Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Newgrange and Bank Recapitalisation

December 21st 2008 was noteworthy for two reasons. Firstly, the winter solstice, normally observed in Newgrange by the light of the sun illuminating the passage and chamber of the 5,000 year old mound. Unfortunately it was a dull damp morning at Newgrange on December 21st 2008. Cloudy skies prevented the sun's rays from illuminating the passage and chamber.

At the same time, the Government were announcing the recapitalisation of the banking sector. Despite the bank chiefs saying that they did not need any funding, their share price had continued to head south as no investors believed them! The lack of funding has been all too evident at ground level, where few mortgages or business loans have been approved in recent months.

I do not think that the €7 billion promised by the Government will be enough. The bank loan book is €450 billion. If 10% of that is bad debt, they will be down €45 billion! The banks will re-visit this in time to ask for more. The fact that the same people who got the banks into this mess are being allowed to stay in their highly-paid jobs is unbelievable.

The management of the Irish banks has played our Government. At the beginning of this process when the guarantee was announced, the Government could have had full control of the banks. Lenihan could have directed policy as he wished. Instead he dithered and the sharper bank management beat him silly. Not only have they kept their jobs but they negotiated a huge subsidy from the taxpayer as well. People on the minimum wage will be paying for the bank managers multi-million euro salaries!
To make matters worse, Lenihan is telling us that we have got a good deal. He is either lying or stupid! The taxpayer (us) has lent €4bn to the two main Irish banks at an interest rate of 8pc, in return for 25pc voting rights. According to the market, both main banks were only worth €3bn on Sunday, 25pc less than the government’s loan to them. And the banks’ management and boards are still in place. Anglo has been given €1 billion for a share of 75%. The market value of the whole lot is €220 million! We have been stitched up by Lenihan and his advisors.

When we awoke on the 21st to hear that the Government was finally recapitalising the banks, we hoped it would be the start of the recovery. I am afraid that like events at Newgrange on the same morning, it is a false dawn.

Happy New Year to everyone.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

New Website, Google mapping and a calf named Paddy

14 months and many drafts since it was first discussed with the developers, the new version of http://www.pfq.ie/ has been launched. There are a few small errors, but these will be fixed today, I hope! It is much more interactive than the older version, which served us well for the last few years. The search facility is much improved and the graphics are better.

The big bonus is the addition of mapping, which should make it much easier for prospective viewers to find the rural properties (and some of the town ones also!). I am one of the worst offenders in this office for getting lost. I blame years away in school and college, together with travel abroad, but a lot of my friends had a similar life history and they can find their way to any part of the county (or country for that matter) without the need of a GPS or map. So maybe it is just me.

When I am in the car, if I get lost I can make the time up again. If I go 10 miles out of the way, it is not the end of the world. Getting lost while cycling, is another matter altogether. Even if you know the road in a car, it is very different on a bike. You notice much more about the road, the countryside and particularly the hills, that you do not see while driving. Junctions to side roads look totally different at 17-20 mph than they do at 50mph. Road signs on rural roads are few or none, sometimes they are turned the wrong way!

I once got lost near Drangan or at least I thought I was near Drangan! Beautiful country, but hilly country. As I sped down a hill, I wondered if the climb on the other side was before or after the next junction. When I got to the junction, there was only a turn in the wrong direction, so it was onwards and upwards, literally speaking. After going around in circles for 30 minutes, not recognising any part of the road I was on, I eventually decided that I should ask at the next house. I arrived at a roadside cottage, clicked out and walked to the door. I knocked but got no reply. As I turned to go, a voice came from the small field nearby, asking me if I was alright. The owner of the voice came around the corner, an elderly but sprightly man I knew to see (names are another of my weak points!). He occasionally visits our cattle mart in Fethard. “Jaysus, Pat” (he obviously knew me!),”what sort of get up is that” he asked referring to my “fancy” cycling clothes. “As you are here, I need someone to hunt in that heifer with me” he said, pointing to an excitable looking Limousin, steaming around the paddock,” she is trying to calve. I called the vet, but he won’t be here for half an hour. Will you help me?” Somewhat reluctantly, but sounding as enthusiastic as I could, I agreed. I still could not remember his name, but knew I was now in Curraheen, remembering his address (Why is that?).

“I’d better give you some boots” he said and from the out-house he brought an old pair of wellingtons. I took of my shoes and put them on after tipping them upside down to remove spiders and debris. As I stood in the mud, the right boot leaked immediately. “I’m not sure why I put them in the out-house, they look like a grand pair of boots” said my still-unnamed friend. I did not tell him why.

We went to the paddock, where the heifer looked at both of us with a mixture of suspicion and hostility. “Easy now, girl” he said, too loudly. The heifer ran to the far ditch with her head held high in the air. I was thinking this will not be easy. The cattle crush was along the side ditch, with no holding pen other than 2 old gates tied together with twine. There were 2 other cattle in the field which was approx. 1 acre and both were also a bit excited. I was already late having gotten lost. I was now going to be very late, would probably have to stay until the vet came and worse still, had no mobile signal to call anyone. The only phone was in the house, but we were now in the field, trying to shepherd 3 wild young heifers, one with calf’s legs sticking out of her rear-end into a makeshift pen. God knows how we were supposed to keep her in it with only twine to secure the two gates and no barrier at all on the ditch side. I put all these thoughts out of my mind as we inched forwards, slowly “pushing” the cattle by our presence. Although they say cattle are colour-blind, they must have been spooked by my bright yellow rain-proof jacket, because they went into the pen first time. I was thinking that my friend’s name might be Jimmy, when he said, “There you go Pat, that was easy” too loudly and they bolted out before either of us got to the gates.

We brought them around that field 6-8 times, I lost count in the end, but finally, we got them in and I managed to get the gates closed without being charged by the 3 of them. We got the right heifer up the crush and put a bar behind her. Just then, the vet arrived. I knew him well. He looked at me and asked “What are you doing here... and dressed like that?” No words would have sufficed so I grunted back. He turned and said “Well Johnny” (I would have been wrong!). He walked to the crush, “She looks small, we might have to do a Caesarean.”

