Archive for August 26, 2020

Home in Ireland

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth with tags , , , on August 26, 2020 by telescoper

Just after 5pm yesterday I got a phone call from my solicitor telling me that all the formalities relating to my purchase of a house had been completed and the keys had been released. That gave me just enough time to finish what I was doing and head to the Estate Agent before they closed to get the keys. When I got there I found that a card and a bottle of wine were included, which was nice.

So now I own a house in Ireland, a rather lovely bungalow to be precise. It’s rather empty at the moment but I’ll be moving things in gradually over the next few days from my flat which I have until the end of the month. It will still be rather empty after I’ve done that because a lot of my stuff is still in Wales. I’ll have to figure out a plan to get over there and arrange to have it moved here to Ireland, though the timing of  that is rather dependent on Covid-19 restrictions…

I have bought and sold properties in England (and Wales) a few times. The process here in Ireland as many similarities but also some differences. One big difference is the auction process. Estate agents here in Ireland are generally called auctioneers, actually. In order to register to bid you have to first show that you have the necessary funds and then you can place a bid online and then there’s a genuine auction, with bid and counter-bid. It’s easy in an auction to get drawn in so far that you end up spending more than you wanted to, so I decided on an absolutely upper limit on how high I would go. Fortunately on the house I ended up buying the bidding stopped well below that.

There are a few other differences. One is that stamp duty is just 1% in Ireland (for properties up to €1M) whereas in England it is much more complicated but for a property  in England of similar value to mine it would be 5%. Incidentally there is also a Local Property Tax (LPT) based on the value of your home – similar to the old system of rates in the UK. The amount payable however is much lower, which is why local councils have so little money in Ireland and many services are privately run. You have to pay a private refuse and recycling company to deal with your garbage, for example. Which reminds me that I have to organize that.

I have to say I found the business of getting a mortgage a bit painful. Banks in Ireland are still saddled with bad mortgage debt from the time of the Credit Crunch about a decade ago so they are extremely cautious. I had to supply a huge amount of paperwork – about my income, savings, previous residences, etc  – before the bank agreed to lend me money. Then the Covid-19 lockdown intervened and by the time we got moving again, in June, I had to supply all that information again because the documents were then out of date.

You also have to take out mortgage protection insurance, a form of life insurance policy. For that I had to have a full medical examination – the second such I’ve had in three years. (The previous one was when I joined the staff here at Maynooth). There’s also buildings insurance. If I have one word of advice for anyone thinking of buying a house in Ireland it is to do with the insurance policies. Banks and other lenders tend to be tied agents of certain insurance companies so if you ask your mortgage lender to arrange the insurance they will go with one company. When I did that I found the policies were at least 50% more expensive than the market rate. Fortunately I was able to get some local advice and got mine sorted independently at a very much more reasonable cost than those offered by the bank itself.

Other than that the business of mortgages and valuations and surveys and Land Registry is all tediously familiar.

One of the good things about having lived in Maynooth for a while before buying a house is that I know people who can give local recommendations. The solicitor who did the conveyancing was very efficient and competent, though it was very strange doing everything by Zoom, including witnessing the signing of documents!

Once I’d had my offer accepted, the process of actually taking possession of the house took about two months. I’m told that is exceptionally fast as these things go in Ireland, but the vendor and I both wanted to move quickly – I really wanted to get everything sorted before the start of term – and we were both prepared to nag the various people involved to make it happen.

Now all I have to is to arrange with the various utilities companies to have accounts switched to my name, notify various changes of address, buy some bits and bobs, and finish the moving of my gear. Lots to do, but it’s a nice feeling to have my own place once again.

P.S. I bought a piano from the vendor, but it badly needs tuning!




Back to School

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19, Education, Maynooth with tags , , , , on August 26, 2020 by telescoper

News that primary and secondary schools in Ireland are re-opening this week reminded me of this picture I saw a year ago:

I suppose the items on display there provide one way of dealing with the stress of worrying whether re-opening will result in a large increase in Covid-19 cases!

Meanwhile the Third Level sector is also preparing to re-open. Although we have another month to go before teaching is supposed to restart at Maynooth University, I’m already getting quite a few emails from students asking what things are going to be like when it resumes in September. All I can answer is what our plans are, but whether or not we can put those plans into practice depends crucially on things outside my control, including local factors (such as the number of students taking each module) and national factors (especially the restrictions intended to prevent the spread of Covid-19).

On the first matter we’ll have to wait until students register which, for first years will be very late in the day because of the delayed leaving certificate results this year. We will know a bit sooner about returning students, but even for them it will be a couple of weeks or so.

The national picture is even more uncertain. As of yesterday, the average number of new Covid-19 cases per day over the last 7 days was an uncomfortably high 103.6:

Over the next month will the local lockdown in Kildare carry on? What will be the impact of schools’ reopening? Will the national Covid-19 picture improve or deteriorate? Although at this stage we plan to resume (partly) campus-based teaching on September 28th, but we have to accept that if things take a turn for the worse we might not be able to do that and will instead have to go online. We’ll just have to wait and see.

That doesn’t help students, of course, because they have to make decisions about accommodation and travel. It’s a very awkward and stressful situation for them but I think the only way to approach the queries I’m getting is to tell the truth. Sometimes “I don’t know” is the only honest answer.

At least my own preparations are proceeding. I’ve just had my own tensor barrier put in. This is intended to deter people from wandering into my office and spreading their germs. I don’t think the installation is finished yet, however, as it doesn’t seem to be connected to the mains electricity.