Opinion: American buyers contribute to Ireland’s estate market

Elaina Sauber

Elaina Sauber

Elaina Sauber is a senior English major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].

Living off campus comes at a hefty price, most often in the form of rent payments. Paying rent becomes even more frustrating when you realize you’re paying way too much for an apartment with paper-thin walls or a house with black mold in the kitchen. But these are valuable learning experiences for later on, as you actually begin to think about buying a home of your own. And if you have particularly big plans, who’s to say you can’t find your dream home or dream castle?

When the real-estate bubble burst in 2008, many development plans in the Republic of Ireland were brought to a screeching halt. One of the biggest contributors to Ireland’s economy is tourism. In 2011, for example, more than 6 million tourists visited the country, compared to its own population of around 4.5 million. Five years after the market collapse, many of Ireland’s castles and manors are now being sold to overseas buyers. According to The New York Times, “Many of the properties are changing hands for about a third of 2007 levels, thanks to the country’s exodus of property developers, many of which failed when the market collapsed.” Many of these buyers are Americans like John Malone, a 72 year-old billionaire and chairman of Liberty Global, who bought Humewood Castle in County Wicklow. Malone paid “around eight million euros, or roughly $10 million for the 32,668-square-foot granite Victorian Gothic bastion, built in the 1860s.” That same property had sold in 2006 for 25 million euros by an Irish developer who had planned to develop it as a luxury resort, with a golf course included.

In fact, many of the overseas buyers in Ireland’s country mansion market are Americans, many of whom first visited Ireland to explore ancestral roots and became smitten with the country. Last year, James E. Thompson, founder of the Crown Worldwide Group, did just that and bought Woodhouse, “a country home with about 400 acres outside Stradbally in County Waterford, reportedly for under 6.5 million euros.”

The market for high-end estates is still small because most of the buyers are international, and the country itself is about the size of West Virginia. However, according to Harriet Grant, head of country house and estate sales at the broker Savills Ireland in Dublin, “After four or five years of absolute stagnancy in the market, prices have come down to a level deemed to be good value; the economy is steadying, and suddenly you have international buyers taking note of Ireland.”

It’s definitely a little frustrating to read about billionaires purchasing castles in Ireland. The rest of us simply can’t relate to them and will likely never see that kind of money. However, I applaud these purchases because they bring much-needed attention to Ireland’s economy, which has been struggling to return to normality since 2008. I also encourage the idea of maintaining buildings with historical significance, as many of Ireland’s castles and manors have been standing for centuries. As Mr. Malone put it, “I didn’t buy Humewood as a financial investment. It’s an act of love rather than financial acumen.”