DRAW Gerry Coyle says the ability to work from home has drawn a lot of people to Erris and seen an increase in demand for houses there.
ONE of the few silver linings from the pandemic has been the migration of workers from offices in the cities to bedrooms and kitchens in the countryside.
Indeed, for some the ‘old normal’ won’t be coming back. An old normal which may have involved travelling two hours, sitting at a desk until 5pm or 6pm, before arriving home tired and contrary at 7pm or 8pm in the evening.
More and more, there is an acknowledgement and a willingness to explore the potential which exists outside of the urban centres.
The recent repurposing of the old courthouse in Swinford is but one example of the increasing move towards providing high-quality remote working facilities in rural Ireland.
Last September, the front page of The Mayo News reported a 4.2 percent rise in property prices in the county.
Commenting on the news, Catherine McConnell, Director of Services with Mayo County Council noted at a meeting of the council’s Special Policy Committee on Economic Development: “That tells you something about the quality of life people see in Mayo and the desire for people to move back to where they’ve come from.”
Cllr Al McDonnell stated at the same meeting that the Covid-19 pandemic showed that it was ‘no longer desirable to herd people into concentrated urban centres’.
Indeed, it has been anecdotally observed that rural GAA clubs have been togging greater numbers in recent months, with some registering new teams to cater for demand.
The rise in house prices shows no sign of abating. A recent Daft.ie report noted a 25.3 percent leap in the price of a three-bedroom house in the Louisburgh area from pre-Covid figures.
Busiest year ever
THE issue of housing has been subject to passionate and lengthy debate at local authority meetings in recent times.
One councillor who has been present at many of those meetings is Cllr Gerry Coyle, an auctioneer who says he has just had his busiest year ever.
“[The pandemic] been a big boost in the last year for rural areas. We’re flat out,” said the Erris-based county councillor.
“Most of the cheap houses are all gone now. There’s not that many properties for sale. I’d say I had the busiest year ever auctioneering.”
In the past 15 months, Coyle has seen first-hand how the pandemic has caused individuals and families to re-think the lives they were living in densely populated urban areas.
He personally knows people who have swapped endless commutes in the Dublin commuter belt for the comfort of remote working in the splendid wilds of Erris.
Speaking to The Mayo News from his Geesala home while looking out into the Atlantic Ocean, Coyle can testify to the benefits of rural life.
Westport excluded, he says prices in most parts of Mayo remain affordable compared to the national average.
“People are suddenly thinking, they are in a €500,000 house in Dublin, but they could be in a €150,000 house in Belmullet and do the same thing from home,” he says.
“Not alone that, they can work until 5pm and be on holidays at half past five with their dog and their children on the beach. They’re not driving through traffic lights. That’s the difference.
“People aren’t buying the holiday home for the month, like the old way. If they have another house they are staying for a few months,” he adds.
While citing broadband availability and planning laws as impediments, Coyle says adequate investment in broadband infrastructure and remote working hubs can entice young people back to their rural homelands.
“Up to this, the young people were going and they weren’t coming back. The city life took them over. They didn’t think there was enough action in these areas for them. Now they are seeing that there is,” he says.
“God help any poor cratur that was in an apartment in Dublin during lockdown, and no place to go. At least I’m here and I’ve a thousand acres when the tide is gone out!”
Another auctioneer who has observed a notable increase in demand for houses in Mayo is Ballinrobe-based Emma Gill.
Through a combination of increased remote working and unaffordable Galway city prices, Gill says areas such as The Neale, Kilmaine, Shrule and Headford are seeing acute interest.
She cites one example of a house in Shrule which began with asking price of €195,000 before going for €250,000 after a ‘massive bidding war’ ensued.
“We had a few very busy viewings, we would have had a mixture of local people and people local to the area who been working in Dublin in the last three years and got the ‘OK’ to work from home,” she says.
“We also have people moving out from Galway city, so we had a much larger umbrella of people looking at this particular property than you would have had this time last year.”
Broadband – an issue also frequently cited by Gerry Coyle – can also be a deal-breaker for many prospective buyers, according to Emma Gill.
The Ballinrobe woman says that many prospective buyers say they will have more flexible working arrangements after the pandemic. This is something she says people are now considering when buying a home.
“It would be [a big issue] because often there are two working from home. People are looking for a slightly bigger house now because there’s two of them working from home and they’re taking into account what is required for an office,” she says.
“That might be another [reason for] people moving out from Galway, because originally they were looking at a three-bed semi in Galway and now they are looking at a four-bed house in Ballinrobe.”