Location was the most important consideration for Eoin Daly and Mainara Correa da Silva in choosing a house to buy. They’ve been married for two years, looking for a home for three and expect to move into their new four-bed semi in Drury Mills, Saggart, Co Dublin, in early March.
Daly grew up in Rathfarnham and Correa da Silva is from Brazil. Areas like Rathfarnham, Knocklyon, and Firhouse would have been their first choice, and originally they looked at second-hand houses. “We kept getting into bidding wars, in one case, on a house that would have needed €50,000 to €100,000 worth of renovation.”
Eventually, they opted for Saggart and a new home, where they knew exactly what the price was and what they’d get. “A new property is what it is,” says Eoin: the Drury Mills four-bed, built by developer Anthony Neville Homes, has what pretty much all newly built houses now have. It’s Ber A-rated, comes with fitted wardrobes, all appliances, and, in this case, all flooring supplied.
The couple like Saggart, between Rathcoole and Citywest, a short walk from the Luas – and they both work on the Luas line, where Eoin runs the Snap Print Design Websites business on the Naas Road. “It has quite a village feel and the houses are also a short walk from the village. It’s near the M7 and the M50 as well as close to the mountains - there’s a nice forest nearby” says Eoin. There are also schools and shops.
Budget changes that brought in the 10 per cent deposit rule and Help-to-Buy scheme for first-time buyers didn’t trigger their decision to buy, although they did buy off plans through Savills after the budget. Eoin, who is 40, had worked abroad for eight years, and he and Correa de Silva had savings. Both are first-time buyers and of course welcome the Budget changes although, like many first-time buyers right now, are perplexed as to how exactly the Help-to-Buy scheme works in practice.
A first-time buyer couple who were galvanised by the Budget changes are Jean Casey and her husband, Alan Plummer: they started looking seriously for a house in September, when they needed 20 per cent for their deposit. They started looking seriously for a house in September 2016. Location – in this case, Swords – was important to them, but they hadn’t expected to find somewhere as quickly as they did.
“The 5 per cent tax back on the purchase price under Help-to-Buy was a massive incentive,” says Casey. Just before Christmas, they put a deposit on a three-bed semi in a new phase of the large Ridgewood development in Swords that cost between €300,000 and €400,000. “We would like to stay there as long as possible and have made sure that we have options such as converting the attic and adding an extension should we need . . . We’d prefer to stay in this house long term.”
As for most first-time buyers, price, followed by size and location, were the critical factors influencing this couple’s choice. “We wanted a house that wasn’t poky – it’s 117sq m/1,260sq ft – but was in a fairly easily commutable location. After that, the important features for us were energy efficiency; having a kitchen/diningroom where we could create a small living area; being able to convert the attic; utility room; good storage and a south-facing garden.”
The couple are textbook first-time buyers: agents say price and location are the main factors influencing new homebuyers, followed by energy efficiency. “We’re told we can heat the whole house for about €600 a year,” says Casey.
What do people buying new homes want? It depends on what kind of person is buying: youngish first-time buyers, downsizers and trader-uppers are potential customers for new homes. But the market is dominated by first-time buyers, and it’s not surprising most new homes on offer are targeted at them.
New developments are still mainly three- and four-bed semis and detached houses. There are fewer new apartments, apparently because of the cost to developers – a whole block must be built before individual units can be sold.
How much a property will cost is determined by location: first-time buyers from south Co Dublin may want a new three-bed semi near where they grew up for under €350,000, but they’re unlikely to get it. But on the north, west and south-west sides of Dublin, in places such as Swords, Lucan, Skerries, Dublin 15 and the fringes of Knocklyon and Rathfarnham and in commuter counties, there are homes for about – and sometimes less than – the average Dublin price of €328,000.
The quality of new homes at all price levels is very good, thanks to building regulations that came into force in 2014. Energy efficiency, and the lower fuel bills that promises, is the third most important factor for new homes buyers – and all new homes must have a Ber A3 rating: “First-time buyers are very much aware of Ber ratings, and houses are much better than houses built even 10 years ago,” says Barry Feenan, associate director of Knight Frank’s new homes division. “Buyers do quiz us about heating systems, airtight houses, ventilation and circulation.” But buyers still like fireplaces of some sort, even though you cannot have an open flue in an airtight house.
It’s clearly a sellers’ market – demand for new homes far outstrips supply – but buyers won’t accept just anything, say agents. As Lisa Fogarty, head of sales and marketing at developer Ballymore, says: “Buyers are well versed in quality, and the finish in kitchen and bathrooms is key. Buyers are particular and will hold off; they won’t buy just anything because of its location.”
Buyers of the lowest-priced starter homes should get a product whose standard specification does not differ hugely from bigger, more expensive homes. Standard fitout includes an open-plan fully fitted kitchen, usually opening on to the back garden; livingroom; fitted wardrobes; an en suite bathroom in the main bedroom (and a second en suite in four-beds); tiled floors in kitchen and bathrooms. The kitchen will often have an island unit, polished granite countertops and will often come with appliances included. Buyers will look for parking for two cars at the front.
People want utility rooms but these are not yet standard, says Barry Feenan of Knight Frank – although they are included in schemes such as Hollywood Rath, beyond Blanchardstown in Dublin 15, which his agency is selling. Three- and four-bed semis in this development cost from €300,000 to €365,000. Most developers provide tiled floors for kitchens and bathrooms, but buyers must usually choose the rest of their flooring, usually costing from €4,000 to €5,000.
Bigger, more expensive houses will almost certainly have a utility room, some may have a walk-in pantry and perhaps a mud room. The spec of a new home is important for people trading up, says David Browne: “They’re into their kitchens, quality of tiling, choice of colour.”