Covid-19 travel restrictions have helped many workers to realise the potential of working from home rather than daily commutes into congested cities.
During the lockdown, work that was once done in high-rise offices in Dublin was being completed with equal efficiency in small rural towns like Ballinrobe, where the cost of living is considerably less.
Local auctioneer Emma Gill says that she has recently seen increased demand for rural properties from clients who had slaved in Dublin for many years - many of them unwilling or unable to purchase a property in the capital.
Speaking to The Mayo News, Emma says: “We had people coming down from Dublin who’d been trying to work from home for years but hadn’t been sanctioned by their employers. With the pandemic, it has brought along that it could happen. It has actually increased sales for rural properties. People are coming out of the cities looking to buy them.”
The cancelling of in-person viewings during the worst days of the lockdown meant that the auctioneering trade almost ground to a halt for over two months. However, since reopening on June 8 business has picked up again and demand is as high as ever, despite initial uncertainty from buyers.
Speaking about the dark days of mid-March, Emma says: “It was very negative. We had a number of ‘sale agreed’ properties that fell through, I suppose people had fear built into them. But thankfully come April-May time we managed to secure a lot of them through the vendor, be it a reduction in price or no reduction.
“[We thought that the pandemic] was going to have similar effects to 2008 and people weren’t going to go with the price that was originally agreed on. But since we opened in June we’ve been extremely busy.”
While demand for commercial outlets in Ballinrobe is very slow, demand for sales and rentals remains as high as it ever was.
Lack of supply
Emma says that this is down to a major lack of supply which existed before Covid-19, coupled with the ongoing economic uncertainty and lack of building activity.
“The supply of properties coming on the market has actually decreased,” says Emma, who also runs offices in Galway city and Clarinbridge as part of the Property Partners group.
“We’re searching for properties to come onto the market because we’ve buyers eagerly awaiting with approval. That’s not helping the figures. You’d imagine that there’d be the same supply out there but it’s just a worrying time for vendors to put their property on the market.”
While Emma fears that the expected oncoming unemployment crisis may soften demand, she says that the trend towards working home could ‘absolutely’ breath new life into towns like Ballinrobe.
Persistently high prices in Galway city have resulted in more people moving to the South Mayo town in recent years, a trend which Emma expects is likely to continue.
“We’re becoming a commuting town because of this. People have been coming down from Galway because supply is not out there.
“People are moving from Galway to reside in Ballinrobe because they’re working from home or commuting but we haven’t the supply of property to meet their demands. It’s something that’s been happening the last number of years but even moreso now,” she says.
“I think it took [Covid-19] for employers to see that the same level of work can be done at home as opposed to being in the office,” she adds.
“[Employers] have seen that they can save on costs commercially. [Employees] are getting more work done because they’re more satisfied because they’ve been looking for this for years.
“There’s certainly some that have been told that if they wanted to work from home that they’d have to work one or two days up in Dublin … people seem to be working around that.
“Even the cost of that versus the cost of living in Dublin is a lot less, and they’ve a better standard of living down here. During the Covid pandemic they’ve realised more so that this wasn’t the life for them.”