Meet the Wexford woman who is unlocking 'Cheap Irish Houses'

Meet the Wexford woman who is unlocking 'Cheap Irish Houses'

Kya deLongchamps gets the lowdown from Maggie Molloy on her brand-new RTÉ television series, ‘Cheap Irish Houses’

Wexford woman Maggie Molloy describes herself as a hopeless daydreamer, but her there’s a great deal more going on here. With over 38,000 followers on her viral Instagram account Cheap Irish Houses, Maggie is preparing to do what she clearly does best — take another, determined, measured leap of faith.

She says:

I’d love to help some genuinely struggling people find real-life solutions to their housing problems — down-to-earth buyers who need somewhere, and who have opened up their hearts to maybe saving an old house instead of just fuelling this crazy property circus we have going on right now.

Alerted to the irresistible conversational journalling, and myriad talents of this self-taught Irish influencer tickling up modest fixer-uppers, RTÉ is introducing Maggie’s never-say-die approach to property buying on a budget into its prime-time spring line-up.

The series sees Maggie not only illustrate how, in her early 20s, she circumvented the intimidating barriers to that first purchase in North Tipperary, but will show a group of viewers how they might do just the same thing. She’s not selling the houses (that’s still the agents’ challenge) — she’s selling an idea, an escape, a sideways slide through the front door.

Every Wednesday, Maggie refreshes the Cheap Irish House “Property Directory”. It’s a beguiling, sepia-tinted collection of seriously distressed wrecks and fully habitable rural Irish houses priced under €100,000 gleaned from estate agents and auctioneers throughout the country. It’s Maggie’s informed edit. At €5 per month for the latest directory entries, it’s a small spend.

As I hung out with her virtual community and followed Maggie’s engaging blogs, videos and posts, it became clear why she’s a media star in the making. “We’re at the casting stage right now for my little series,” she says. “Filming will start in the new year with a view to airing next April,” she says. “I’m hoping it will open people’s eyes to the possibilities these neglected houses have to offer.

“Maybe if we’re lucky it will make owners aware that their little cottages hidden away at the bottom of their fields are worth something to someone too.”

From rural Co Wexford originally, Maggie works as an illustrator during the day and adds: “When I’m not plotting the saving of random cottages or trying to convince my husband to move to some island off the coast of Donegal I like to make things — whether it’s sewing or carpentry, nothing’s safe with me!”

What’s with this love affair with period Irish houses, gazing through tangled brambles at forgotten bothies and battered bungalows for her Sunday morning blog? “There’s something about the thick walls, the sash windows, old nooks and bizarre room layouts of an old house that you either love or hate,” Maggie says.

It was really just a matter of how nice of an old house I could afford. When I applied for my mortgage at 23 on my own, the decision was quickly made for me. In Wexford I wasn’t even getting a derelict house for my €110,000 budget, but if I looked outside Leinster there was a small hope of finding something.

Here’s where Maggie’s steady nerve colliding with the process becomes a bit comedic.

“In 2004 when I started coming back to the bank with derelict houses that I wanted to put offers in on, they (the suits) got a little bit scared. They told me they were going to ‘treat the mortgage just like a new-build mortgage’ because that was the closest thing they had on their books. So, the plan was to release the lump sum to purchase my ‘site’ and then they would let me draw down money as and when I got each stage of my ‘build’ finished.

“After a year of very slowly funding the renovations myself and requesting draw-downs that never materialised, I switched to another mortgage company who were willing to give me all the drawdown money in one go. I could finally get moving on my renovation.

“The second bank wasn’t any more suited to an old house purchase — they were trying to convince me to increase my mortgage to €200k simply because I had the ability to during the boom years.”

So, what were her major challenges, house in hand?

“The walls in old houses are not parallel, corners aren’t always at right angles, and floors aren’t level. My house is one-room deep, and my sitting room floor slopes from the back of the house downwards towards the front door.

