Putting the key into the door of her new home at the age of just 22 years old, Doireann Barrett was on the first step of the property ladder.
But 21 years later, she is back in her childhood room, in the home she grew up in, living with her parents.
Her 20-year-old son is living in Kildare, where he has a job which provides him with accommodation.
Her position now — hunting for a rented property in a chronically squeezed rental market in Tralee — is all the more poignant given she was born into the property world.
Her father owned an estate agency in Tralee for five decades and Doireann became managing director of it at the age of just 26 years old. She worked in the property management department initially, responsible for leasing of residential properties, before moving into residential sales.
She explains that after her Leaving Certificate exams, she studied interior design, but at the age of 25, she trained as an estate agent.
“I studied property management and business law when my son was two years old — travelling up and down to Dublin for course work and conferences.”
So engrained was she in the property sector that in 2007, she became the Irish secretary of the young members section of FIABCI Ireland (International Real Estate Federation).
Meanwhile, property was also part of her private life — she bought her first home in 2001.
She recalls: “I purchased a two-bedroomed ground-floor apartment in a gated development in Tralee and in 2003 I sold the apartment and purchased a three-bedroom semi-detached home with a large garden in a large estate for my son and I to live in. Our house was facing the fields and mountains and we were living amongst families with young kids.”
A year later, however, Doireann’s health was dealt a blow which proved to be life-changing.
“I got diagnosed with an auto-immune disease and 12 months later with another serious health condition so I was balancing parenthood with a full-time job and adapting and living with my health conditions," she says.
"After the property crash, I took the opportunity to start my own business project because I saw a gap in the market in the food sector in relation to the foods I needed to adhere to with living with my health conditions and because the opportunities locally to me had changed in the property market and all our wages in the industry began to significantly change at that time.
"I had to look at other opportunities to afford my mortgage and my financial responsibilities of raising my son.”
Having been in Australia after school, she grabbed an opportunity in 2015 to return there and said she and her son qualified for residency there.
She sold their home but once again, they were dealt a hammer blow.
“The week I handed the keys over to the estate agent for the new owners I was diagnosed with a serious health scare that led me down a life-changing path we had not foreseen or planned for.”
Luckily, she and her son were able to move into the home of a friend, who had a large property, and was able to lease out rooms to them, as she awaited health developments.
“After three months, we moved into a two-bedroomed apartment above a service station and the rent was slightly more than what I was paying in my mortgage. The apartment was cosy and clean but small.
"Within four months of living there, we found a three-bedroomed detached house near the beach and moved there. The rent was approximately €150 more per month on to what my mortgage was.”
Doireann’s health issues continued and in 2016, she underwent major surgery, resulting in her having to take a number of months out from her business. Because she was self-employed, she did not qualify for any social welfare assistance.
She qualified in December for the Housing Assistance Payment scheme, and was working part time, with an income from her business.
But her landlord did not accept Hap and she and her son moved in April 2018 to different accommodation which was €150 more per month. However, she knew they were lucky as the rent was below the market value.
But following the death of her landlady in early 2021, the property was put on the market — while Doireann was recovering from surgery, with further surgery in the pipeline.
After four months, she and her son managed to find new accommodation — a two-bedroomed semi-detached cottage at €850 per month.
“There was a number of people at that viewing so I was lucky to get the lease.”
However, Doireann says she and her son had to move out on New Year’s Eve last year after a rat infestation was the latest issue with the property — just seven months into their lease.
Now, Doireann is back living with her parents in her childhood home, searching for another rental property for herself. But she says there is a huge shortage and it is also difficult to find a landlord who will accept a pet, as she has a dog.
She has lived in six different properties since 2015 and reflects: “Not only is it incredibly stressful packing up a house to move each time but the cost associated with a house move each time is an added financial burden as there is so much involved between packing up boxes, hiring removal vans and having the properties professionally cleaned, as well as changing addresses, having services moved such as broadband and TV which do not allow for contracts to be broken.”
“There is also costs involved with having these services moved from house to house, changing of addresses with correspondence — it is very stressful and time consuming.”
Coming from a background in property, Doireann believes the Housing Assistance Payment is not fit for purpose.
“The Housing Assistance Payment is means tested and is paid monthly to the landlord or landlord’s agent. The tenant then must pay the landlord the balance. As well as paying the landlord the difference, the county council then takes a repayment from the tenant weekly by direct debit, which is means tested.
So for example, the max Hap in 2020 for a one-parent income with full-time dependents was €625 and rent was €850 so the tenant would pay the difference of €225 to the landlord or landlord's agent and a further payment of approximately €50 per week by direct debit to the county council in the form of a repayment.”
“I applied at a time where I was unable to work but because I was self-employed, it is still means tested. Currently in Kerry, a single person who qualifies for Hap, the payment per month is €380 per month less their repayments to the council, [but] a one-bedroom apartment currently in Tralee is approximately €950 per month.”
Doireann says being in the rental sector is very unstable and expensive.
“In my years of working in the property industry and as a tenant, it has always frustrated me that many landlords do not value their tenants; many landlords do not modernise their properties, they kit them out in the most basic standards and charge premium rents.
"Many landlords do not spend money on how the property is presented inside or outside yet will withhold money from a deposit without taking into account the length of time a tenant has spent in the property — they do not factor in positive amendments a tenant makes to a property.”