He tried to pull the calf first. He put ropes on the 2 protruding legs and gave one to me. We pulled and the calf came a bit, but not enough. “We’ll have to use the calving jack” he said, “Hold on to those ropes while I set up. The calf was duly pulled out, while I got a good covering of afterbirth on my jacket and leggings. “A fine bull calf” said Johnny, “I’ll have to call him Paddy, after you” he said. The calf was soon up and attempting to suckle. He would be fine, as would his mother. I was still lost, late, covered in afterbirth and a long way from home. As we were washing up at the outside tap, I asked the vet where he was going next. “Back to Fethard” he said. “That’s the best news I heard all day, will you run me in?” I asked. We took the front wheel of the bike and put it in the back of the jeep on top of his equipment, said goodbye to Johnny and set off for Fethard which is only 5 miles from my home. “How did you end up there?” the vet asked me as we left. I told him the story and he laughed as we drove less than a mile to the main road to Fethard. “You should invest in a GPS for the bike" he said.

Later that week, we were finalising the layout and design of the new version of the site. There were lots of decisions to be made, all coming with a cost-factor. We sell a lot of rural property, sites, houses and farms. “The most important feature is a working mapping system” was my mantra that day. Today it is a reality. I hope when driving around, searching for property that you see on http://www.pfq.ie/ that you will benefit from the mapping tool.

Just remember, if you get lost, be careful who you ask for directions!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

House Market Crash - Shock!

It appears that however bad the market is for selling real houses, the market for Doll's houses is worse! We see house prices falling by 20-25% since 2006/2007. The Doll's house market has collapsed by 60% in the last month, with more to come after the 25th December I am sure. I am glad that we are not agents for doll's houses. No matter how bad you think things are, someone else is faring worse.

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Monday, December 8, 2008

Christmas Lights, Christmas Spirit

This year, Gladstone St did not get any Christmas lights. Many people have asked me why this is. Why have “the Corporation not done the lights?” The truth is, the Borough Council never erected lights on the streets at Christmas. It was always left to the traders in each street. Really, it was left to one individual on each street to make sure the lights from last year still worked, replace those that didn’t, invest in some new ones, arrange an electrician to erect them, arrange power supplies along the street and finally chase all the other traders for money to pay for them.
As this is a thankless job, a few committed people got landed with the job each year. As a company who always paid our share (even though we are not retailers), it disappointed me to see that each year, a number of retailers would not pay. They were happy to free-load, while the majority of the street paid for them.
It tended to be the larger chain stores that didn’t pay. In 2007 payment was not received from Carphone Warehouse, Boots, Sasha, Carl Scarpa, Birthdays and Meteor. These stores have a substantial presence on the street, benefitting from the contributions of smaller local enterprises while not paying their share.
This is the reason there are no lights on Gladstone St this year. O’Connell St traders have pulled together to provide lighting, as have other streets. It is sad that the town’s premier trading street will be bereft of seasonal cheer.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Single-Parent Jesus

My mother recently visited Woodies in the Poppyfield Retail Park to purchase a crib for Christmas. She duly purchased one and brought it home. On unpacking it, she found a baby Jesus, Mary, cow, donkey, 3 wise men, straw, crib etc, but no Joseph. She rang the shop, who said they would change it for her.

When she got to the store later, she met the girl she had spoken to on the phone, who informed her that she had checked all the other crib boxes and there was no Joseph in any of them! Seems the product, made in China, did not have a Joseph included at design stage. Or maybe in these recessionary times, Joseph was deemed superfluous and subjected to cutback. It was after all an Immaculate Conception!

In any event, whether through cutbacks, a non-Christian manufacturer or a modern single-parent take on the Nativity, there is no Joseph in Woodies cribs.


Road Works

It appears that despite there being little monies in the coffers, the Borough Council are determined to spend whatever they have before the year is through. In the middle of the Christmas shopping period, when already hard-pressed retailers are trying any method possible to shift stock to a public afraid to spend money, both Market St and Parnell St traders have to endure enormous disruption due to road works. It seems that an upgrade of the sewerage system could not be done at any other time of year!
Yesterday, no traffic was allowed on Market St. As this is an integral part of the concentric one-way system we have in Clonmel, this caused congestion all over town. More importantly, it seriously impacted on the traders on Market St and Parnell St, which is fed by Market St.
Although pedestrian traffic is allowed, behind 2 metre high palisade fencing, it is not a safe environment for shoppers. Excavators, mini-cranes, dumpers, jack-hammers, con-saws all made themselves seen and heard. Many people chose not to enter the street at all.
The Borough Council state that this work will continue for most of January, so any chance these traders have of a post-Christmas sale will be seriously diminished. The economic environment is bad enough at the moment, without this added burden to traders.
Surely the experts in the Borough Council could have scheduled this work for another time of year, when the disruption and subsequent congestion elsewhere would not have had such a severe economic impact. They obviously do not think commercially, except when it comes to collection of Business Rates, demands for which will land on trader’s doormats early in the New Year. I hope that all the traders who receive one will be in business next year!


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Christmas Sales

Many homeowners ask us should they leave their home on the market at this time of year. Traditionally the Christmas period was always slow from a property perspective. When I started in property, back in the 80’s (!), we might as well have shut down the office from December 1st to January 10th each year. When the Christmas sales were over and the kids had gone back to school, house hunters began to emerge again and deals were done. It was very rare to even have a viewing over the Christmas period.

There were some exceptions. I remember in the mid-90’s agreeing a sale on the 23rd December. The house looked great decked out for Christmas and I think that this, plus the Christmas cheer, helped the owner get a good price. (My negotiation skills might have had something to do with it also!)

