So the dream is that your ‘forever home’ should be a nice, big, efficient, modern home – let’s throw in a home-office for good measure – all in a rural town or village, within easy access of a larger town or city. Sounds great!
Well, you’re not alone.
Think of the lifestyle. No traffic to speak of. Clean air. Lots of space and green things all around. Easy access to some pretty amazing scenery. Sports clubs and schools. Really, REALLY fast broadband in many locations, too.
If you’ve had enough of city life, why not go for something like this, perhaps in the West of Ireland? Take a look on line and….
Hold on a minute. Back in say, 2006, you can remember builders’ vans everywhere. Every small town and village around the country was a hive of construction activity. There is an army of folks now who are remote-working enabled. It seems like a pretty simple equation. What gives?
Why are there very few developments in small towns and villages – if any? There is a whole generation of people which emerged from third level from 2000 onwards. They had the expectation of ‘returning home’ at some point. Due to economic and other circumstances, they have had to put this plan on hold – or cancel it altogether. But if at least some of this demand exists – added to by all the remote workers looking outside the cities for their ideal home too – why are queues of construction workers wanting breakfast rolls still a thing of the past in small towns?
Where is the big up-tick in planning applications for housing developments to satiate this demand? Surely, enterprising developers should be getting sites ready for blast off.
Not so fast. Here are 4 reasons that isn’t so easy.
1. Current house prices are still too low. Wait – keep reading!
What?! As crazy as it may seem, the level of demand in an area – and the prices people are willing to pay for what’s available – is one of the biggest factors in whether or not a site in a beautiful, idyllic, perfect rural town or village will be able to attract construction finance funding. Well, what other metrics would a lender use to guide their decision? (I can think of a few, but we’ll get to that in later posts.)
Okay, so the three cottages in need of repair, the two 1980’s bungalows in need of major energy upgrades and the three ’00’s semi-ds which sold in our notional village in the last six months didn’t exactly get stellar prices. Certainly not enough to give confidence that, given current construction costs, a developer might recoup costs, cover the finance costs and make a profit. It’s certainly not the kind of activity that a lender would like to take a bet on.
Silly isn’t it – that the performance of properties which are likely unsuitable for or unappealing to the mass audience are the best indicators for lenders as to what level of risk to take – instead of the obvious demand we have here in Ireland. (Spoiler Alert – Homebuyer’s Hero can fix this – be sure to sign up for our newsletter to find out how in later blog posts.)
2. Onerous burden of risk on developers / builders
People in Ireland have love/hate relationship with property developers. basically, they provide a necessary product (housing), but do so at a profit – in times past at a very large profit. Part of the reason for this is that back in the first half of the noughties, high demand and cheap money meant that the issue at number 1 above was dealt with in a fairly lax fashion. Therefore, developers had easy access to cash and since prices were rising all the time, everyone felt a pressure to ‘get on the property ladder’.
For a time, this meant that developer risk was low and reward was high.
Now however, things are different. There is huge demand for housing, yes, but after an unprecedented economic crash with construction at its epicentre, lenders are very cautious. Construction finance lenders are demanding that developers come to them with sites ‘ready to go’ before they engage. That means that would-be developers have to get into deals to buy sites, get planning permission and then *hope* they will get construction finance.
Therefore they too look for evidence of demand before undertaking something like this and since the only evidence they can see is how properties on the second-hand market are doing, unfortunately they do not see the good ‘go’ signals they need to take on this type of financial risk. All of course assuming they have the spare cash to fund something like this. Sure, there is demand. But is there demand *right here*, the developers ask themselves.
Even if they decide to go for it – there is another problem. Gearing. What is this fresh hell, you ask? Basically, this is how much of the construction and possibly site purchase cost lenders are willing to give developers. And you guessed it. The percentage drops rapidly the further a site is from large centre of population. Why? Risk management. Simply, if a lender only gives 65% of the required finance and the rest is provided by the developer, the lender is ‘covered’ if they have to take the site and manage it themselves for some reason. Near larger populations, it is okay to go higher as, even if a disaster happens, being near a large population means it is more likely that things would eventually work out OK.
It doesn’t matter how you *feel* about them. Currently, the system simply doesn’t allow for construction of your dream homes, where you want them. Developers are simply unable to take these risks.
(This is why builders in more rural areas either stick to the one-off builds (people buy a site and get planning permission to build a standalone house) or they migrate to where the work is, ie the cities.
3. Availability of construction workers
We had a major economic meltdown fifteen years ago, caused in large part by a property bubble. This meant we had a huge number of construction workers who had no opportunity to do their thing. Many of them left for greener pastures and haven’t come back. Many more found other employment and many more still have since retired.
Now, not alone have we a shortage of developers with the capacity to take financial risk, we also have a shortage of blocklayers, chippies, labourers, electricians, plumbers and more. It’s not just a shortage either – it has been difficult over the past fifteen years for ‘new blood’ to get going. The shortage is more like a generational gap – not just in numbers but also in skills. It’s not like turning on a switch and that simply putting up a ‘Jobs’ sign will do the trick. New entrants need to be trained and they need to gain experience. They also have to be comfortable getting into a career which has its ups and downs.
And so, how can developers who would like to tackle the smaller towns and villages hope to pull a team together, in the face of problems 1 and 2 above? Those who are investigating the possibility of getting into development are finding that sub-contractors and workers are very focussed on the cities.
There is a chicken-and-egg problem here. Ironically, many of the rural areas you’d like to buy a house in see unmarked vans leaving very early in the mornings – on a commute to some nearby city to work. The very people needed for a burst of construction activity in rural areas are already there – it’s just that they need to see the real (and very attractive) prospect of work near home, similar to that in the cities, before they would consider refocussing locally or upsetting a ‘good thing’ esewhere. Construction is very much based on networking. If you let someone down to pursue a wild dream and it doesn’t work out – you may find that you have burned a bridge.
(Spoiler Alert: Later blog posts show how the Homebuyer’s Hero model can help developers build the team they need.)
4. The cost of construction is ‘gone bananas’ – a highy technical term
Yes, it’s official. The cost of construction is ‘gone bananas’. Or possibly ‘through the roof’. Provided you could afford to build a roof for it to go through, that is.
Why? Well, take a little sprinkle of ‘pandemic’ and resulting factory shutdowns playing havoc with supply, mix it with strong demand internationally and lightly decorate it with a glut of projects having been delayed and now all starting at once, of course. That all means that larger markets punch harder than we do when it comes to buying.
A little cherry on top then is that government action here is moving the needle – but unfortunately that means that construction projects here are now all fighting against each other for the same toilet seat.
Bummer, eh? Well, yes. We will be keeping a close eye on this here at Homebuyer’s Hero and keeping you updated. The construction cost issue is one which just makes everything a bit worse, but, if we want houses, we will just have to keep going. Likely, for now, in urban areas it will mean smaller houses in more dense developments. It’s not quite the same in quasi-rural areas in that the areas we are targetting are considered non-viable now anyway – but yes, your dream home will likely have to tighten its belt. However, the design could accommodate possible future expansion. Just a thought..
So, there you have it.
4 reasons why your dream home in a rural town or village isn’t being built right now, even though you’re only dying to get your hands on one. Don’t worry. Sign up for our newsletter. We have come up with a new way of doing things and over the next few weeks you can read all about it and get on board the hero train!
We will need your help and we want your input – so stay tuned. Thanks for reading.