Archive for April 22nd, 2010

Starters For Ten

A little while ago I listened to an official for Fingal County Council give a presentation in which he referred repeatedly to ‘starter homes’ as though these were both a fact of nature and a solid, necessary component to the overall mix of available housing. But a confrontation with reality reveals they are neither, writes Punishment of Sloth Property Editor HUGH GREEN.

As Bacharach and David point out, however, a house is not a home. Most people know the difference; for those who do not I would point them in the direction of the fact that you never hear someone talk about being housesick.

The term ‘starter home’, then, suggests some sort of progress in the activity of having a home. In a starter home, you might get to grips with the foundations: making your own bed, washing the dishes, doing the hoovering, ordering a pizza, paying the bills. And then you might even get round to some intermediate activities: curling up in front of the Superser with a mug of Maxwell House and a copy of Take a Break, looking out the window and smiling wistfully at the children playing amid the traffic, using fridge magnets, etcetera.

Once you have mastered all these things, you will then be ready to move on to a non-starter home. Here, the full joy of home living will unfold: installing the burglar alarm, hanging your hat on the stand after a hard day at the office, throwing dinner parties with the neighbours with witty back-and-forth about Frank McCourt novels, burying your child’s first dead pet in the garden, fretting about whether the car of some bumptious drink-driving twentysomething will come spinning through the air over your garden fence. Yes, the well-worn and much loved path to real, authentic, flourishing home life starts off in a starter home.

And yet one is left with the nagging sensation that there is more to it than that; that all is not well in the land of starter homes. Consider this, from then recent proud purchaser of a 100% mortgage, Fionnan Sheahan, from 2005.

The healthy double income from two steady jobs meant getting on to the property ladder wasn’t the problem. Without the 100% mortgage, however, the purchase would have been of some other stop-gap house rather than a genuine home.


Put plainly, the advent of the 100% mortgage has the potential to revolutionise the house-buying experience for many twenty- and thirtysomethings struggling to get on to the ladder.

Having the full amount at your disposal will speed up the purchasing process and, as I discovered, allows you to buy a better house, thereby ensuring that when you get on to the ladder, you don’t have to start out on the bottom rung.

All too often nowadays, first-time buyers are forced to purchase houses regarded as a temporary arrangement until they can afford to move on up the ladder. Yet that wasn’t the experience for previous generations. The parents of the current first-time buyers were usually able to buy a house that they could call home from the off. ‘Starter home’ is the quaint phrase used to describe that first step on the ladder. What’s wrong with aiming for a ‘finished home’ at an early stage?

What the 100% mortgage was going to enable, then, was a revolutionary new era in which the property ladder as we knew it would be abolished, and the humble ‘starter homes’ would be vanquished.

But pride always comes before a fall. People who thought they could leap headlong into the complex business of fitting out their bookshelves with Folio Society prints and installing attractive decking out the back -merely through the acquisition of more debt– were pulled under. Their failure to get to grips with home living’s basic essentials -unblocking a toilet with a mop head wrapped in a plastic bag, cleaning a window with newspaper, warm water and vinegar- meant their wax wings melted in the blazing sun of cheap credit. Property prices went into freefall. Tut tut.

What of starter homes now? Or rather, a couple of months ago?

At the risk of oversimplifying, the worst appears to be over – The Irish Times – Fri, Jan 22, 2010

Demand is most concentrated in the regional centres where, interestingly, supply is tightest. Rural locations with an excessive supply of starter homes will take longer to notice recovery – especially for starter homes.

Ireland is well poised for a recovery. We have faced our worst day and taken the necessary corrective action. The days of the Celtic Tiger may be behind us but valuable lessons have been learnt. We can anticipate a more mature, resilient housing market.

It seems the Sherry Fitzgerald chief economist, invited to give her dispassionate and impartial point of view in the Irish Times, is still grimly clinging to the doughty starter home, for understandable reasons, given its virtue of equipping its inhabitants with the necessary skills for living in a home. But -with all due respect- how can we have a more mature, resilient housing market with an excessive supply of starter homes? Are prospective homeowners no longer prepared to put in the long days putting the rubbish into a wheelie bin outside the front door? Is there no sense of modesty, nay, chastity, accompanying the burst property bubble? Have the young learned nothing? 

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April 2010