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A personal housing plan: Move to Newry, buy for €150,000 less, commute to Dublin

A commute from Newry two or three days a week could be worth it for millennials priced out of the Republic

It is well documented that prospective first-time buyers in the Republic, most of whom are aged from their late 20s to early 40s, are struggling to buy a home. There are those trying to save for a deposit by living with their parents well into their 30s – an option only for those with family homes close to their places of work, and indeed for those with parents who own a big enough home themselves – while others deposit the lion’s share of their wages into their landlord’s bank account each month.

Trying to buy a house can be a soul-destroying endeavour for anyone without access to the so-called “bank of mum and dad” and, as a scroll through the Instagram stories of anyone in that age cohort shows, many get fed up with the housing situation here and go abroad.

For those who decide to stay in Ireland, high prices require them to compromise. Speaking to those travelling to Dublin for work from the surrounding counties, a commute of at least an hour each way is par for the course. The pain has been eased for some at least by the emergence of hybrid-working practices in the wake of the pandemic.

Those determined to buy may be forced to find creative solutions. In the office of The Irish Times alone there are employees taking up to 2¼-hour train journeys to reach Tara Street. Given those travel times, might it be an option to work in the capital but explore house-buying options in the North where the median price of a home is much lower? The Irish Times began its search just across the Border in Newry, a city that sits within a commutable distance of Dublin.

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Relative value

“I certainly wouldn’t be seeing huge swathes of people that would be Dubliners or people from Navan or Maynooth or whatever the case might be, suddenly figuring that Newry would be the place to go and live,” says Adrian Doran, estate agent at Best Property, based in Newry.

“Even though the value is significantly better here than what it would be down south, depending on what area you’re talking about,” he adds.

“For example, a new three-bed semi up in Newry here, you’ll probably be buying at between £200,000-£250,000 [€232,500-€290,700]. I’m assuming that that price would be maybe around the €400,000 to €450,000 [in the Republic] within a commutable distance to Dublin.”

The average house price in Northern Ireland, according to the quarterly reports of its Land & Property Services, stood at £175,599 over the 12 months of 2023 – equivalent to about €204,260 – while the median house price in the Republic for the same period was €327,500, according to Central Statistics Office figures. Although calculated as an average in the North and a median in the Republic, therefore not allowing for a direct comparison, the lower pricing across the Border is notable.

Newry is about 100km from the M50. For commuters to Dublin, Newry train station is about a five-minute drive or a 10-minute cycle from the city centre. It currently provides a 6.35am commuter service scheduled to arrive at Dublin Connolly at 8.19am (one hour and 44 minutes) and a 7.42am intercity service scheduled to reach Connolly at 9.02am (one hour and 20 minutes). For those willing to do the early-morning commute by car, it can take anywhere between an hour and 15 minutes to two hours to reach Dublin city centre via the M1.

However, when I speak to civil servant Niall Campbell (24) on his way home to Newry after a day’s work in Dublin, he is on a Translink bus going through the Port Tunnel. When he first got a job in Dublin, he took the train scheduled to arrive in Connolly at 9.02am, but he found it unreliable, and says it would rarely arrive in Dublin before 9.15am. He says he is hopeful the train line will become faster, more frequent and more reliable when the multimillion-euro investment into the Belfast-to-Dublin line, announced by the European Union’s Peace Plus programme in April, comes into play.

From Newry originally, and having completed a master’s degree at the University of Galway, Campbell returned, with his girlfriend, to his native city, where they rent a flat for the equivalent of what it would cost to rent a room in a shared house in Dublin, he says.

A search on Northern Ireland site PropertyPal.com shows just one apartment currently available to rent in Newry, a two-bed at £650 per month (€755), while the closest in price to that in Dublin currently advertised on MyHome.ie is a double bedroom in a shared two-bedroom apartment in Dún Laoghaire for €1,000 a month.

The commute is tiring though, Campbell notes, and he has found it better to stagger his days in the office to avoid exhaustion.

