close to the bottom as you can get,” says Robert Hoban, director of auctions at Allsop Space.

Allsop Space, in which the UK property auctioneer Allsop has a half stake, has benefited from interest from Britain, selling €8.26m of property to Britishbased buyers since its first auction in 2011. Hoban says that, along with value for money, other factors influencing British buyers include the fact that “Ireland is the only other Englishspeaking country onsp NORTHERN in Europe, Irish property law is very similar to British law, and, of course, Ireland is easy to get to”. Among those to be seduced by the Emerald are Jon Cruddas, Miliband’s policy chief, and his wife, the Labour peer Baroness Healy.

Dublin A seduce Isle a Ed M Labo Earlier this year, they added to their property portfolio when they purchased a fourbedroom holiday cottage overlooking the Atlantic on the island of Achill, Co Mayo, proper pur bedroom overlookin one of Ireland’s most popular holiday destinations.

Michael Simcock, an investment manager from London, can also understand the draw of water — he has snapped up a country pad in Co Galway. “It’s very close to the River Shannon and there are some beautiful lakes nearby, so there’s great fishing,” he says.

Simcock, 44, snaffled the detached Georgian residence in the picturesque village of Eyrecourt for the knockdown price of €285,000 — when it first went on the market two years ago, it was priced at €1.15m. “I invest in property abroad, mainly in America, but I’d been thinking about Europe as an opportunity for a while.” He said he was tempted by “the progress Ireland has made economically, relative to the other, more challenged countries in Europe”, and plans to holiday there with his wife when not letting it out to holidaymakers.

If you prefer golf to fishing, there’s a three-bedroom midterrace house located in the plush grounds of the Faithlegg House Hotel and Golf Club in Co Waterford. The 800 sq ft property has a reserve of only €95,000 (00 353 1 678 9748, allsop.co.uk).

Alternatively, high rollers can splash out on Clonmeen House, in Co Cork, for a cool €1m.

Located in the peaceful Blackwater Valley, it looks out onto verdant countryside and boasts its own lake (00 353 25 31023, michaelhdaniels.com). Michael Daniels, who is marketing the property through his eponymous agency, says: “Compared with when people were considering buying four years ago, the change in value and what they can get now has been dramatic.”

Agents say value for money has been the main driver for the renewed interest in the country, and Britons are looking at farming areas such as Stradbally, in Co Laois; Kinsale, in Co Cork; and Kenmare, in Co Kerry. “The area they are searching in depends on their connection to Ireland,” says DeVere-Hunt. “If they have relatives in a particular area, they will want to live close to them. A lot are looking for farmland and the good life — they want to do organic farming and are getting chickens and sheep.” Schools are also an important factor. “It is so much cheaper to educate your children here than in the UK, so proximity to good schools is also encouraging people to move here.” One of the other big draws for foreign investors is the chance to bag their very own castle. “Thanks to the current economic Continued on page 22

Continued from page 21 climate, there are more on offer at present than I have seen for some years,” says Helen Cassidy, an auctioneer.

“People’s circumstances have changed; those who thought they’d have their castle for life are now — for personal or financial reasons — playing the market to see what they can get for it.” Among those for sale is Grantstown Castle, in Co Tipperary, which comes with three surrounding cottages — yours for €535,000 (00 353 94 954 6868, premierproperties ireland.com). It needs a bit of TLC and another €250,000 to make it habitable, though.

There’s also Ballindooley Castle, in Co Galway, which dates back to the 15th century. Only a short drive from Galway city, it stands in half an acre of land. It is on the market for €695,000 and is already kitted out with furniture and fittings, right down to cutlery, all of which are included in the guide price.

If it’s the celebrity factor you want, head to Dublin, where Sherry Fitzgerald, an affiliate of Christie’s, is selling a restored Victorian residence in Killiney, not far from where Bono and a host of other stars live. The 4,800 sq ft property is for sale at €3.375m and offers a heady mix of double-fronted bay windows, ornate ceiling coving and reclaimed floorboards. Set among 1.3 acres, it has a coachhouse that has been divided into a self-contained studio and a two-bedroom flat (00 353 1 275 1000, sherryfitz.ie).

Be warned, though: you’ll be competing for this type of property with the Irish expat community, says Rosie Mulvaney, a negotiator at Sherry Fitzgerald. “They have made their money abroad, and are now back to capitalise on it.”

There is also the fluctuating exchange rate to contend with. In early January, you could get about €1.23 to the pound, but by the end of the first quarter, sterling had dropped by almost 5%, to €1.19. The incoming residential property tax is also worth bearing in mind: from July 1, a charge will be levied on the market value of all residential properties; it will also apply to those living abroad. The amount charged will depend on which band your property falls into.

British investors hunting for rental opportunities should target flats in the heart of Dublin, in particular those with sitting tenants. “If you buy a city-centre property in London, you might get a yield of up to 5%, whereas you can get yields of up to 10% here,” Hoban says.

Allsop Space’s next auction will feature a two-bedroom flat on Wolfe Tone Street, at a reserve price of €85,000. It’s less than two kilometres away from the city centre’s main shopping district, Grafton Street, and should achieve rental income of €9,600 a year (00 353 1 678 9748, allsop.co.uk).

If you want to plump for a more salubrious part of town, look no further than the prestigious Dublin 4 postcode, where a ground-floor, three-bedroom flat in Burleigh Court recently sold for €440,000. That’s a hefty reduction on the €950,000 one buyer paid for a small two-bedroom flat in the same 40-unit complex at the height of the property boom.

You could expect to let it out for €1,800 a month (00 353 1 660 3587, bergins.ie).

Irishtown, once home to the actor Colin Farrell, is also worth a look. It’s a 15-minute walk from Grand Canal Dock, home to the European headquarters of Google and Facebook. On offer at €190,000 is a two-bedroom flat with a patio in the Bottleworks (00 353 1 660 3587, bergins.ie).

When, though, can investors expect some price appreciation? The outlook for the rest of 2013 is relatively optimistic as the Irish economy focuses on recovery. Geraldine Bergin, of Bergins estate agency, doesn’t doubt that property prices will recover soon. “As an estate agent, our business was decimated, but things are picking up. My attitude is that the Wall Street crash didn’t last, the Famine didn’t last, so this is not going to last.”