In December 1999, against my better judgement, a developer persuaded us to advertise a new development for an official launch in January. I will never forget the sight as I drove around the front of the office on January 2nd. There was a queue, admittedly only 3 people, but a queue nonetheless, to book a house in the development. The rest of the development, all 35 homes, sold out within the day. The Great Celtic Tiger property boom had arrived.

Now that the property boom has disappeared, prices are back quite a bit from their heights of 2006/2007. Some homes are down by 25%. Some are unable to be sold at any price, due to the lack of available finance.

So, back to the question. Should a house stay on the market over the holiday period? My reasoning is that a house can only be sold if it is for sale. The market is so tight that if a house is not in view, either on the web or in our offices, it will not sell. I am sure that some homes will sell over the Christmas period, maybe yours will be among them.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

What's going to happen next?

With bank shares at yet another all-time low, dire economic forecast on every news bulletin, house prices down 15-20%, doom and gloom all around, one has to wonder what’s going to happen next? While the rest of the world appears to be stabilising slightly, it seems that Ireland is sinking further and further, with no sight of the bottom yet.
The banking crisis has been the trigger for all the difficulties we are facing today. Over-lending for property and personal spending reached epic proportions in 2006 and 2007, while Ireland Inc. partied like there was no tomorrow. We are now suffering a collective hangover, with no immediate remedy.

According to reports, the Taoiseach told the Dáil today that recapitalisation of the banks alone will not solve the issue of access to credit for small businesses. During leaders' questions, he said the Government was looking at range of measures to remedy the liquidity problem but he said he was constrained in revealing what they were.

This is bad news. This Government has failed in every major initiative it has tried to launch, including its Budget. They do not seem to have any imagination, and even when they decide on a course of action, they are unable to see it through to finality. The fact that they are “looking at range of measures to remedy the liquidity problem” probably means they have little or no idea what to do! Even if they do, they will probably be too hamstrung to put it into action.

Unless they can come up with a comprehensive plan and can put it into action now, it now seems likely that a number of our banks may fail, while others might be taken over by predatory foreign interests. This will be a disaster of unimaginable proportions for the country. Even now, there is little or no hope of small businesses getting credit. This is causing huge cash-flow difficulties. Many solid businesses will go broke. Unemployment will soar at a time of low tax revenue. We can only hope it does not come to pass.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Light at the end of the tunnel?

Over the last 2-3 weeks, we have noticed a marked upswing in home viewings. This has resulted in an increase in the number of pending offers received at our Clonmel office. The web stats are up and the phone is ringing more. We are all a little busier.

First-time buyers are coming back into the market. I see a lot of people that have been sitting on the sidelines, watching the market fall over the last year, now move to get mortgage approval, view houses and make offers. House prices are at about 2003/2004 levels, while interest rates are on the way down.

Money is still difficult to get, the banks are very selective about who they will (or can!) lend money to. It seems that job security is once again a prime focus for the banks. A lot of the newly approved potential home-buyers are in Government jobs, or very secure businesses.
The maximum loan-to-value ratio seems to be 92%. The people who are now bidding for homes have been saving for the last year or two and are in a position to come up with the 8% balance and solicitor fees of approx. 0.7-1%.

I speak to potential buyers numerous times a day. When we meet at a property, the state of the market is always a topic for discussion. A number of common themes are emerging. The general consensus is as follows:
1. House prices have fallen...a lot. First-time-buyer houses, which typically cost €230-250,000 in early-mid 2007, are now priced around €200-215,000.
2. Interest rates have fallen, and it seems are due to continue falling, improving affordability.
3. As stated, these potential home-buyers have spent the last year or two doing what their parents urged them to...saving.
4. Vendors are more acclimatised to the drop in prices and will listen to reasonable offers. They will include more in the house sale and are now bending over backwards to entice buyers.
5. First-time buyers are the only group that banks are targeting at present, so they know that they are the only buyers in the market. This gives them more confidence.
6. That same knowledge is also a big driver to them. Their friends are starting to put in offers on houses and they see more and more houses being marked as Sold on http://www.pfq.ie/ and in our office. They do not want to be left behind!

In other words, they feel that the market may have bottomed out, or be close to doing so. They realise that if the Government inject money into the system, resulting in more liquidity, then prices will stabilise, if not harden slightly. With lowering interest rates and lower house prices, it really is now much more affordable to buy than to rent. Of course, the money paid on a mortgage is actually for their own benefit, unlike rent, viewed as “dead money.”

Is this the start of an improved outlook for the housing market? Time will tell. All I know is that people that only a year ago thought they would never afford a home are now completing purchases and will be in for Christmas.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

South East Business Confidence Study October 2008

The business outlook in the South East has deteriorated further in the past six months according to the findings of the latest South East Business Confidence Study. This is the second in a series of twice-yearly surveys conducted on-line with businesses in the South East of Ireland. 400 organisations across the region took part.

The findings show that the expectations of businesses for 2008 in terms of turnover, profit and employment are much lower than in the first survey conducted in May 2008. In the region as a whole, more businesses expect their turnover, profits and workforce to be lower at the end of 2008 than they were at the end of 2007, a sure sign that a recession is underway.

There has been a very noticeable lowering of expectations in the last six months and businesses are now facing up to more difficult trading conditions. The biggest change in this period has been the fall in consumer confidence and this is now cited as the biggest challenge facing businesses throughout the region. However, there are positive signs as just 20% of businesses expect to have to implement redundancies during 2008 though opinions are evenly divided on whether things will get better or worse next year.

"How do you think your business will do in 2009 compared to 2008?"

Source: Market Dynamics, October 2008

Key Findings
Sales / Turnover / Profitability
More businesses (42%) expect their turnover to fall in 2008 than expect it to rise (37%).
Medium sized companies (those with 25-49 employees) seem to be feeling the pressure most with more expecting a drop in turnover (39%) than an increase (38%).
Businesses in construction, financial services and retail/wholesale sectors appear to be finding the environment toughest. However, organisations in transport / distribution / communications and business services believe they will buck the trend with 56% and 47% respectively expecting increased turnover this year.
Just a quarter of firms (26%) expect their profitability to be better than last year.

