€1m sales a rarity in difficult 2009

MILLION-PLUS house sales – even in Dublin – were rare as hen’s teeth in the comatose year now coming to end, without any recovery signs imminent, either.

The market was characterised by activity mostly at the lower, sub-€300,000 end and first-time buyer sector, which may trickle through into trading up activity in 2010, and by late-year there was some small pick up in the mid-price sector.

“The year started slowly, but when vendors got more real about selling prices, it picked up, and October/November wasn’t bad in the end with some good sales and volume. I wish there was another quarter in the year,” said one pleasantly-surprised national agency auctioneer doing end-of-year figures, adding “those who traded up found they were skipping one or two rungs on the ladder and getting far more house for their money.”

Most, though, would rather put ‘09 behind them, and maybe even hibernate through the next traumatic year ahead also.

Yet, there were a few, including – would you believe? – a Cork city site for just one house more than topping that magic million mark, and a west Cork manor for €1.8 million. And, in Limerick, two good off-market deals have been confirmed by Sherry FitzGerald O’Malley, one a recent new-build in Adare at over €2m, and a period red-brick on good grounds on the North Circular Road for just under €2m.

Two late 2009 Cork property sales bolstered hopes for some upper-end market momentum at least going into the New Year and an untested, NAMA-dominated decade of uncertainty to come. One was a west Cork hideaway near Rosscarbery and the other a pot of gold site, a walled city acre on the Blackrock Road.

This site sale on Ashton Avenue, with a two-bed cottage on it now likely to be replaced by something far grander, saw very strong bidders bullishly going head-to-head for the chance to buy an acre suitable for an exceptional one-off house.

Agents Keane Mahony Smith brought the walled acre with mature orchard and gardens to market in October, guiding €700,000-plus, and had contracts signed by early December – for around €1.2 million, and that saw several disappointed underbidders in its wake.

Hidden down a 100 yard long limestone walled lane between Ashton school and the African Missions, at the city end of the salubrious suburban run, it was viewed by dozens of hopeful would-be self-builders, architects in tow, as well as by a few small builders. Given that Cork’s Blackrock Road has seen at least two houses built/rebuilt in 2009 at values well in excess of €5m, it is back in the forefront of hot locations.

Top Munster/Co Cork sales must be those two undisclosed Limerick c €2m sales, and then the more public Cregane Manor, near Rosscarbery.

It quite simply was one of the best of any market offerings in the past number of years, a hugely desirable seaside home on 30 acres with woodland and walled gardens.

Cregane was much admired: none of the 30-plus viewers could really find a bad thing to say about it, other than to fret over the cost of keeping 30 acres of grounds in the condition they saw them in. Some reckoned it could cost €100,000 a year to care for properly, which put paid to a lot of wistful dreams.

Cregane Manor came to market in July with Sherry FitzGerald/SFG O’Neill, guiding a modest €l.5m – but then again, after a few horrible years of flat sales, modesty was the order of the sales day nationwide. In the end, it had several strong bidders at the €1.8m mark, and its eventual buyer has an Irish-American mixed background, and is expected to use it the pristine, trophy place as a second home. Had it come up for sale in 2005 it could have made double, or even treble, this sort of sum.

Million euro plus-sales just didn’t seem to happen elsewhere in ‘09, and Cork struggled to find a half dozen sales in this category.

There was the aforementioned Cregane Manor, an hour from the city, for around €1.8m, and next up was Rockrohan, making €1.4m. Rockrohan is a dated but effective 1960s domestic design with 3,000 sq ft of space, six bedrooms, and an outdoor swimming pool on 2.5 acres. It went up for sale in 2008 guiding €2.5m, this was reduced in ‘09 to €1.6, sale terms were agreed in summer ‘09 for about €1.1m, and when this subsequently collapsed, all seemed grim for even the €1m barrier. However, a spirited September relaunch at €1.3m rekindled new interest, and it has now sold via Dennis Guerin of Frank V Murphy & Co for an unconfirmed €1.4m. The same agent, acting jointly with Savills, ended the year closing the sale of a bungalow just off the Douglas Road in Woodview for €1m-plus.

Savills had an early ‘09 sale above the €1m mark, this time for a new build, selling a 2,500 sq ft quality home at Rosewood Manor in Innishannon to a buyer moving out of Cork city.

Others in the exalted but rarified company of €1m-plus sellers in 2009 were Castlemahon House, by Blackrock Castle, selling for an unconfirmed amount, probably closer to the lower end of the €1-2m scale, and was bought by a religious group Scala, working with young people. It had been used as a nursing home for a number of years, but was touted for sale as a possible private residence once more.

Making around €1.2m was the Bishopstown family home Kilconnor, on Bishopstown Avenue, but again wasn’t bought for private residential usage. Builder Tim Lawton picked up the house on an acre, and went for planning for four replacement dwellings.

At least two other sites for one-off sold well in 2009 in Cork’s suburbs: Cohalan Downing got over €600,000 for a redevelopment site on Maryborough Hill, Douglas, and Frank V Murphy & Co sold a derelict small cottage on a water-fronting Douglas plot for around €300,000.

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