The Bricks ‘n Mortar Muppet Show
I have tried to picture the child estate agent to be: pasty and sulky, selling on satchel-warmed lemon curd sandwiches or a half-eaten Mars bar in the school playground for a stupidly inflated price. Failing English grammar and spelling tests…dreaming of a commission-loaded life with a leatherette clipboard and a Smart car. A life of ‘gently urging’ people to buy poorly constructed plywood homes without gardens, not far from a motorway, but still managing to share the same sewerage pipe as a once-famous now-dead Irish person of vague literary worth who managed to pen a novella drunk.
Now after a decade of unprecedented smarminess, the grown-up estate agent is no longer nestled in a good place at all. ”Rare as hen’s teeth!” s/he hollers out about a dormer bungalow for sale in Dublin 15 – one of the capital’s slowest selling enclaves. ‘Rare’ opportunities abound, a chance to snatch up a bungalow, for instance, even though there’s 5,570 bungalows for sale nationwide at the moment. In an attempt to ambush the flimsy heartstrings of hapless arty types, there’s a deluge of property specs marketed at the budding poet, artist or fisherman ’where you can also enjoy the panoramic views over lush green surrounds’, in the middle of nowhere. The desperation is quite staggering. ‘One of the last opportunities to purchase a “raw” house on this salubrious road’. What exactly is a ‘raw’ house? One with its walls removed? If we’re not permitted to lie about the contents of food, why is it admissable for a house purchase? In essence, do we need to read such brainless turgid crap three years into bust?
Irish history continues to infect the bijou mind of our more-than-happy-to-help estate agent as well. You can nab a semi-derelict cottage in Leitrim that’s handily positioned ’near’ Sean McDermott’s Cottage, a well-known tourist attraction and the birth place of the 1916 leader, but nothing whatsoever to do with the house for sale. The sales hunger for famine cottages hasn’t abated either – perfect for a ‘lifestyle change’ the estate agent assures us. Or how about Gordwin Swift IV’s gaff? Never heard of him? That’s OK. Another spec reads: ‘Behind its funky facade…the lavish and stylish art deco foyer provides a unique atmosphere that perfectly complements the building’s history.’ Yeah, how so? It’s an apartment refurb in Dublin 3 that’s not selling and is being flogged for half price. ‘Hurry hurry hurry, before it’s too late’, the man with the white towelling socks says.
Then there’s the almost generically applied *** WOW *** WOW *** WOW *** category which some estate agents are using for every house sale: a 3-bed in the heart of Poppintree Ballymun or a terrace in deep downtown Finglas. ’Wow what a stunner!’ the agent says about this Tyrrelstown house in a hideously inglorious part of Dublin no-one wants to live in. Wilson Moore is one such estate agent that uses this ‘wow wow wow’ insignia on almost all its sales briefs, regardless. Let’s not forget too the estate agent’s excruciating post-boom rewrites…houses like 19A Long Lane dubbed the perfect bachelor’s bolthole at €425,000 in the grip of boom. This week it’s eventually ‘sale agreed’ after being unashamedly flogged as a ’low maintenance home’ for €155,000. The reason why it suits a single gent or a sociopath is because the house is only two metres wide (around 7ft), being an old laneway that was filled in to create a uniquely anorexic house that has nose-dived in price by at least 68%. You absolutely could not swing a cat and you’d definitely have trouble energetically shagging your Mrs.
From the peak of the market in 2006, Dublin house prices have fallen in real terms by 45.7%, while nationally, prices are down by 40.2%. This and a whole host of other stats we’re already laboriously aware of. But where and how did we lose our minds so utterly? There’s an apartment block in Parnell Street with a ‘putting green for the golf enthusiast’ – directly opposite alleyways where the city’s crack cocaine dealers do a roaring trade. Wyckham Point in Dundrum is an apartment complex which offers an ‘on-site gym, sauna, steam room, cardiovascular & resistance gym equipment and heated relaxation zone’. Tullyvale in Cabinteely has a resident’s swimming pool on site although a lot of the apartments are now being sold at a substantially reduced price. I imagine the swimming pool is fast draining of chlorine and charm. Did they really think the luxurious gimmickery could last forever?
Remnants of boom-based mentalness still exist in some high end properties too. ‘Things only happen when we dream’ the intro reads, for a multi-million euro apartment overlooking the River Liffey. The 2-bed [plus guest accommodation as extra] apartment is decked out by a ‘revolutionary stylist’ we’re told, to include none other than a three and a half carat andrée putman lacquered oak coffee table, floors custom-made from antique oak cobbles, a “Vous de Jouer” mirror [one of only 20 in the world], ‘cupboards concealed behind felt-coated doors whose colour and texture mimic the heather and granite tones of the Irish countryside’, a hammam steam room, and a Gien Polka tea set that the designer ‘noticed’ during an official trip to Soviet Russia…It was on originally for excess of €4 million in April 2007, but later dropped to €3.74m and now it’s a straight forward ‘price on application’, though you might nab it for a bit less if you ask for some of the 45 bespoke designer items to be taken out of the loop.
Perhaps the most annoying aspect of the current estate agent invective is the ‘Reduced To Sell’ signs flung up in gardens all around Ireland over the last year or more. We’re expected to believe prices are reduced only as a favour to us and not as a result of a totally impacted market. An ’exceptional opportunity has arisen to acquire a unique and attractive property’. Except there’s nothing exceptional or unique about it at all. Where were the equivalent ‘Inflated To Sell’ signs during the boom?