Source: Market Dynamics, October 2008

Employment Levels
A total of 41% of businesses expect to be employing fewer people at the end of 2008 though 45% believe numbers will be maintained.
Over 60% of businesses with between 25 and 99 employees surveyed expect to employ less people by the end of 2008.
Just 20% of businesses expect to make workers redundant this year while 49% don’t expect to reduce capacity at all during this year.

Source: Market Dynamics, October 2008

Business Challenges
The decline in consumer confidence, cited by 56% of respondents, is the biggest challenge facing businesses across the South East followed by labour costs and energy costs.
Just 31% claimed that the availability of credit was a challenge and 20% still have difficulty in finding suitable staff, despite the economic downturn.

Expectations for 2009
When asked to say whether they expected business in 2009 to be better or worse than this year there was a divergence of opinions. While 44% expect business conditions to be the same as this year the proportion who expect business to be worse in 2009 is exactly the same, at 28%, as the proportion who expect things to be worse. It is clear that most businesses are expecting two tough years.

Positive Impact of Downturn
Around one in five businesses stated that the downturn has had some positive effects on their businesses. Some expect competitors to come under pressure while others will take the opportunity to examine their internal structures.

Given the amount of emphasis by Govt agencies on training it is perhaps surprising to see that just over one in four businesses consider it to be very important while a exactly half the businesses surveyed think it is moderately important. One in four organizations don't use any external training and of those who do 79% consider they get value for money.

Lisbon Treaty
Only 1 in 10 organisations felt that the outcome of the Lisbon Treaty referendum had had a negative impact on their business to date. Agreement on this was solid across the counties with Wexford highest at 15% and Waterford lowest at 5%

National Pay Agreement
Nearly two fifths of organisation felt that the outcome of the recent national pay agreement was as they expected with around 1 in 4 expressing the view that it was worse. Interestingly, 1 in 3 felt that it was of no relevance to their business.

Public Sector
When asked their opinion on the recently expressed view that the public sector is “destroying the morale of those who drive the economy forward”, the majority, 63%, either agreed (38%) or agreed strongly (25%). Just under 30% expressed no opinion on the matter, neither agreeing or disagreeing and only 8% disagreed or strongly disagreed.

County Summaries
Carlow: Continuing the trend from the May survey businesses in Carlow expect to weather the storm of the downturn better than most with more expecting turnover to be up this year than down. Carlow also has the most positive outlook for profitability of any county. The proportion (19%) who expect to employ more staff at the end of 2008 than at the end of 2007 is also higher than most other counties. Carlow-based organisations are also most positive about prospects for 2009 with 41% expecting business to pick up next year compared to the regional average of 28%.

Kilkenny: Kilkenny businesses are most polarised in their expectations for this year with just 45% expecting lower turnover and 41% expecting higher. The outlook for profitability has deteriorated rapidly with just 31% expecting to increase profits this year compared to 48% in the May survey. In relation to employment prospects Kilkenny is slightly better than the regional average with 21% of businesses expecting their workforce to be higher at the end of 2008. Kilkenny businesses are the most negative about 2009 with over a third expecting business to be worse than in 2008 compared to just a quarter who expect an improvement.

South Tipperary: South Tipperary based businesses are the most positive about 2008 as they were in the previous survey. Just 31% of businesses expect turnover to be down. They are also the most positive about their ability to maintain or improve profits this year. As a consequence, the outlook for employment in the area is also good with just 29% expecting to reduce their workforce in 2008 compared to the regional average of 41%. In addition, 24% of businesses will increase their workforce this year.

Waterford: Businesses in Waterford are most negative about turnover in 2008 and just behind those in Wexford on the outlook for profitability. Just 9% expect their workforce to increase during 2008. In addition, just 21% of Waterford businesses expect things to improve in 2009 while a third expect a worse trading environment.

Wexford: Businesses in Wexford are close to the regional average in their expectations for turnover in 2008 but have the most negative outlook on profitability with 55% expecting lower profits this year. The county has gone from having the lowest proportion expecting to reduce staff numbers this year, to having the highest in the region at 45% and the lowest proportion who expect to increase at 9%. However, businesses in Wexford are the next most positive after Carlow about prospects for 2009. A total of 33% expect an improvement next year with just 21% expecting things to get worse.

If you want any further information on the South East Business Confidence Study and its findings please contact Fiona Macrae fiona@marketdynamics.ie or visit www.marketdynamics.ie .

Clonmel Song Festival

A short post to remind you all that the Grand Final of the Clonmel Song Festival is on this Friday, 7th Nov. in the White Memorial Theatre on Wolfe Tone St. Doors open at 7:30pm.

Info and clips of some of the artists are available on The Platform TV. Have a look and let me know what you think.

It is great to see a National contest such as this being run in Clonmel. A large number of side shows are being held over the week, including workshops at the Tipperary Institute.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Does it Flood?

When meeting people who have come to Clonmel for the first time, either as retailers or potential homeowners, one of the first questions they ask about a property is “Does it flood?”

We have gotten headlines in the National media for all the wrong reasons at one stage or another, due to a couple of spectacular flooding incidents over the last 10 years. Despite global warming and an increase in the amount of rain that falls each year, Clonmel actually needs a combination of a number of factors to flood badly. A lot of rain is obviously a pre-requisite, normally 3-4 days of the heavy constant type. This allows the rivers to rise due to the initial rainfall, then to be further swelled as the rain washes down from the surrounding mountains and higher ground. A strong South-Easterly wind, coupled with a high tide, slows the River Suir’s progression to Waterford and voila, parts of Clonmel start to flood.
The fact that it is the run-off from the mountains that really does it means that the worst of the weather has generally passed by the time that the flood gets underway. This gives an eerie sense of stillness to the flooded areas, where no cars or people move. When you get up close though, it is anything but calm, with the powerful force of the water pushing through streets close to the River and into houses and offices nearby.
Generally, the area around the Quay and the lower-lying areas of Old Bridge are most at risk. The Waterford Road area can be hit also, with the road being blocked and some properties (Garages and Supermarkets) being damaged. We rarely see any damage elsewhere. In the town centre, some basements flood on O’Connell St. In the worst recent flood, 7 years ago, our office on Gladstone St got a few inches of water in the basement, but it disappeared within 24 hours.

