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 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!