Comparison

To choose a home typically of interest to first-time buyers, I look to a recent Irish Times Property Clinic in which estate agent and SCSI member Ed Carey advised a reader to opt for a house in a commuter town for the long term rather than a city apartment for the short term.

So, to take a three-bedroom semidetached home, for example, how do asking prices compare in Co Kildare, popular with commuters to Dublin, with similar homes in Newry?

For second-hand three-bed semis in move-in-ready condition with an energy rating of C or above, asking prices on MyHome.ie for Kildare show prices starting at €300,000 in Monasterevin, going up to €535,000 in Leixlip – with the median price of 24 such houses standing at €396,000.

For comparison, 40 Hillcrest Way is on the market in the village of Bessbrook about 5km northwest of Newry, and a five-minute drive or 10-minute cycle from Newry train station. In turnkey condition with a B energy performance certificate, it is on the market with Best Property seeking £209,950 (€244,000). The asking price, therefore, is an eye-watering €150,000 less than the median price for similar houses in Co Kildare.

That being said, it may not be as straightforward as simply grabbing a (relative) bargain across the Border when you take into account the challenges involved.

Challenges

Firstly, buyers from the Republic should note that stamp duty in the North is charged at a higher rate (adding 2 per cent) for non-UK residents. For properties priced between £250,001-£925,000, stamp duty is charged at 5 per cent for residents, meaning it would be 7 per cent including the surcharge for non-residents.

When it comes to income-tax obligations, Belfast-based estate agent Simon Brien of Simon Brien Residential – recently acquired by Sherry FitzGerald – explains those who retain their job in the Republic continue to pay income tax there, and they will also be required to submit a UK tax return. However, anecdotally speaking, due to higher income tax rates in the Republic, people are rarely required to pay additional income tax in the North, he adds. You would also be charged “rates” to the local authority to fund public services.

It is securing a mortgage for a property in Northern Ireland that seems to be the largest obstacle for people working in the Republic seeking to buy a house there. A Google search throws up little information on securing a foreign currency mortgage suitable for those paid in euro.

When asked about a prospective applicant working in the Republic looking to apply for a mortgage across the Border, UK lender NatWest said: “We can consider an application where a customer’s main place of residence is the UK, but [who] work[s] routinely outside the UK, however we need to be satisfied that their main place of residence is in fact the UK [primary bank account in the UK, proof of address, etc].”

“It should be noted that we can look at accepting foreign currencies [some exclusions apply], but the customer must still be primarily resident in the UK,” it added.

The requirement to be resident in the UK would prohibit many first-time buyers based in the Republic from attempting to get a mortgage in the North. However, mortgage broker Anthony Reavey of Reavey Financial Services, located five miles from the Border in Newry, says it’s best to avoid the big lenders.

“The best mortgage lender for this is the Progressive Building Society,” he advises.

“The problem with NatWest and with a lot of the other lenders is their systems are set up to do a UK credit search, so if you’re living in Co Louth or Co Meath or Dublin, you don’t have an address that they can search against.

“So, the Progressive are happy that you request your own credit report from the Central Credit Register and providing that that shows that your credit history is good at your address [in the Republic], they’re happy enough with that,” he says.

According to Reavey it’s not as complicated to get a mortgage across the Border as it may seem, although, he admits, “maybe that’s easy for me to say because this is what we’re dealing with day in, day out”.

Since Covid, and the introduction of hybrid-working practices, he has noted an increase in the number of buyers from the Republic moving to the North who have no familial connections there.

That trend is yet to be seen by Doran however, who says: “If, at the end of the day, you’re from Meath or Offaly or Wexford or whatever the case may be, moving up North probably is a bit of a bit of a jump into the unknown and maybe that’s holding people back too.”

Whether unattainable house prices will lead to a notable shift of millennials moving from the Republic to the North remains to be seen, but the value is certainly enticing for those worn down by the market.

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