The process of buying property in Ireland can confuse first-time buyers and overseas buyers who are familiar with buying property in other countries as many of the steps are counter-intuitive or, dare I say, even illogical. Technology is available but has been used to make this rather dated process slightly more efficient rather than being used to replace and improve upon traditional practices.
The steps for buying a home or residential investment in Ireland are broadly as follows:
1. Making the decision to buy, based on personal conditions (like financial, familial, lifestyle) and market conditions (such as the economy locally and globally, local market supply and demand).
2. Determining your budget – based on income, savings, personal cash resources, family ‘gifts’ and borrowings. Never start looking at property until you know, with some degree of certainty, your budget range. If a phone call to your local bank branch sounds positive, submit a formal application with supporting documentation and wait until such time as a written Approval in Principle issues. Some estate agents will request this at early stage but I recommend holding off providing documentation disclosing your full budget until you are at more advanced stages of negotiations.
3. Armed with a budget, the next step is to start the house-hunting process. It’s tempting to approach this like you have all the options in the world. Tempting, but wrong. Before you start making appointments, sit down and make a list of what you want or need in your property. If you want a home in the country, don’t waste your time and energy looking at homes in the town. Even if you find something great, you will expend much energy trying to talk yourselves (or each other) into it before you ultimately remember why you decided upon a country home to start with!
While we are on this point, I would point out that most people think having a wider set of search criteria makes it easier to find the right property. In reality, the very opposite is true. If you don’t have a clear idea of the type of property you require in terms of location and facilities, then you are less likely to recognise the right one when it comes along. Adding to this, endless rounds of viewings at any and every local property inevitably marks you to the estate agents locally as a tyre-kicker and you will find yourself struggling to get viewing appointments after a while. Tip: If auctioneers will only put you into open or already scheduled viewings, you are on the ‘watch list’!
4. With a clear but flexible set of criteria, start looking at property portals Daft.ie and MyHome.ie. While there are other sites, they tend to be hit and miss. Daft and MyHome will direct you to everything on the open market. (I will discuss Off-Market property searches in a later post) Shortlist properties that match your criteria only. Before making any appointments to view, make sure that you look at the properties on Google Streetview. If you are living locally, drive around the area to see what the property is like before viewing – this will avoid any nasty surprises.
5. When you have shortlisted the most likely properties, contact the estate agents to check that the properties are still available i.e. not sale agreed, also, be sure to check if there are any offers in place. Ask any questions arising from the online brochure and if you are happy with the responses, request the viewing.
6. This should go without saying but unfortunately, I must say it: Turn up on time and be courteous to the estate agent. I recall being at an open viewing a few years ago where one ‘gentleman’ refused to sign in, the estate agent was pleasant about it. The man then proceeded to fire a series of questions at the estate agent – not all of which were relevant or within the remit of the estate agent – and then snorted in disbelief at every answer given. He was entirely disrespectful and I would point out that this type of behaviour is not acceptable. The viewing is your opportunity to assess the property and ask questions that go towards forming a decision about whether to bid or walk away. It is worth noting that the estate agent works for the seller and has no obligation make disclosures about the property, however, they do have an obligation towards the buyer to answer any questions in an open manner. Experienced property buyers know the right questions to ask!
We have a viewing checklist template on www.BuyersBrokerInternational.com together with a list of suggested questions for the estate agent. This is useful to keep a consistent record of all properties viewed and it makes for easy comparison between competing properties when it comes time to make an offer.
7. When you have found the right property (although I generally recommend a top three) and are ready to make an offer, it is imperative that this offer is put forward in writing. This is not a rule – as the process in Ireland is largely pro-seller and, by extension, anti-buyer – but buyers ought to consider it as one. The written offer should be made subject to structural survey (see a recent blog post on this) but otherwise unconditional. Offering to buy a property subject to finance or subject to the sale of your existing property is effectively a non-offer. Don’t waste yours or the estate agent’s time. Further to this point, I recommend that buyers communicate with the estate agent in writing about the offer and for any negotiations as it is the only protection they have. As mentioned at the start, despite having technology to show bids publicly, this is not happening in Ireland. In fact, we still do not have an open system of verifiable bids. This is, unfortunately, another example of our pro-seller marketplace.
8. If your offer is accepted, you will be required to pay a ‘booking deposit’, which has no legal effect whatsoever. This is the illogical part of the process. This so-called deposit (that isn’t), is usually 3% to 5%. It confuses unfamiliar buyers, who assume that paying any deposit affords them some security/rights but this is not the case. The deposit can be returned at any time by the seller, up until contracts are signed, at which stage a real deposit, called the ‘contract deposit’ will need to be paid. The contract deposit (the balance of 10%) does give the buyer some protection. Traditionally, the purpose of this booking deposit was so that estate agents would have their fees to hand (although they cannot touch them until the sale concludes). This nonsensical situation facilities the unsavoury practice of gazumping.
9. At the same time as paying the booking deposit, the buyer ought to instruct a structural surveyor to inspect the property. (This can be intimidating for inexperienced buyers, see our guide here)
10. After a satisfactory survey, the buyer generally gives the ‘go-ahead’ to their conveyancing solicitor to start the conveyancing process, which generally takes between two to four months.
Finally, intending buyers are reminded that since 2006, buyer representation is available. Buyers can choose to have the entire search carried out by professional Buyers Brokers’, or perhaps just to be supported throughout the process by way of consultation or coaching. Contact www.BuyersBrokerInternational.com to discuss your requirements and we will talk you through the various options available.
Carol Tallon, writing as The Buyers’ Coach, is a property columnist and author of the Irish Property Buyers’ Handbook annuals from 2011 to 2015.