Light up my life: Saoirse Fitzgerald’s first foray into home ownership is a lighthouse in Claddagh, Co Cork
This article is part of an Irish Times Abroad series this week on "Finding a home at home"
When you know, you know. Funny old saying that. It’s one my mother has relayed to me and my friends many times over the years about meeting my dad. Little did I know that the same applies to buying a house.
For many, buying your first home is something you do when you are ready to “settle down”. But I am part of a generation who, for some reason or another, are choosing to not settle, in the traditional sense, but rather travel, learn, experience the world, chase that next job, that next thing. The idea of being tied to anything, let alone a 25-year mortgage, was something I wasn’t so sure would be for me. But recently, I found myself wanting to have bricks and mortar to call my own.
I am a 30-year-old working in tech in London. I entered this third decade of my life and suddenly had an urge to find a little corner of this world that would be mine.
I’ve spent the past 10-plus years travelling, living in several different countries, gathering ideas and experiences that one day last year, led me to the notion of buying a 200-year-old structure in the town I went to school in.
Whiling away the hours on social media one day in June 2016, I stumbled across an article with the headline: “The most spectacular lighthouse lodgings on the market in Ireland”.
I grew up on a farm in a beautiful and very remote place called Claddagh, in Co Cork. I have since lived in built-up cities for most of my adult life, so the idea of a house on a cliff, looking out at nothing but sea, drew me in.
I wanted to make something of the money I had worked hard to earn – and my parents had worked hard to afford my education to get me this work – instead of filling my wardrobe with more clothes I didn’t need, more make-up and more spa breaks. I wanted something to call my own, a project to work for, a focus.
The following month, I won the bid on a lighthouse keeper’s house in Claddagh. Following a few delays, the contracts are all signed now and the sale should close in a few weeks, when I’ll get the keys to my very own home.
A lot of my colleagues talk about investments, properties, buying shares, investing in start-ups, remortgaging. Living in London, you are often reminded about making your money work for you, and when I started out on this journey, I didn’t know the first thing about it.
Here’s my list of the 10 things I wish I had known about buying a home from abroad before I started out. Hopefully, they will be helpful to others.
1. Check if the property is listed: A listed property brings with it certain limitations on design and changes that can be made. Check is it listed both internally and externally.
2. Maps: You will see an outline of what the auctioneer is putting up for sale on either their website, or the property site you are using. If you don’t, ask them for it. I would recommend checking this against the ordnance survey map online, as that is really the only map that matters and will show you what you are entitled to buy.
3. Solicitor: Your solicitor will become your best friend. You might laugh, but I spent more time speaking to and engaging with my solicitor, David Keane, and his secretary, Nora, than I did most of my friends this past year. Choose one who has dealt in property; ask friends who have bought in the area and get an idea of their rates. It is their attention to detail that can either cost you or save you in the long run.
4. Structural survey: These are an investment, and although the property may look fine on the outside, you never know what lies beneath. Ask your solicitor for recommendations on who has been doing these surveys well in the area, they will know. They cost about €1,500.
5. Builder: Ask a local builder to take a look at the property. They can assess if there is much work to be done and advise, in general, what state the property is in, from a first glance.
6. Electrician: I was lucky that my cousin, uncle and younger brother are all electrical wizards, so I had them check the electrics for me to see if there were any major issues. Tap into that social media network you have been nurturing to find someone you can trust to check out the property for you.
7. Do you sums and set your limit: You can see how much the property is being sold for, but rarely is that the amount properties sell for in Ireland. Normally, people bid about 10-15 per cent under the asking price, though in the cities, especially Dublin, it can go much over. What amount are you able to bid?
In the case of private treaty, you are bidding. Think auction style. There will be many people bidding against you (normally, in demand properties are sold under private treaty), and there may be people with much bigger bank balances than you. Be wise, set a limit and stick to it if you can.
8. Mortgage: If you aren’t sitting on a lump sum, or didn’t recently win the Lotto, you will need finance. Getting mortgage approval should be top of your list. I have a friend who was able to give me solid advice on buying from overseas, and her bank, EBS in Athlone, offered the best rates for a “holiday home mortgage”.
9. Deposit: If like me, you are not living in the country you wish to buy in, then you will need to have been taking care of the piggy bank that is all but forgotten for most of your twenties. Although I am a first-time buyer, I am classed as a “foreign investor”. This means you will need in the range of 30-50 per cent deposit. In my case, just over 40 per cent deposit was required. Gulp.
10. House insurance and life assurance: In order to get a mortgage, you will need to have house insurance. I recommend getting some quotes as not every house can be insured (due to location, age, if it is a holiday let and so on). Budget about €600-€700 per year for this and it is normally an upfront payment.
You will need to have life assurance before your mortgage can be drawn down. This involves a health interview where they go through any past or present illnesses or family illnesses. Basically, if anything happens to you, the bank needs this in place so they know they will get paid.
You will also be asked if you would like to have income protection. This is in case you get sick and are unable to cover the repayments. I thought to myself, ‘ah I never get sick’, but my dad reminded me that it is better to be safe than sorry in the case of large repayments, so I have opted to include that. Budget about €40-€50 per month for this. I used an insurance broker, Ken Roche, who my family has dealt with over the years, and I’d highly recommend using a broker, as they shop around for you.
My final bit of advice is this: try to enjoy the process. There are lots of decisions to be made, but you will get through it, and hopefully with a home to call your own at the end of it all.
If you would like to follow my journey transforming the lighthouse keeper’s house, my Facebook page is called ‘The lighthouse keeps her’.