"For mammies washing floors over the past 100 years it was probably an ingenious design, but try putting in couches without adjusting some of the leg heights, or closing a door of a press when the press isn’t level, or fitting a kitchen when there isn’t one right-angled corner in your room!

“My house isn’t dry-lined and my insulation is still a work-in-progress. To be honest, it’s a luxury I haven’t been able to afford yet. But I haven’t died of pneumonia or ever not been warm in my bed at night. I’ve had to heat my house during times when money was very tight, like during the recession on social welfare, when my fuel allowance was a godsend every winter.”

But Maggie believes we are a lot braver and more resilient than we give ourselves credit for. “We are able to withstand a lot more than society has us believe,” she says.

Keep in mind that if you are going to tackle a big renovation on an old house, you really shouldn’t just throw in the bare minimum of insulation; you need to be more responsible environmentally.

So what was the response to her sideways jump onto the property ladder?

“Every homeowner that I discussed my house with genuinely believed that I got very lucky — that I nabbed some great bargain and that I was in the right place at the right time,” Maggie says. “I kept telling them it wasn’t true. But by that stage, I had lost their attention. I never had examples of similar houses in front of me, and you just know they’re already thinking, ‘Maggie’s away with the fairies!’ These conversations made me want to show people what was out there. It took me years to do it, and I’m so glad I just bit the bullet and started the site.”

Who are her subscribers on Cheap Irish Houses and what do the agents think of her unique marketing?

“There are three main categories: Young Irish people working abroad in London and Australia who tell me they have a renewed hope now that they will be able to move back sooner because they might be able to afford a home; Irish residents, who are ready to purchase but cannot find anywhere in their cities or their home counties; and Irish-Americans looking to move here permanently,” she says.

View this post on Instagram

Boyle Road, Gurteen, Co. Sligo. €95,000. This BIG 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom house sits on 4.5 acres with outhouses! See, there’s a reason €100k is the top end of my budget here on the feed, because it can get you something like THIS. The interior is 100% habitable, its not even that dated. This much land with a house in beautiful condition like this is such a bargain. And its big enough to hold even a well established family! The elephant in the room is of course the graveyard you can see on the map, so lets tackle that one head on before i get bombarded with “that house is haunted” comments, or “i couldn’t live beside a graveyard”. The graveyard in question sits adjacent to part of the 4.5 acres, quite a way back from the house (see the map). It’s not beside the house. It can’t even be seen from the road on google street view. Your neighbours are regular bungalows & two storey houses, not one “Addams Family” style cemetery entrance in sight. As always, i’m not the selling agent for this property, so if you want to see the full original listing, scroll up to my bio and click on the link. #sligo #reno #ireland_gram #irelandinspires #irishlandscape #irelandaily #ireland #thisisireland #ireland_gram #visitireland #irishcottage #expat #irishproperty #geneology #irishrealty #irishrealestate #cheapirishhouses #under100k #cottage #cottagelife #irishcentral #irishamerican #retiretoireland

A post shared by Cheap Irish Houses (@cheapirishhouses) on

“As for the agents, I think sometimes they are probably cursing me under their breath, because they have to field calls and emails from so many of my followers when I post a property on Instagram!”

Maggie doesn’t advocate the death of expertise, but she does promote DIY where you can. “Things I saved up for and paid contractors to do included wiring, rebuilding some of my chimney, new doors, new windows and stairs.” she says.

“Other than that, we have done everything ourselves. From renting an excavator to doing our own groundwork and land drains, to making old fashioned boarded doors fromYouTube guides, to replacing ceilings and even plastering. It’s so much more gratifying to do it yourself, not to mention cheaper. The great thing about an old house is that most of the original building work was really just the best efforts of a very small, not-too-well-off community. Your wonky attempts at plastering will fit right in.”

Cheap Irish Houses airs in April 2020 on RTÉ One; @cheapirishhouses

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