Irish Lives Abroad: 'It's crazy here' as we discover that Ireland is not alone in having housing issues

Irish people living abroad discover big differences in terms of the availability, quality, and cost of housing — infinity pool, anyone? But they also encounter similar problems including undersupply
Irish Lives Abroad: 'It's crazy here' as we discover that Ireland is not alone in having housing issues

'First of all, yes it is crazy for rent and buying. We bought our house in early 2020, it is nearly double the value now,' says Gerald Flynn who lives in Ontario with his wife Meggan and baby Clara.

Housing is one of Ireland’s biggest social issues as well as talking points. Whether it’s the cost or availability of private housing and the amount needed for a deposit, or the shortage of affordable rental accommodation and the thousands of people now homeless in Ireland, housing is a constant on the national agenda. 

But so too is it elsewhere around the globe.

Here, we speak to Irish people living in places including Canada and Dubai, Prague and Portugal to see what the housing situations and issues, and costs, are in those countries and cities.

Stockholm

For Cork woman Eileen Littorin, Stockholm in Sweden is her current home, where she lives with her husband Magnus and their two children, David, 7 and Sophia, 6.

Sweden's home-owner's tax benefit of about €2,400 per person per year can be used for anything from renovation and maintenance to cleaning, according to Eileen Littorin, pictured here with her husband Magnus.
Sweden's home-owner's tax benefit of about €2,400 per person per year can be used for anything from renovation and maintenance to cleaning, according to Eileen Littorin, pictured here with her husband Magnus.

We look to Nordic countries for progressive solutions to just about every social issue, and housing is no different. Every homeowner in Sweden gets a tax benefit of about €2,500 year towards the upkeep of their house, says Eileen.

“When you buy a property here, you get an annual tax benefit of 25,000 Swedish Krona (€2,400) per person towards improvements, maintenance, or renovations of the property. We get 50k SEK as there are two of us on the mortgage.

This is the first of five parts in a week-long series. Click here or the Irish Lives Abroad tag at the foot of this page to continue reading the series as the articles go online.

“So, if you change your windows or roof, for example, you use that money towards the bill. It’s to incentivise people to keep their houses up to code and make it possible to afford for workers,” says Eileen.

The benefit stretches to not just the external look of the house though.

“I actually use my half towards a weekly cleaner, as the benefit covers that too,” says the Cork woman.

When it comes to getting on the actual property ladder, Eileen says it is not too challenging a step to make as long as your finances are in order, and the criteria of qualifying for a mortgage is more or less the same as in Ireland.

“It’s not too difficult to buy as long as your credit rating is good. You need about a 10% deposit, permanent employment, and then you’re approved for a mortgage calculated against your income,” says Eileen.

The average price for a one- or two-bed property in Stockholm in 2020 was approximately €585,000. But renting is not much cheaper, she explains: 

“Renting is very tricky here and can be insanely expensive if you’re not lucky enough to have a first-hand contract. There are agencies you sign up with and you’re put in a queuing system. For this, you pay a small annual fee. The longer you’re in the queue, the better your chances of getting something decent in a nice area,” says Eileen.

She has a personal story about this wait list system, that involves her husband, when he was as young as 3: “My husband, for instance, was put on the list by his mum when he was 3 and was able to rent a studio apartment 25 minutes from the city when he was 20 for about €350 a month. That was a while ago,” says Eileen.

And if you’re not Swedish, how easy is it to find rental accommodation?

“For expats it’s hard and you can pay a fortune for something small. You really have to be lucky to rent something here,” she says.

Ontario

Gerald Flynn, originally from Limerick, has been living in Ontario, Canada for eight years. He lives there with his wife Meggan, and their 10-month-old baby girl Clara.

The rent on a one-bed apartment 30 minutes from Toronto is €1,300 a month. To buy similar 45 minutes away would cost more than €300,000, according to Gerald Flynn, pictured here with his wife Meggan and baby Clara. 
The rent on a one-bed apartment 30 minutes from Toronto is €1,300 a month. To buy similar 45 minutes away would cost more than €300,000, according to Gerald Flynn, pictured here with his wife Meggan and baby Clara. 