The Flood Relief plan is well underway, with approx. €9m of a €25m budget spent.
The picture shows the wall built from Irishtown to the Old Bridge. It is intended to fill the concrete spaces with stone.

This picture shows the existing railing from there onwards. If you look carefully, you can see Worldwide Cycles, where Barry and Ray offer great advice and products to the cycling fraternity. The railing is not much good at containing the river! On many occasions during a flood spell, these railings are completely under water, as a picture above shows!

This is why it was decided to erect a wall. Unfortunately the wall will obstruct the view of the river and in some cases the mountains. It is a huge amenity loss to the town, but if you were in the Flood Zone, I think that any remedial measures that work would get your vote.

The picture from 1949 shows the same view down Anglesea St. as the adjoining one taken in 2004. The 1949 flood was probably worse than 2004. What about global warming?

I hope that when the works are completed, the town will not be remembered for its flooding, but for it’s great commercial nature and beautiful natural surroundings.

Thanks to Bill Flynn for some of the great pictures above.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Fall

We call it Autumn on this side of the world, but the Americans know it as The Fall. Quite a few of our emigrants who left in the '80's went to the USA. When they came back, always with more money than those of us who had remained in Ireland, they had a lot of american sayings and spoke of dollars, which we could understand, and the Fall, which we couldn't initially. Innocent days.

The property market here is still stalling or falling, depending on who you talk to. No-one is saying it has hit bottom yet. Estimates vary between a further drop of 5-25%! Quite a difference. Economists are always at polar opposites. The best economist joke I know goes as follows:
Two economists were out deer-shooting when they came upon a large buck. The first shot 10 feet to the left. The second shot 10 feet to the right. The deer ran off and the economists shook hands and said " On average, we got him right between the eyes."

The frustrating thing about the Irish property market at present is that there are plenty of people who want to buy a home at the moment, but they cannot get the funding to do so. Over the last few years, here as elsewhere in the world, credit was thrown at home-buyers with little or no constraint. Now some of the best-qualified borrowers cannot get approval for a mortgage. In some cases, people who were approved last month do not get an extension of that approval for next month! This is mainly because the Irish banks are already over-exposed to the property market through their huge developer loans. But they are also starved of cash. Our government has initiated a Bank Guarantee for all deposits, but has not recapitalised the banks by taking a shareholding in them. As this remains a possibility, no-one else is buying bank shares, so the banks have no cash. So they are not lending. So people are not getting mortgages. So homes cannot be bought/sold. More worrying, very little cash is available to small/medium businesses, so trade is falling and job cuts are looming. Redundancy will lead to an inability to pay a mortgage. In this market, a quick sale at anything approaching the value of the house over the last 3 years is not an option, so banks are already fast-tracking repossessions. This is becoming a much larger phenomenon than ever before. We do not have any bank houses for sale at the moment, but we are trying to sell a couple of homes where the lender has already started the legal process. There is huge pressure on some people. They cannot afford to take too much of a drop in price or they cannot pay off the bank, but unless they drop the price substantially, they will not sell.

As you can see from the pictures, taken today, we are in the middle of Autumn/The Fall, but with the unseasonal North wind, it is very cold. That hasn't stopped the rain though! Kilcash Castle can be seen from the Clonmel/Kilkenny road, but the usual lovely backdrop of Slievenamon is invisible.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Clonmel in the sunshine

It seems that we are getting better weather now than at any time this summer. When the sun shines, there is no place like home, especially if that home is in Tipperary!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Where's that again?

We always say that a For Sale sign is the cheapest form of advertising. It certainly is a good way to generate calls to the office. There can however, sometimes be confusion on either the part of the customer (mostly) or ourselves (sometimes).

We regularly get people calling us wanting information on a house that they have “just driven by”. Sometimes, their description of the house or its location is way out. Bungalows have been transformed into two-storeys, sites into farms and black iron entrance gates into post and rail fencing. Many callers phone us even if the sign is that of a competing agent, assuring us that they saw our sign on the property! (I know, don’t knock it). Some callers say they saw our sign on the road to X, when they may have been on the road to Y. There are any manner of different interpretations of a property’s appearance and location. It is all relative to what the person is used to. As the saying goes, their reality is different to ours.

Today, I received a call from a lady who was in the area for just today and had seen our sign on a large yellow house in a quiet location near Kilkenny. Using all my lateral thinking skills, I finally deduced that she meant a cream-coloured cottage on the N24 near Kilcash. This property has been Sale Agreed, so in an effort to assist her, I offered her another similar property in a different location. This property seemed like it might suit her, so I offered to email or post her details. She gave me a mailing address on the North Circular road in Dublin, where she told me she lives in a 1-bed flat. So it is easy to see how she thought that our cottage was a large house, the N24 was quiet and Kilcash was near Kilkenny!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Clonmel Chamber Conference - Developing our town

On Friday, 10th October, I attended a conference organised by Clonmel Chamber entitled ‘Developing our Town’. The conference was held in the Hotel Minella and was sponsored by Abbott Vascular. It was extremely well attended with 116 pre-registered attendees and approx. 50 walk-ups.

Declan Byrne, President of Clonmel Chamber opened the conference stating that while many projects were in the pipeline for Clonmel, many were just that, ‘in the pipeline’.

The Borc Development of a multi-storey car-park at the Clonmel Arms Hotel site is still in the planning process – 3 years later. Planning Permission has been granted twice by the Local Authority but on both occasions, appeals to An Bord Pleanala has held matters up. A decision on this is due shortly, we are told.

