Home truths: To afford a city pad find a partner and then split up

Are you a middle to low earning city couple about to start a family? But you can’t qualify for a mortgage for a three-bedroom family home? If you’re from Dublin, and looking for a first family home, it’s possible that you’ve three choices.

First, given your income and the rigidly enforced lending rules, it’s likely that your mortgage ceiling stretches to little more than a two-bedroom apartment, or even less. Can you raise a family in a two bed?

Alternatively you’ll have to move out of Dublin. If you consider a three-bed semi or terrace to be your minimum requirement in which to raise a family, then it’s likely that you’ll have to acquire that three bed in Navan or in Wicklow Town or maybe even two counties over, in Portlaoise. It depends on your income, or lack of it. This in turn means round trips to work in Dublin of up to three hours a day.

Thirdly, you could rent. Rents for three beds in cheaper parts of Dublin, or in the adjoining commuter counties, have been rising at 8pc per year.

If you can afford it, that rent will be close to your financial limits anyway. The Government has failed in its measures to stop rents rising. So that option is none too secure.

Well I can tell you today just how you and your family can own a three-bed property in the city for well under the mortgage lending ceiling for an average earner. If you are being priced out of Cork, Galway or Kilkenny Cities, the same applies. For a general picture I’m going to apply it to a couple looking to buy an affordable three bed in Dublin.

So how does a three-bed family home in Glasnevin for just over €218,000 grab you? Glasnevin in Dublin 11 is a sought after and central suburb of the city. Would you like something larger? What about a three-bedroom home of 1,300 sq ft – that’s 200 sq ft larger than the average semi – in Newcastle, Co Dublin? For €275,000? That’s possible too.

And no, I’m not making this up.

Or what about three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a kitchen and living room laid out over 900 sq ft in a mature estate in Swords? It will cost you just over €245,000. Or in Clonsilla, 900 sq ft with three bedrooms for €275,000?

To achieve a three bed in the city for under €300,000 today, you’re going to have to be a bit adventurous by Irish standards and indeed a bit British. Because they’ve been finding cheaper city homes like these for years in their big cities despite high prices.

Their source, is an extra large suburban house with five or six bedrooms.

In British cities it’s long been a practice to split larger city homes, particularly those in 1940s and 1950s suburbs, in two. Houses of this size are large enough to be subdivided into two smaller, but still decent sized properties.

It generally involves sticking a kitchen upstairs, some legal paper work, planning permission and converting downstairs receptions to bedrooms, basically by sticking beds instead of sofas into them. And consider that having another family upstairs or downstairs does not seem so bad when compared with apartments where you’ll likely have people below, above and side to side.

House splitting is likely to become more common in Ireland following the success of a pilot initiative undertaken recently at the behest of the Department of Housing in Clondalkin.

This split finished earlier this year took an existing home owners’ semi detached and split it into two homes on two floors, leaving the older single owner living in a more manageable space downstairs, while renting out the upper floor, converted to an apartment.

So there’s no reason why two couples can’t pool their resources, buy a larger home and do the same. And then split ownership of the property.

Consider the following. The house I mentioned earlier in Newcastle is almost brand new. In fact it’s currently a six-bedroom, four-bathroom house with decent gardens. And it’s for sale at the moment for €555,000. The internal floor space over three levels is a whopping 2,600 sq ft – that’s more than twice the size of an average semi containing three beds, two receptions, two bathrooms and a kitchen. But it could make for two three-bed homes of 1,300 sq ft for circa €275,000 each with minor investment. Consider too that three-beds houses in Newcastle now cost €320,000 to €380,000.

So if you can find another family in the same boat as yours – looking for a three- bed and priced out in Dublin – then you can pool both sets of financial resources, buy it and split it. And at the moment just about every city couple looking for a first home is in this boat.

Aside from a kitchen upstairs and maybe some partition rearranging, you’ll need to provide two own-door entrances in what once was the hall. One to the newly sealed-in staircase to take the first family upstairs to their home while the second leads straight into the downstairs dwelling of the second family.

The rear garden would be partitioned so that the upstairs family gets side-gate access to their half and the downstairs family enters theirs from the rear of their home. Houses can be split many ways, with one family living in front over both floors and one at the rear over both. Or the house can be split frontally side to side with the same front door arrangement as outlined above.

Among the options previously mentioned, the Glasnevin house is currently a mature five bed with three bathrooms spanning 1,776 sq ft – and a 150 ft garden. Priced at €435,000 it could provide two three-bed homes of almost 900 sq ft, each just shy of a semi.

The Swords house is a five bed with 760 sq ft upstairs and 900 sq ft downstairs. The Clonsilla pad is a five bed with three bathrooms and stands at 1,800 sq ft – or if you and another couple prefer – two three-bed homes of 900 sq ft.

It means that in this market, perhaps the best thing a couple could do for an affordable city three bed is to find another couple, a big house, and split up.

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