Gerald describes the housing situation in Ontario as “crazy” when it comes to both renting and buying. And, as a homeowner, he’s seen his own home jump in value in less than two years.

“First of all, yes it is crazy for rent and buying. We bought our house in early 2020, it is nearly double the value now,” says the Limerick man.

Gerald says that, a bit like Ireland, the market has not stopped growing in the last decade or so, with what seems like everyone trying to get on the property ladder.

“Everyone is trying to buy, and the market has not stopped climbing since I arrived eight years ago,” he says.

The cost of renting a two-bed apartment approximately a 30-minute drive from Toronto city, is about €1,750 a month. To rent a three-bed house in the same neighbourhood comes in around the same.

To rent a one-bed apartment, also 30 minutes from Toronto, that’s 54 sq m (580 sq ft) costs €1,300 a month. But to buy a one-bed apartment 45 minutes from Toronto, it would cost you more than €300,000. And when it comes to a house, an average three-bed property, nearly an hour out from Toronto costs nearly €500,000.

“The best advice people are giving is not to wait, just buy now. I live about one hour outside of Toronto and I would say that due to remote work the price of houses outside the Greater Toronto Area has risen significantly,” says Gerald.

Is there anything in between for people who can’t afford to buy on their own nor find affordable rental accommodation?

“Social housing is a thing just not a big thing where I have seen anyway,” says Gerald. “The big thing is new builds.”

And much like back in Ireland, moving in with your parents where possible, is a move some people make in order to secure a house of their own.

“People move in to their parents and put a down payment on a building site and wait for it to turn into a house and then move in. It worked for some people I know,” says Gerald.

Prague

For Dingle native, Siun Creedon Prochazka, Prague in the Czech Republic is her home, where she lives with her husband and two children Marketa (3) and Alvy (9). 

In Czechia, it's quite common for parents to use the sitting room as their bedroom, according to Siun Creedon Prochazka, pictured here with her daughter Marketa and son Alvy.
In Czechia, it's quite common for parents to use the sitting room as their bedroom, according to Siun Creedon Prochazka, pictured here with her daughter Marketa and son Alvy.

Rent is cheaper than Ireland for sure, but salaries are lower too. And parents can end up using the sitting room as their own bedroom.

“The average rent for a two-bed is around €1,000. If you are renting through an estate agent you need to pay the agent a whole month’s rent plus a deposit of a month’s rent. So it can get incredibly expensive to move,” says Siun.

“The average salary in Prague is around €1,800 (about €500 less around the rest of the country). It’s quite common for families to have a bedroom for each child, usually teenage up to post university age, and the parents use the sitting room as their bedroom,” she adds.

To buy in Prague costs an awful lot of money, with a recent study from Deloitte showing it is the second worst country of 22 European states to find affordable housing in. Siun says: 

It’s a very expensive city in terms of renting and buying. On average people spend 12.2 annual wages on buying a flat. In comparison with the average wage here, there is a huge imbalance.

The average annual wage in Prague is about €30,000, so more than 12 times that, about €360,000 is the price of a flat in the city.

And for those who can’t afford housing, what is the situation?

“Homelessness is an issue here. There are over 3,000 homeless people in Prague,” says Siun.

The Hague

Caitríona Rush lives in The Hague in The Netherlands with her husband and two children aged 10 and 7.

Buying was more common than renting in The Netherlands due to tax incentives,” Caitríona explains.

In The Netherlands, buying one's home had been the norm due to state support for purchasers but 'the government is slowly getting rid of these tax benefits,' according to Caitríona Rush. 
In The Netherlands, buying one's home had been the norm due to state support for purchasers but 'the government is slowly getting rid of these tax benefits,' according to Caitríona Rush. 

“Traditionally, people would have bought houses, and buying was more common than renting — once people have a fixed income — due to certain tax incentives,” she says.

However, these benefits are slowly being retired and buying is no longer the go-to or default option, especially for first-time buyers.

“The government is slowly getting rid of these tax benefits however, making it less attractive. This, coupled with soaring house prices, which make it very difficult for first-time buyers, means that whilst home owners are still in the majority, it is slowly changing,” she says.