The development of the Marlbrook Golf Course and Hotel at Marlfield has been put on hold due to economic circumstances. There are a number of vacant units in the town centre – still. I am pleased to note that he mentioned the Ormonde Centre, which we are promoting, being the only conceivable hope of town centre development coming to fruition in the short to medium term. This development of the former Tesco unit is now approx. 50% full and lettings are progressing well.

The County Council owned lands at Ballingarranne have shown a distinct lack of activity. There are however some positives, Clommel won a gold medal in the Tidy Town’s competition and Declan also announced that the World Military Cycling Championships will be based in Clonmel in 2009. Congratulations to Declan for that.

There were a total of 7 speakers including Martin Cullen, TD. Here is a short summary of each.

Michael Lynch, Senior Executive Planner, South Tipperary County Council
He described himself as a Cork man working for Tipperary and then went on to outline (as he said himself) Council plans for Kinsale! He quickly recovered however and went on to inform us that Phase 1 of the Flood Relief Scheme was now complete with €9m of the €25m allocated spent. This means that the river edge is now available for residential development, such as owner occupied apartments, etc. A new Draft Town Development Plan is being prepared for 2009-2015. While the catchment population of Clonmel is in the region of 50,000, the Borough Boundary is exceptionally small so moves are afoot to move the Borough Boundary. He also stressed that the town centre is becoming a non-residential area. This is a common theme in many towns throughout Ireland. He, like most of us, would wish that the town centre would be more ‘lived in’. It is important that strategies be put in place to ensure this, such as more leisure areas close to the town centre, pedestrianisation, etc.

Fiona Macrae, Market Dynamics, Kilkenny
Market Dynamics recently carried out a study into the way forward for Clonmel and Fiona presented the findings. She was a very confident and competent speaker. Her main points being that Clonmel has 25% of South Tipperary population, and that in excess of 50% of this population is in the 15-44 year old age bracket. Disposable income in the town is higher than average and we have very strong employers and a young population with great opportunity for investment in food, shopping, hotel and tourism. She advised that 50% of the South Tipperary retail space is in Clonmel and 44% of Clonmel shoppers come from over 10 miles away. Clonmel, however, is missing a number of big brand retailers and there is leakage to other retail centres. We need a multi-storey car park. We need at least one high profile 5 star hotel and at least one 5 star restaurant. At the moment, a lot of corporate and personal dining is done in Dungarvan and Cashel. She feels that tourism is very underdeveloped here. We have a lovely town with mountains, the river and some fabulous buildings, Clonmel needs to develop a defined tourism product with more festivals, theatre and even a marina. Her motto
“Keep those who travel to and through Clonmel, in Clonmel”.

Margaret Ryan (CEO of Laois Chamber)
Margaret spoke on the Portlaoise regeneration story. Originally from Cloneen in Co. Tipperary, Margaret is lively and entertaining, a real ‘no-nonsense’ speaker. Her experience in Laois showed that the best way forward with the Local Authority and other parties is to establish Working Groups which meet regularly and to quote Margaret, “cut out the formalities”. She said that Clonmel, being the Administrative Capital of South Tipperary was very poorly signed from the M8 and other towns. We need to market and promote the town and its events nationally. Her over-riding wish was to “create a town for its people”.

Martin Cullen TD, Minister for Arts, Sports & Tourism
I had never met Martin Cullen before. From what I saw of him in the press and on television, I had formed a negative opinion of him. However, having heard him speak, brilliantly, on how our town and region could compete against a national and global market place, I am totally won over. I now see how my friends in Waterford say that he is a fabulous politician and a great Minister for the South East Region. He complained about the ‘same-ness’ in National Planning Guidelines saying that we need to be more creative in planning and while conservation is good, that some conservation tends to restrict this creativity in planning. As a town and county, we need to be more individualistic and make each area more unique. He says that planning is a reflection of the conflict between past versus present versus future and his over-riding view from a planning point of view is that ‘nothing lasts forever’. He further went on to say that regarding planning, we are ‘over-democratised’. On some occasions, all facets of the law are used against the majority wish by a vocal minority. I asked him what he thought Clonmel should focus on to compete on this national and global level. He said we must focus on our strengths; Clonmel is a great commercial town in a fantastic scenic location. Tourism should be very important to Clonmel so once more, he is another speaker pushing tourism which, strangely, is not really a primary focus in Clonmel at all. He continues to push for a University in the South East

Brid O’Connell, Welcome Marketing
Speaking of tourism, next up was Brid O’Connor. Brid has huge experience working with Kilkenny, both city and county and has been responsible for the development of kilkenny.ie. She said that while Clonmel could not compete with Kilkenny in relation to historic buildings, our scenery, proximity to mountains and river gave us a huge advantage. She also said that if we linked with Cahir which has Cahir Castle, Cashel which has the Rock and other areas in South Tipperary, we could brand the county as a whole and empower communities to “make tourism theirs”. She says the biggest hurdle with tourism is apathy and urged the County Council to put tourism on the agenda. Brid was a very energetic and positive speaker (and very speedy). She fitted a huge amount of information into her 20 minute slot.

Myles McHugh, Irish Rail
Myles explained Irish Rail’s plans for developing the services to and from Clonmel. He explained how this year we have extra services to and from Clonmel at more suitable times and said that Iarnrod Eireann (not CIE!) is open to any suggestions by the town’s people in relation to new services.

Conor Norton, Loci
Conor was the final scheduled speaker. He is a Private Planner/Urban Designer. Being his first visit to Clonmel, he said that he was impressed immediately and that due to its location, the town has great potential. He stressed that rejuvenation is a long term project and the town’s philosophy should be sustainability, quality of life and cohesive communities.

Colin Henehan of Abbott Vascular, the sponsors then thanked the Chamber and the speakers and Declan Byrne, the President wrapped up what was a great morning.

Congratulations to all involved. All we need now from the people of Clonmel and it’s legislators is some action!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Starting small.

