Astra bucks the trend in Carrigaline

BUILDER Stephen McCarthy’s company Astra Construction does exactly what he says he does on the large advertising billboard, entering his home turf of Carrigaline.

A large hoarding proclaims ‘Still Selling, Still Building’, and he’s used the same boast in his ads in this newspaper. So still advertising too — thanks, Stephen.

It’s all true, his formula is simple and his positivity pays off. In fact, Astra was due to break ground for three more houses this week that they’ve sold at their Forest Hill scheme; sales director Eileen Crowley calculates that 30 houses have been sold already this year and they are on course to sell 50 by year end.

It’s not like McCarthy hasn’t heard about the ‘R’ word and the hammering construction is taking — it’s just that he keeps things very simple, a formula that works.

“Before the boom, we were selling 50 houses a year, during the boom we did 100 a year, and now we’re back to doing 50 a year again,” observes the man who has been building under the Astra banner for 22 years. He has about 1,500 houses built to date in his home town of Carrigaline.

The superb completed Heron’s Wood scheme, with around 600 houses on the other side of Carrigaline shows his wares, and already Forest Hill has had €1 million or more spent on approach landscaping and layout — an expensive calling card.

Currently, Astra is employing 35 men on McCarthy’s Forest Hill site, down maybe from a peak of about 85, and most have been with him for decades. Some, like his masons, are father and son teams. “Workers don’t leave Stephen,” says sales director Eileen Crowley who joined the company years ago from a city auctioneers.

What’s the key to still being a builder, when your colleagues have fallen like nine-pins? Well, first up, Stephen (who’s currently the regional Irish Home Builders Association chairman) draws a clear line between being a builder and being a developer or a speculator.

“Every ship needs a captain. Here I’m the foreman, I’m the engineer, I’m the boss,” says McCarthy. “We work to a simple model: we only work on one site at a time, we take buyers by the hand and we mind them from the very start, and we listen to what they want. Any time someone wanted a change, we accommodated them,” he says.

“We are always on site, we never really enjoyed the good times — in fact, we spent the good times preparing for the bad times.”

Apart from keeping to a simple business model, what is driving Astra’s 47-acre site at Kilnagleary, above the Crosshaven road and just off the slowly evolving south ring road, is a simple thing — a great product.

The houses here are a very attractive design, some of the nicest product in the Cork region, with a high specification (imported granite sills, French clay roof tiles, cream pvc double glazing, mellow brick — they’ll age very gently) full fit-out and very good build quality, at reasonable prices.

When Astra bought this site, it had planning for 530 units, it resubmitted for a lower density — about 486 units in 12 house types (no apartments, but they do a cracking two-bed two-storey house equivalent for €200,000) — and have 118 built now, of which 100 are sold.

Other prices are €235,000 for a three-bed 1,100 sq ft semi, or €255,000 for a 1,250 sq ft one, there are four bed 1,665 sq ft semis at €335,000 and detached four-bed just over and under €400,000 with several sold already this year alone, as well as 2,400 sq ft five-beds at €470,000, and BER ratings are all high Bs.

Astra, with resident architect Marius Badenhorst, is master-planning a 1,000 house scheme for by Shannonpark; working ahead, then.


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