When it comes to the cost of renting, people in The Netherlands pay per square metre as opposed to say the number of bedrooms.

“Regarding rental prices, houses here aren’t listed or described in terms of the number of bedrooms but rather by the total amount of square metres.

“Currently rental prices average at €11 per month per square metre for a house, or €15 per month per square metre for an apartment,” says Caitríona.

And just like everywhere else, there is homelessness here too, only Caitríona describes it as less visible.

“Homelessness exists in the Netherlands as elsewhere but it tends to be a lot less visible here than other countries. There’s an estimated 36,000 homeless out of a total population of 17.5m,” she says.

Dubai

Ailbhe Storan, originally from Limerick City, lives in Dubai with her husband. There, renting is the norm, and she pays €2,800 per month in rent for an apartment with an infinity pool.

Ailbhe Storan and her husband Don O’Shaughnessy rent in Dubai, paying €2,800 a month for a two-bed apartment with a view of the Burj Khalifa, an infinity pool, gym, and air-conditioned access to Dubai Mall.
Ailbhe Storan and her husband Don O’Shaughnessy rent in Dubai, paying €2,800 a month for a two-bed apartment with a view of the Burj Khalifa, an infinity pool, gym, and air-conditioned access to Dubai Mall.

“Almost 90% of the population in the United Arab Emirates are expats so renting is the norm,” she says.

“Most people only plan to come for three to five years but end up staying closer to eight to 10 years. Some expats buy properties if they have established themselves here and have kids in school.”

When it comes to the actual price of renting, she says Dubai is not much different to Dublin.

“Rental market prices will depend on where you choose to live, but generally are no higher than what we used to pay in Dublin: “We currently live downtown and pay approximately €2,800 per month in rent for a two-bedroom apartment with a Burj Khalifa view, infinity pool, gym, and air-conditioned access to Dubai Mall, which is crucial in the summer months,” explains Ailbhe.

Furthermore, there is plenty of supply, unlike in Dublin.

“There are so many new developments going up, supply is not an issue, and there is ample choice to suit most budgets,” says Ailbhe. And if you do stay longer and want to buy, how much are we talking and what criteria do you have to meet?

“In terms of buying property, expats can apply for a residential loan and this will require a 25% deposit up to 5m Emirati Dirham (€1.2m), above that price and the deposit will increase,” says Ailbhe.

“Expats must be sponsored by employers or have their own business to obtain a resident visa. Without a sponsored visa, expats must leave the country. The locals are provided with homes or they live with their families,” she adds.

Lisbon

Sonya Coogan, originally from Co Monaghan, now lives in Lisbon, Portugal, with her husband and two step-children.

The city has become increasingly popular as an emigration destination for Irish people.

'Locals are being pushed out of the city, probably a bit like Dublin and the cities in Ireland, the internationals [developers] are buying up all the properties,' says Sonya Coogan, who lives in Lisbon.
'Locals are being pushed out of the city, probably a bit like Dublin and the cities in Ireland, the internationals [developers] are buying up all the properties,' says Sonya Coogan, who lives in Lisbon.

Renting is very affordable in the capital, if you have a high wage, and living at home with your parents is the norm for locals.

“Most people in Lisbon don’t leave home until their 30s at least. It’s completely different to Ireland, where we become very independent almost at 18. Here’s it at least 30s,” says Sonya of the big picture.

When it comes to costs she explains the market and where it’s gone since she moved there.

“The rents in Lisbon — for a one-bed, two-bed, you’re talking maybe €800 to €1,000. Since I moved here six years ago, it’s probably doubled.

“The sad thing is the locals are being pushed out of the city, probably a bit like Dublin and the cities in Ireland, the internationals [developers] are buying up all the properties and renting the properties,” says Sonya.

And when it comes to buying you need a much larger deposit than at home.

“In regard to deposits for buying you’re talking about 20-30% of a deposit or at least a good guarantor,” she says.

What about those who do not have family they can live with and who cannot afford a home of their own?

“Homelessness is definitely an issue, but it’s probably not as common as in Dublin. It’s probably half of what they have.

“The people do a lot here to help the homeless and the poor,” says Sonya, who runs the Irish in Lisbon Facebook page.

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