Magazine article The Spectator

Blarney Market

Magazine article The Spectator

Blarney Market

Article excerpt

A recent news story in the Irish Times bean: 'A court has been asked to settle a dispute between a Dublin lesbian couple over the proceeds from their EUR470,000 [L320,000] former home.' Those not familiar with the changes that have swept through the Irish capital over the last few years would have to wonder which feature of that arresting introduction was the more remarkable: the matter-of-fact reference to a samesex relationship, or the impressive market value of an average house in one of the city's outer suburbs. A house that, even more astonishingly, was worth only L265,000 a year ago, and L175,000 four years ago.

While the English market - particularly in London and the South-east - braces itself for a `soft landing', Dublin is flying high, still in the grip of the kind of property fever we are recovering from on this side of the Irish Sea. A seemingly unstoppable stream of new statistics and surveys shows, inter alia, that sales activity here has dropped by a third, more than 80 per cent of respondents have now `lost interest' in the property market, and, courtesy of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors last week, that the market has just had its biggest fall for eight years.

Not so over there. A browse in an estate agent near St Stephen's Green provokes the reactions that British property window-shoppers have had to become inured to when faced with the provocative combination of distinctly ordinary dwellings, excitable estate-agent blarney and unaffordable price tags. A three-bedroom modern house with nasty stone cladding and no garden in Ballsbridge is described, for no discernible reason other than the EUR780k price tag, as 'impressive'. A bog-standard chalet bungalow in Dublin 14 is apparently 'substantial' the price certainly is, at EUR675k. A `residence' in Blackrock actually looks rather 'fine'- but so it should be at 6EUR2 million.

And these are just the guide prices: gazumping is alive and well, especially since most of the expensive houses (EUR600k and above) sell at auction and are, one local property-watcher explained, always pitched too low `to get a good crowd' and easily go for up to 20 per cent more.

So what is driving this upward surge? `They say the Celtic tiger is dead, but it's only sleeping,' one leading figure in the Irish property market told me, while another was simply puzzled: 'I don't understand it. Even though the top end of the market seems to have levelled off, seven or eight EUR1 million-plus houses sold just last week.'

The `poor mouth' is no longer the thing: conspicuous consumption is in, and ostentatious houses - JR's South Fork has migrated and multiplied in the Dublin suburbs and surrounding countryside - are the proud symbol that you have taken the tiger economy by the tail and emerged the winner. …

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