Whether it is due to the current economic woes, or just coincidence, our agency has a number of smaller retail units to rent at present. By smaller, I mean 300-500 sq ft, in areas such as Mitchel Street, Irishtown, Mary Street and Market Place. The important thing about these units is that they are all reasonably priced. Rental ranges from €10,000 per annum (pa) to €15,000pa, ie €2-300 per week. All are offered on flexible leases from 1-5 years. This gives any budding entrepeneur the opportunity to get into business reasonably cheaply from a property perspective.

There has been a great level of interest for these cheaper units, from new entrants to established retailers. Specialist wine shops, accessory shops and new clothing shops are the main enquiry source, but a more unusual phenomenon (to me in any event) is the surge in enquiries for tanning/beauty salons. Perhaps it is the bad weather we have had, but tanning seems to be a growing (glowing?) business. It is very popular amongst our large Polish and Lithuanian population and now also it seems, amongst Irish females too!

This level of interest in smaller properties at lower rents shows that given the right cost base, there are plenty of people willing and able to take the first steps to start their own business. A town needs large retailers, and Clonmel has a long list of National retailers, but it is also vital to the heart of any town that smaller, local retailers thrive. It is great to see this level of interest, even at this more difficult of times! Long may it last.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Sort of Homecoming...

With the current economic downturn, emigration is once again becoming an option for many people. The last 15 years have seen very little emigration but before that, emigration on a large scale was common. A lot of those who emigrated have made lives abroad and now, in their 50’s and 60’s, come to Ireland every few years for a holiday or for weddings and funerals.

I recently carried out a Valuation for probate purposes on a small cottage near Fethard. It had been lived in by an elderly bachelor (whom we shall call Gearóid) and had not been modernised or changed in probably 50 years. There are two bedrooms and a large fireplace with the crane still intact. Running water was provided by the stream to the side until quite recently, when a mains connection was provided by the County Council. There is no bathroom, toilet facilities being ‘au naturelle’. In certain parts of Ireland many people lived like this until quite recently, but it is very rare in Tipperary.

Gearóid lived happily for many years and when he passed away, he left the property to his nephew, Philip, who had emigrated 30 years previously. Philip lives in the Middle East working on the Oil fields. He has been an infrequent visitor to Ireland, but always visited Gearóid on his returns here. When he first met me, he passed comment on how Ireland had changed utterly since he left and he reminisced about olden ways.

Gearóid’s house is on a very small triangular site with the aforementioned stream to one side. I was concerned from a Valuation point of view, that it would be almost impossible to get a sewerage treatment option, such as septic tank or Puraflow, on the confined site especially with the stream nearby. I outlined my concerns to Philip who said he would investigate the matter further. Despite the absence of a University education, Philip has spent most of his working life around oil rigs and is very technically minded. He came back to me the following day with a scaled drawing of the site, showing the house on it and all the relevant dimensions. He said he had called Bord na Mona in relation to a Puraflow treatment system and had got the specification from them. He also thought that the system would not fit within the narrow confines of his site. His only option was to see if his neighbours could facilitate him. One of the neighbours had built a new house directly beside the cottage so that option was immediately ruled out. To the other side of the cottage was farmland. Philip said that he knew the land owner and that he would call to him to discuss the matter.

The following day, Philip returned to our office looking very tired. I ask him how he got on, he said ‘Bad and good’ and told me the following story. Not having lived in the area for over 30 years, he drove up the adjoining boreen to where he thought the neighbouring landowner lived. This was a long narrow driveway. He got out of his hired car, opened the gate (which was tied with baler twine) inwards and proceeded up the drive which had huge potholes full of water and briars on each side which scraped the car. He was extremely concerned that his Renault Clio would not make it to the end but as the laneway was so narrow, he had no option but to continue. When he got to the house, he found it deserted and ruined. He assumed that the neighbour, John, had moved elsewhere as he hadn’t heard that he had died. He managed to turn the car without getting stuck and went back down the boreen and saw a modern bungalow. He drove in, thinking it might be John’s house but when a younger lady answered the door, he knew it wasn’t. He asked where John was living now and was given directions to a house on the other side of Fethard. The young lady told him to travel two miles up the road and watch out for a narrow gateway, ‘you’re sure to miss it first time’.

He drove the two miles, didn’t see any gate, drove a further two miles, just in case and then realised that he must have missed it. He called into another house and was directed back towards Fethard, again with a comment ‘watch out for a narrow gate with two piers or you will drive past it’. This time though Philip was ready; he saw the narrow gate with two piers, with an old metal gate tied with baler twine, on the edge of the road. He opened the gate and drove in. There was no sign of life other than an old sheepdog lying in a barn and two cats on the window sill. He heard a tractor next door and walked out the road to ask of John’s whereabouts. When he caught the attention of the tractor driver, he said ‘He’s probably in Fethard, he cycles into McCarthy’s Hotel for his lunch most days’.

It was almost 2 pm now and Philip drove the Clio, by now completely covered in mud, into Fethard and pulled up outside McCarthy’s, opposite the church. Upon entering McCarthy’s he saw John just finishing his lunch and went over and introduced himself. John remembered him and was happy to see him. John turned to Vincent, who was behind the bar and said, “Vincent, we will have to celebrate, Philip is home on a visit, 2 pints please”. Before Philip could say no, he was sitting down at the table with a pint in front of him and John was asking him all about the Middle East and his job, the customs and way of life out there and how different it was from Ireland. Being a well mannered chap, as he watched John drain off his glass, he had to call for 2 more pints which were duly delivered to the table. John kept asking questions; Did he have family? Was he making lots of money? etc. By the time Philip answered these questions; John had drained his second pint and called for a third for the two of them. Coming from a Middle Eastern country where drinking is not the norm, Philip was under a bit of pressure at this stage but when the third pint was put in front of him, he really had no option but to start drinking it. They then started speaking about Gearóid and John told many stories of Gearóid and their times together as neighbours. Before Philip knew it, Vincent had delivered a fourth pair of pints to the table and he still hadn’t asked John anything about the house.

