Thursday, 16 April 2009

Irish builders, estate agents, and anarchism

Property is theft”, said French anarchist, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in 1840. The revolutionary envisaged the day when the corrupt Old Order was overthrown, State authority was an obsolete concept and humankind – free of class contradictions, exploitation and oppression – was free to flower at last. But, unfortunately, it never really happened, because I suppose we have not evolved enough as yet.

And how disappointed he would have been to see that his “property is theft” slogan was eventually taken up as a yardstick by the Irish Government, the banks, the developers (see Irish Government), builders and, of course, their foot soldiers the estate agents.

If you want proof, try talking to any poor wage-slave who took out a 40-year mortgage on a shoebox apartment at the height of the boom, and who will have to see out their payments for the full term, and whose taxes will subsidise the “bad loans” of the very class that put him/her in that situation. It’s enough to make a revolutionary of the most mild-mannered.

And speaking of mild-mannered, Gombeen Man has been looking to take advantage of the mess and trade up from the Manor to something a bit more fitting of that grand description - preferably with big gates and a couple of devil dogs roaming the grounds to keep his many enemies at bay. Or failing that, a modern – if modest – detached house out here in Dublin 15, so the neighbours won’t be disturbed by the ranting noises that he emits on a daily basis.

Attempts to move have been going on about five years, and have been thwarted at every turn by swarms of new-found Irish property tycoons (or so they thought), making the proverbial flies around shit seem restrained and dignified, as they pushed up house prices into the stratosphere with money they never really had.

But now the investors are gone, amid the Hitchcockian roar of beating chicken wings coming home to roost on the eaves of their negative-equity "investments". And although Schadenfreude is not a terribly graceful or magnanimous thing - isn’t it great!!!

Or so you would think. I mean, vendors, builders and estate agents will have to bow to the new reality and lower their prices now. Won’t they? They will have to be realistic, and take account of falling wages, rising taxes, and the fact that the whole country is going down the toilet. But no. At least not in far-from-salubrious Dublin 15, where the denizens are still looking for prices that those in Foxrock – and other places not full of skangers – were looking for in 2006. And if you think the builders and developers will start bending over backwards to shift their unwanted properties here, think again! Here’s a good example.

There is a new development going up (slowly) in Barnwell, Hansfield. Only a small part of it has been built as yet, and you have to wonder how much of it will ever be completed, and how much of it will be left as fields for the local skangers to joyride your car in while you are out at work. Not perfect, sure, but one of the houses looked nice - in the brochure at least. In fact the only thing it seemed to lack was a garage, which you will agree is a desirable addition in light of the above.

So the following conversation ensued with the estate agent twiddling her thumbs in the empty showhouse:

Gombeen Man: “Can they build a garage with it, seeing as it is off the plans?”

Estate agent: “No. You would have to let the builder build the house first, with the path and wall. Then you would have to get planning permission to get the wall knocked down, the path altered and a garage built later”.

Gombeen Man (surprised): “But it’s not built yet. In fact four fifths of the development is just an empty field. The builder has not made the estate, the roads, the footpaths, the house or the wall. So why just not build the house without the wall and with a garage, and I will pay the extra cost for it?”

Estate agent (with uncomprehending shrug): “No. We can’t do that.”

Cue Gombeen Man spinning on his heel, and heading off haughtily into the mucky sunset.

And this is only one example – there have been lots of other experiences. It seems that the idea of actually having to SELL something is an alien concept for these people, after well over a decade of half-wit investors putting deposits down on properties-to-be before the architect's ink was even dry. I think we will have to wait for a new generation of estate agents and builders, unused to the Lotto money days, who are capable of selling in these more austere times.

Also, you really have to wonder how much pressure the banks – whose loans to the builders we are subsidizing - are putting on the developers to sell. Thing is, the longer they wait, the less they will get.

And if there is one thing I’m used to by now, it’s waiting.

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Ella said...

The longer you wait the lower the prices will go. Unless of course we have a bit of suckers rally, which won't last long.

Bernd said...

Boyo, are you out of touch with reality ...

"... half-wit investors putting deposits down on properties-to-be before the architect's ink was even dry."

Do you honestly think any architect ever used any ink on those development plans? As estates in Hansfield look suspiciously like estates in Hartstown, which in turn look suspiciously like estates in Holywood, Bantry and Donegal ... I suspect they were all from the same "Easy Plans for Your Home" booklet purchased in Easons (or W.H.Smith in the Holywood case).

Architect? Ink? Yer must be jokin' ...

The Gombeen Man said...

Very true, Bernd. I think there's some kind of builders' identikit development set out there.

"Sucker's rally". I like that one Ella.

Lew said...

Totally unbelievable!
Why are those people salespeople?
Their job should be to make the sale no matter what and agree to anything that's physically possible.

Makes it seem that they were trying hard not to sell

Makes me wonder is there some kind of goverment money for developers/builders who have houses they dont sell?

The Gombeen Man said...

There is Lew: taxpayers' money in the form of the bank bail-out!!