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Covid opening up ‘bolthole’ opportunities in the west

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ISLAND LIFE Property prices are deemed to be reasonable in Achill, remote working is a possibility and people see the island as a 'bolthole' opportunity, according to auctioneer Joe Mulligan (inset). Holiday makers are pictured in August enjoying Keel Beach.  Pic: Conor McKeown

Achill

Anton McNulty

In mid July, Achill-based auctioneer, Joe Mulligan of Achill Island Property posted on the company’s Instagram account seeking property to put on the market such was the demand. Lockdown was just lifted and after weeks stuck inside their overpriced homes in the Dublin suburbs, people were looking for an escape or to use a phrase from property jargon, a ‘bolthole’ in the west.
Fast forward a couple of weeks and Joe says the interest in people looking to buy property in places like Achill has not abated.
“Interest has risen significantly since June 29 for all types of property. It has been an incredibly busy two months, I’m glad to say and it has been a positive market environment for both venders and purchasers.
“The whole thing with Covid seems to be making people more conscious as to regards the opportunities of remote working and the property prices in Achill are deemed to be value for money. It seems to be the case that people are looking for a potential bolthole and see Achill as an opportunity,” Joe told The Mayo News.
“The conversations with buyers have changed alot now, it is not just about sea-views, it is about access to broadband. There are increased conversations with families looking at potential moves who are looking at school options in the area.
“Covid has potentially created alot more interest in rural areas, not only Achill but rural areas in general. Without a doubt it has had a positive impact on the property market in Achill.”
With many employees encouraged to work from home during the lockdown, it gave many people the opportunity to explore the possibility of working from home full-time. With greater access to broadband becoming more widely available in rural areas, the constraints associated with living in a rural community as opposed to a large urban centre are reducing.

No connection
While some people enquiring about buying property in Achill are natives to the parish, Joe says the majority have no connection to the area other than visiting on holiday. He adds that the demographic vary from people in their late 20s to octogenarians but they are mainly Irish and believes that 90 percent are genuine about purchasing.
“The two major deciding factors are value for money in the property they are buying and the ability to work and make a living whether it is remotely or locally.
“Overall the majority are visitors to Achill who may have been coming on holidays for years and may now be looking at making the decision of making Achill more of a base. Changing trends among employers to allow people to work remotely are allowing people to think of the likes of Achill as an ideal base so they can come down here and still continue to make a living and be in a safe environment.
“The main issue with people would be the remoteness because depending where you are on the island you are 45 minutes to an hour from Castlebar or Westport. But for those who are serious about moving, [they] balance that off against the benefits of living on the island. We have a welcoming community, available broadband and in schools we have a healthy student teacher ratio.
“Depending on their rational behind the move, remoteness while it is an issue, is not the deciding factor in most cases.”

Strict planning
One obstacle for people moving west is the strict planning rules which prevent people with no connection to the area from building one-off housing and so more attracted to buying buildings which they can renovate and make habitable again.
One of the reasons Joe put up the message looking for property to sell is because there is not enough properties for sale to meet the current interest.
“Theres a steady supply of property on the market but I have a long list of interested parties looking for particular types of properties. The traditional cottage is a much sought after type of property but right now there are none on the island in habitable condition and there are alot of people looking for them.
“A conversation I frequently have with interested parties who contact me is about the large number of vacant properties that are on the island with nothing been done with them. They have the aspiration to bring them back to life and reinvigorate the property. But people like to hold onto their family homes and ancestral homes that they have a emotional connection to.
“But the demand is extremely strong in Achill [for housing] and I would see that continue into the future.”