Before he started into the fourth pint, and now committed to a taxi, Philip decided that he had better broach the subject sooner rather than later. He got out his carefully drawn plan of the site and said to John that he was thinking of renovating the cottage and that would entail putting in a septic tank or a similar system. He said that by his calculations, there wasn’t enough land on the site itself to put the tank in. John, having attended UCD in the 1960’s, (where he did an Arts Degree) told Philip that he must surely be wrong and to show him the plan. Philip duly did and John examined it, looking at it upside down initially and when finally getting the orientation right, studying it at great length. Philip said, “You see, John, I don’t think that the site is large enough.” “Shush, will you, I’m trying to think,” said John. Philip sat there waiting for John’s comments. John held up the plan, turned to Vincent and said, “I think we need another couple of pints, Vincent, this will take a while.” Philip said, “No really, I couldn’t have another one” but John insisted and it came to the table. As John took the first large gulp out of his pint, Philip said to himself, ‘Now is my chance.’ “You see John,” said Philip “I’m quite certain that the septic tank won’t fit on the site and I was wondering, seeing as you own the land immediately beside it, would you sell me a small bit of ground so that I could put that septic tank in there?”
John sat back, looked at Philip and said, “Jaysus, Philip, did you not know that I sold that land 20 years ago when I moved house?”
Philip didn’t know whether he was dizzy from the shock or the drink but before he could say anything else, John continued, “But I know who owns it and we can call out to him. Finish up that drink and we’ll get going”

Vincent called them a taxi and they finished their drink as the taxi arrived. They drove back to; you guessed it, the new bungalow on the boreen where the day started with the lady of the house giving Philip directions. Paul, the lady’s husband, was down checking on stock and a phone call ensured that he was back up to the house within five minutes. He had never met Philip but had known Gearóid well. Before Philip could speak, John took over matters and said, “Paul, Philip here wants to renovate Gearóid’s cottage. He can’t put a septic tank in the property itself as the site is too small. I know his family for a long time and I want you to help him out.” Paul said, “That’ll be no problem, John. How much ground do you need Philip?” Philip gathered his thoughts and explained what was required. Paul said, “That’s no problem, I was going to re-fence that field when the cattle come into the shed. Organise your man with the digger to come and do whatever he wants and I’ll re-fence it afterwards.” Philip asked what payment would be required and Paul said “Don’t be insulting me. Gearóid was a good neighbour; I’ll be delighted to help you out if I can”. Everyone shook hands and Paul said, “As you are not here that often Philip, we must have a drink.” He took out a bottle of whiskey. “That’s a great idea,” said John. Two glasses were drunk while waiting for the taxi to come back. The taxi drove to Fethard, put John’s bike in the boot, dropped it and John home and dropped Philip back to Clonmel, leaving the Renault Clio outside the church at Fethard.

We both laughed as Philip recounted the story and as he was leaving me to get a taxi back out to Fethard to collect his car, he said “You know while a lot has changed in this country, some things will never change”.

Misplaced Optimism?

We are told that we are in the bust part of a "Boom and Bust" cycle in the property business. It is hard to know if we are at the start, middle or end of the bust, but we are certainly somewhere in it.

Not all agents see things this way though. I received a brochure in the post from an agent in Kilkenny, promoting a development site, close to the town centre. A difficult sell in current circumstances, I would have thought. But no, the agent thinks otherwise.

The covering letter says(in bold red print):

Developers, get ready for the Property Upturn!

Do they know something that we don't?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Irish bank guarantees and property prices.

We have watched this week as the Irish Government bail-out of the banks, through a Guarantee Scheme, led to a rebound in the Irish Stock Market.

We really don't know what is going to happen next. Will the government bail-out work in the longer term? What will happen if it does? What will happen if it doesn't? Will the tax-payer have to take a large hit? Will a bank fail? No one knows for sure what will happen.

People asked me all week how this will affect the local housing market. At this point I don't know. Anyone who says they do know is just guessing. I think that if the plan works and credit is freed up a bit, then more houses will sell. No-one expects house prices to rise on account of it though!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Vee, Clogheen

The Vee carves its way through the picturesque the Knockmealdown mountains of Waterford and Tipperary. Officially designated the R668, it conects Clogheen to Lismore and is well worth seeking out, particularly for the scenery in all directions.
It is a great cycle, approximately 30kms from Clonmel to the summit, with the climb taking about 8kms from Clogheen village. If it is raining at the top, you can shelter in the stone house! If not, the scenery on the descent is magnificent.

While plenty of houses in the Clogheen/Ardfinnan area are oriented towards The Vee, there are no houses on it's upper reaches, planning restrictions rightly forbidding them. There are however a number of local residents!


Ardfinnan is a village South-West of Clonmel, close to Cahir. It is situate where the River Suir bends sharply to the South West and has long been a crossing place on the River Suir. Its name recalls Saint Finnan, descendent of the Munster kings. Ardfinnan Castle was built in 1186 for Prince John of England. The nearby Swiss Cottage was built in 1810.

Ardfinnan is in the centre of the Tipperary Heritage Walking Trail and being close to Clogheen, Clonmel and Cahir, is a great base for hill-walkers.

The River Suir is the most dominant feature in this village and is a haven for fishermen and the odd heron. There is a soccer pitch on the banks of the Suir, with the river birds being the most regular players. Ardfinnan Castle, overlooks the river. There is a traditional village pump on the Clonmel approach, a large village Green with picnic tables, all conducive to stopping for a break.

In recent times, there has been a lot of residential development in Ardfinnan, resulting in a current over supply and difficulty in selling houses due to both the poor market and the development of too many houses in this area. There are quite a few vacant houses in some of the new estates, never good for a town.

When the Mill building was working, Ardfinnan was a very busy area. Now, other than the Co-op and a few smaller industries, there is little employment in the immediate area with most people commuting to Clonmel and Cahir. The sign obviously casts back to a time before full female involvement in the work force!