“There is more chance of Ireland paying off its national debt in the next twelve months than there is of getting a place in a South Dublin state school.”

Earlier this week I received a worrying email from a house-hunter, currently living overseas but planning to return to Dublin this summer with her husband and young family.  She found her search repeatedly frustrated by her experience that “the agents pluck a price from thin air or are instructed to sell at a particular price.  I have asked agents directly what the AMV of various houses are based on and have yet to have any sensible, logical or believable response.  There are plenty of houses on the market since Qtr 4 2012, which are overpriced, without any offers, which have yet to have a reduction in price so it would seem that there are people marketing their properties, possibly to keep their mortgage lenders at bay but that there is no real intention of selling.  We are finding it impossible to get any sense of what the real value of any property is.”

This lady went on to detail her difficulties in finding school places in Dublin.  Reasonably, she narrowed down her choice of desirable areas to live by their proximity to good schools.  This, she found, was the ultimate challenge. “I thought we would start with a search for schools and that might help us in determining the exact area to live in.  I thought this might be the easy bit.  Alas, my naivety proved my undoing….we quickly discovered that there is more chance of Ireland paying off its national debt in the next twelve months than there is of getting a place in a South Dublin state school.”  When making contact with local primary schools by telephone proved futile, our house-hunter presented herself in the school offices upon her frequent trips to Dublin.  She described how one particularly unprofessional school secretary actually laughed at her and advised that even of this family bought the house next door to the school, the children would not be given a place for at least two years, given the current waiting list.  The well established rules or guidelines on catchment areas do not appear to apply in South County Dublin.  The upshot was, the family had both children in private schools – which was also not without difficulty – “One well known private school in Blackrock (not the one most generally linked to rugby who were in fact tremendously helpful) did not respond to my initial email enquiry or my follow up phone call.  On presenting myself at their very nice reception desk, I was greeted very brusquely by a lady who was either too tired to or incapable of raising her head to actually talk to me directly… clearly that particular school operates in its own thriving micro-economy and it is surprising to see that some of the Celtic Tiger era arrogance still lives on.”

I spoke to a number of local estate agents about this and found one, Des Lalor Auctioneers, who operates a policy of including a list of the local area schools in the brochure as they understand the importance of doing so.  In fact, they also keep a record, where possible, of schools that have places.  Philip Thompson of that office – who has children of school going age himself – explained that “This is an area where the smaller local agent should be better informed than an employee of a larger agency. The local agent is part of the local community and should have a good idea of the situation of the schools in their own local area.”

With school places finally sorted, the family proceeded to register their search with every local estate agency (but interestingly, not with any local house-hunters) in the hope of finding their dream home.  Unfortunately, this was not to be.  The experience was described as follows: “In several agencies that my husband and I attended, we found staff on the whole disinterested, unengaging and in some cases outright rude.  We had been given a contact in a very well known agency in Blackrock and arranged to call in whilst back in Dublin.  On the day in question, the lady was out on a viewing but we were advised by her colleague that she was “excited to talk to us and had lots to show us”.  We stayed around the area waiting for her call back as we were “excited to talk to her and see all she had to show us” – we are still waiting for her call over two months later.”  While the experience has been overwhelmingly negative, there was at least “one refreshing exception amongst the agents – Rowena in Dalkey, you know who you are!  She spent lots of time going through properties with us, fitted us in for viewings at very short notice, was incredibly informative about different areas even down to school options and immediately showed us some rental options.”

One of the most surprising aspects of this scenario, as described to me via email, is that these particular house-hunters have a budget of approximately €1 million euro.   There is no doubt that demand is consistently strong in this area, it is inconceivable to me that a family of four cannot get access to suitable houses in this price range.  But it appears even viewings have become problematic – “The favoured trick of open viewings Dublin-style is absolutely preposterous.  We looked at a house in Stillorgan along with about 50 other people, and I’d have had a better experience if I had joined some cattle heading for the abattoir.  The Agent stood at the front door and took down names.  He would answer questions if asked, but to be honest, I couldn’t be bothered to get in the queue.  I saw no evidence whatsoever that he was earning his fee.  I also suspect that the vast majority of people looking around were simply tyre-kickers and of all the people viewing there might be 5/10% who are genuinely in the market.  When you are buying a new outfit you are at least given the comfort and privacy of your own cubicle to try it on.  A house purchase is such a monumental decision and agents need to do more to help the process and give people time and space to look around… When are Dublin agents going to realise that people have quickly cottoned on to their idea that having hoards of people traipsing through a house at the same time will create competition and make people rush to put an offer in – how stupid do you think we all are?    The last time I did as much bumping and grinding into people was when I first went to the UK and ended up in a dodgy Irish club.  Quite frankly, the whole open viewing, very like my Irish club experience, was a most undignified experience.  People spend more time eyeing up everyone else trying to gauge who might be the real competition amongst the hoards of viewers rather than concentrating on the merits or otherwise of the property in question.”

I put this email to a number of estate agents this week, both for reaction and opinion.  One agent I spoke to identified the problem as “The exclusive estate agency system we have in this country means that the main area of competition between estate agents is getting the sign in the garden.  Once that is done anyone who wants to buy that house has to come to the agent with the sign. This has bred a concept that houses sell themselves. Nothing could be further from the truth.  As a result the quality of service to the buyer is in many cases deplorable.”

While that response was refreshingly honest, it does little to help our family in this situation, who has now decided to rent.  This is a loss to the property market, to any potential vendor and to the exchequer.  The most frustrating part of all is that we brought it on ourselves.


~ Carol Tallon Buyers Broker


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