She says there needs to be rent caps, adding rental provision needs to be managed like any business.
"There are far too many landlords out there winging it and not realising the costs involved in providing this service to tenants. There needs to be more respect given to tenants and less control from landlords on how people choose to live as long as their properties are being kept in good order and rent is on time each month.”
She accepts that legislation to protect both landlords and tenants has improved dramatically since she worked in the property sector, and welcomes services such as the Residential Tenancies Board, but she believes the Government must invest in more housing for the rental sector.
She worked in townships of South Africa where she saw much poverty and homelessness, and acknowledges she is lucky to have somewhere to stay at all.
“Currently, I am staying in my childhood home whilst all our belongings from life over the past 20 years are currently in a mini storage unit in Tralee where I am leasing a unit for €350 inclusive of Vat to store our furniture and belongings securely until I find a place to either buy in Ireland or abroad.
She does not feel she has the mental energy to rent in Ireland again because of the instability of the market and the standard of accommodation on offer.
“It is heart-breaking that in all the years I have worked so hard and created employment, and paid my taxes, that I do not have a home for my son to come and visit me at present, so that is difficult.
"It's not the same staying in someone else's home, I really miss my own space and a place where my son and I get to spend quality time together but I am so grateful to have a roof over my head and that I am not living on the streets, like many families are doing in Ireland in 2022.”
Landlords are not all leaving the rental sector to make profits on their properties by selling them, according to a Kerry-based auctioneer.
Gary O’Driscoll, an auctioneer in Tralee, says a lot of small landlords are leaving the rental market because of tax issues.
He said: “There is a misconception out there that because the market has improved, that everybody is running for the money and getting out. I cannot speak for everybody but for a lot of my clients, that is not the mentality.”
He says property prices have increased, giving those landlords the opportunity to get out of the market and recoup the original money they paid for the property. He acknowledges a percentage of those getting out of the sector have made a profit by selling now.
And he says there is a fear held by smaller landlords that if they do not jump now, they may not be as lucky if they hold out for much longer.
But he says the tax issue is a big one facing small landlords.
He explained: “Most people don’t realise that if people have a property as an investment and own it personally and have a mortgage on it, they are being taxed.”
He says someone with a rental income of €12,000 a year on a property will have miscellaneous costs, including repairs, as well as tax to pay.
He continues: “When someone is looking at a market that has been depressed for a number of years, all they want to do is get out of the debt.”
Mr O’Driscoll says while the majority of tenants are brilliant, there are some who leave rental properties in bad condition.
However, he acknowledges: “Some people should not be landlords because they don’t know what they are doing and they don’t look after issues in the house, which they should.”
He says there are issues throughout Kerry, not just in Tralee, with relation to availability of rental properties.
He believes there are “plenty of land banks around the country” where housing could be built if the land was rezoned for residential purposes.
“There are a number of different avenues that need to be looked at here — planning, development contributions, for example, rezoning of lands — we are on a road to nowhere otherwise.”
He describes the planning system in Ireland as draconian and says it needs to be overhauled.
“It is too slow, there is too much red tape.”
He says the National Planning Framework for 2040 is “pushing the whole country into settlements, trying to get people to move into towns, move into larger villages, not build in the countryside.”
“This is Ireland, not London. I appreciate the mentality but if you have somebody who is from the countryside in Cork or Kerry or anywhere else throughout the country for that matter and they are being stopped from getting planning for a house, you have a rural planning policy which does not work.”
Figures provided to councillors in the Tralee municipal district in May showed there were 2,349 approved applicants on the housing list in Kerry who had selected an area within that district as an area of choice for social housing.
Local Labour councillor Terry O’Brien has been a councillor in the area for the past 24 years and says he has never seen the housing situation as bad. But he is hoping the pressure on the private rental sector will be eased by developments in social housing.
“We are lucky here that in the last few years we have been building so over the next couple of months we will be giving out over 100 homes in social housing. We have opened two different developments in the last couple of months and over the next two months we will be opening more.”
He agrees with Gary O’Driscoll regarding the difficulties facing landlords and is keen to stress there are many landlords who became landlords without planning to.
“I am a Labour councillor but I still say some of the landlords are made look like criminals.”
He points out some people become accidental landlords after inheriting property.
Fianna Fáil councillor Mikey Sheehy is chairman of the Tralee municipal district on Kerry County Council.
He agrees with Cllr O’Brien that there has been a big increase in the number of people seeking help from councillors in relation to housing issues in the area.
“Everyone knows there has been a crash in terms of supply and there has not been a whole lot of private development in Tralee.”
While welcoming the developments of social housing in the town, he says the provision of private rental supplies have dried up.
“There are landlords who see an opportunity to sell but then there is a huge increase in the numbers of notices to quit to tenants. That obviously puts additional pressure on the social side of things with people presenting back to Kerry County Council with housing needs. It is a perfect storm.”
There are currently nine properties for rent in Tralee and surrounding area, listed on Daft.ie.
They range from €925 per month for a two-bedroom apartment in the town to €2,800 for a six-bedroom house with five bathrooms, in Oakpark.
In Kerry, the current Hap rates are:
- One adult in shared accommodation €200
- Couple in shared accommodation €230
- One adult €380
- Couple €410
- Couple or one adult with one child €525
- Couple or one adult with two children €550
- Couple or one adult with three children €575