Munster rural property prices jumped 10 to 15%

A VERY good year, indeed, is the consensus on 2004 rural property sales.

The slow start in the spring had some agents wringing their hands, while at the same time, they tried to get their heads round decoupling and entitlements.

Many farmers, confused by what the future might hold, stalled on selling their properties and the result was fewer farms on the market and a consequent rise in demand.

This was fuelled, in part, by non-farming interests. According to many farming property professionals, that trend will continue.

While farmers competed with hobbyists, the majority of properties sold still went to farmers, but at prices inflated by active bidding from the non-farming sector.

Prices in Munster jumped by 10% to 15%, with the average per acre levelling out at around 12,000 for land without quota a strong price compared to 2003.

Very large farms were even more in the minority in 2004, with smaller parcels selling better, reflecting a swing in the industry.

This was partly due to the decision of small-holders to leave the industry amid fears about viability in a free market, coupled with the lure of buoyant land prices.

Another factor in the sale of smaller parcels of land was the growing incidence of marriage breakdown in the country, resulting in outlying farms, or part of farms, being put up for sale.

There were still some large, tasty farms on the market, though, and many made in the region of E3 million or more. In Kerry, the announcement of a 200-acre, 200,000 gallon quota farm at Knockanasig, caused quite a stir. Richard Collins of Collins O'Meara in Fermoy and Robert Ganly of Ganly Walters in Dublin, were in charge of the auction of this model Listowel farm, purchased for E2.65 million by the Barry family from Lixnaw. A strong farming family, brothers Pádraig and James Barry, along with their father, operate enterprises which include a large dairy farm and separate dry stock farm in Lixnaw, and a tillage farm in Croom, Co Limerick.

This follows a pattern for large farm sales in Munster of premium properties being purchased by farmers who already hold large land holdings.

In Cork, a flurry of large farm sales in the early summer had some interesting knock-on results.

An 173-acre farm, without quota at Ballinbrittig, Carrigtwohill, sold for 3.3 million to Denis Barrett, a substantial dairy farmer who in turn, put 50 acres of his own land on the market, also at Carrigtwohill. The commercially-zoned Carrigtwohill holding was given a guide price of E10 million, and is still under negotiation.

And the man who upped the bidding for the Ballinbrittig holding, Pat McCarthy, then went on to purchase a substantial 170-acre dairy farm near Youghal for a reputed E4 million through Michael Brady of the Brady Group.

This farm, with 125,000 gallons of quota, was probably the largest dairy farm sale in Munster during the year, and was funded by the proceeds of the sale of Mr McCarthy's farm at Carrigtwohill to Gable Holdings, for the Castlelake development. The price paid there was a reputed E17 million.

Another substantial dairy farm sale was at Castlelyons, Co Cork, where 175 acres and 50,000 gallons was sold through Christy Buckley and Paul O'Driscoll of Sherry Fitzgerald O'Driscoll for E1.5m.

The largest per acre sum paid in 2004 has to be the sale of Lakeview House and its lands, in Midleton.

Here, two owners joined forces to sell 26 acres of land, including a listed property and 18 acres with residential zoning.

Prohibitions on development on the deeds of both properties were extinguished, and the land went on to sell at auction for E19.5 million through joint agents, Cohalan Downing and Associated and Sherry FitzGerald McCreery. The purchaser was Declan O'Mahony of Bride View Homes.

The selling agent of the Ballinbrittig farm and Carrigtwohill lands, Joe McCarthy of Irish and European, also sold George Tanner's farm at Carrigeen, Conna, which was purchased by Pat Fitzpatrick from Glanmire, a dairy farmer with a liquid milk contract, whose father farms a large holding on the perimeter of Cork city. This renowned dairy farm of 170 acres and 115,000 gallons of quota, was snapped up within two weeks of going to market.

And where large farms weren't available in the immediate vicinity, buyers were prepared to travel, with Cork farmers moving to Tipperary when a premium holding came up for sale.

This happened most spectacularly early last year, when Passage West farmer William Ahern purchased Synone House in Tipperary for a record-breaking E10 million.

Denis Crowley of Mallow picked up an excellent tillage farm at Cahir for close to E3.3 million. The same Mallow farmer's land broke all records for the year when it was purchased, on a long contract for a sum in the region of 40 million, by local developer John Barry. That 200-acre holding bounds booming Mallow town in north Cork.

The 266-acre Cahir farm was auctioned by selling agents, Stokes and Quirke, but was sold after auction.

The largest farm on the market in 2004 was 2,050 acres at the South Sloblands in Wexford, which carried a guide price of E8 million, through Marcus Magnier of Jackson Stops.

A local businessman won out against other bidders but the sale isn't yet sewn up conclusively, say the agents.

The wide-ranging holding, described as a "farmer's farm," has 1,400 acres under tillage, 400 acres under grass and 250 acres of water, as well as 30 hunting hides and 400 acres of forestry.

In Tipperary, the year started off well with the sale in March of Heathview Farm by Robert de Vere Hunt for E3.2 million.

The 228 acre farm had a milk quota of 116,000 gallons and a huge, 4,200 square foot house, a modern copy of the classic, three-storey over-basement gentleman's residence.

It sold to a local farmer, who's believed to have had a quota of 250,000 gallons already. The acquisition, like several other big sales last year, was funded by a by-pass windfall.

Early on in the year, 30 acres at Lisheen, Ovens, was sold by Mike Brady of the Brady Group for a reputed R9 million to developer Owen O'Callaghan on behalf of a client.

This helped to fund the acquisition of Aglish House in Farran, Co Cork, a Georgian residence on 100 acres for R2.5 million for the same client, after a private auction.

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