Staying in your "starter-home" - Part 1

Staying in your "starter-home" - Part 1

For_sale.jpg

Since I’ve started out doing what I’m doing with small spaces, I’ve noticed three broad categories of people who tend to get in touch with me. This post is the first in a series about one of those categories – the first time buyer in negative equity.

(The other two categories, who I hope to write about as well, are those who are currently buying fixer-uppers for bargain prices, and those who are doing a job on a house they’ve owned for a good while – and are generally a bit longer in the tooth…) 

But back to those who bought at the height of the boom. 

I’ve been out to meet people struggling for space in apartments, duplexes, 3-bed semis, small older cottages, old terraced redbricks, new terraced townhouses, and ex-corporation houses. While everyone’s case and their attitudes are different, there are some broad similarities across this category. The homeowners in this third group are all in negative equity. Generally they are in their thirties, maybe forties. Often they have young children, or are having children, or want to have children. A phrase I hear a lot is “it was fine when it was just the two of us…” Many of them would move in the morning if they had the money to do it and didn’t have the negative equity around their necks, but are beginning to accept that this might not be an option. Some are happy with their locations, which is great, and some are not. Some have the budget to do a reasonably large amount of work, and some do not. And there is a big difference between having some money and being able to justify spending it on a fixed asset (some would say liability), especially if you’re not wildly excited about where that fixed asset is located. 

So a big part of my job has been helping people assess the potential their “starter home” has to be adapted to their changing needs, and often on very very tight budgets. And again, in many cases similar issues keep cropping up. The housing that was built for first-time buyers in the property boom was never really thought about too much – no-one really envisaged a situation where you couldn’t just trade your way out of whatever problems you might face. In my opinion a lot of it was out of date at the time when it was built – the layouts were based on old fashioned notions that were not taking account of changes in the way people want to live. But it was what the market wanted, whatever that means. And the purchasers had very little sway in proceedings, beyond maybe making very minor tweaks in how their houses were laid out. I would hope that some of the lessons from this period lead to things being done better in future, but that’s another day’s work. 

Getting back to the first time buyers, and the common problems they face, I would say that what is being dealt with in Ireland now is a combination of the problems of negative equity, rapidly changing family circumstances, limited resources, and homes whose design was below par to begin with. I hope, through this series of blog posts, to share some of the experience I and my clients have had in trying to deal with this, and to give people some ideas about what they could do in similar situations. It seems to me that organising the series by house type might make most sense, so I’ll be starting with a house type very much of its time in the boom – the terraced townhouse. Watch this space!





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About Small Spaces

small spaces is a one-man architectural practice dedicated to helping people find the best way to add space to their home, or to make the most of what they’ve got. You can find out more here.