‘Forget the American dream – it’s the Dutch dream!’: Your housing abroad stories

LAST WEEK WE shared 90 housing stories from our readers across Ireland. 

The stories came as the country deals yet again with a conversation about housing. Supply issues, the Covid-19 pandemic and the recent news about investment funds buying up rental houses have led to another national reckoning with access to housing.

Last week, people told us about their renting, buying, homelessness, HAP, selling and sharing experiences in Ireland. They wrote about issues finding houses, being priced out of their home county, and about finding their dream home.

This week, we look at what life is like living abroad. We asked readers to share their housing abroad stories – how it compared to their experiences in Ireland; how much rent is; what rights renters have; and what the buying process is like. 

Some chose to use their name, but others wanted to remain anonymous. While some people had a positive experience, others highlighted that high house prices are not an Irish-only issue.  

Now with two babies and both of us self employed, our mortgage approval dropped to €147,000 - despite the rent we’d been paying for the last number of years being more than the mortgage repayment. (27)

Malmö, Sweden: ‘The housing market is competitive, but prices are low’

“We had been renting in Dublin and moved to Malmö, Sweden in mid 2018. We rented second-hand as there are queues for first-hand rentals here and they can be very long, some are three years.

“Getting a mortgage was easy here, the banks offer 85% of the sale value, and we signed for a house at the start of 2019. We are looking to move to something bigger in the near future and have already secured a loan offer. The market is very competitive here and houses are going for well over asking price. We are very lucky here as the prices for houses are low compared to Ireland.

“There is an option for people when looking to buy here where you buy into a co-op of sorts and you have the right to live in the house, but there is a board who organises all the amenities for the area. It makes it more affordable to many people to buy this way.”

The Algarve: ‘The cost of living is up to 30% cheaper than Ireland’

“I over-winter in the Algarve where I rent every year. Algarvians welcome non-Portuguese residents from any country as will be obvious from its Non-Habitual Residency unique tax arrangements, beneficial to such non-residents.

“The cost of living is between 25% -30% cheaper (apart from the price of property, golf and cars) and, most of all, the temperature is about C5 warmer on average every day.”

Siobhan, the Netherlands: ‘I constantly thank my lucky stars I live here’

“I currently live in the Netherlands. I’m really glad you’re covering this topic as I felt so strongly about it, I left Ireland.

“I have lived in the Netherlands for nearly three years now and I absolutely love it! Myself and my husband bought a house here last year after renting for two years. We live there with our son.

“The process was very simple: you apply for your mortgage and are given one depending on how much you earn. The Dutch encourage you to buy as they are of the opinion that if you own your own home, you are more likely to take care of it, which is true.

“The Dutch take great pride in their surroundings. The parks, streets and towns are beautifully kept and there always seems to be some form of maintenance going on. Also if you want to make home improvements you get tax back for doing so.

“The prices are reaching a peak right now but it’s never out of control, something I unfortunately cannot say about Ireland. I felt I had to leave as myself and my husband were both working full time (often gone from the house for up to 12 hours a day) working hard only to find ourselves treading water financially. It was a situation of continual frustration for me as our rent was high making it difficult to save and I felt we would never own our own home if we stayed there.

“I was also becoming completely and utterly disgusted with our government and their lack of interest in putting any sort of cap on the rent fiasco. Also paying a high tax rate and not seeing anything in return.

“Here in the Netherlands you work, you pay your taxes, do the right thing and you see the benefits every single day. This country is extremely organised and it’s a real pleasure to live here. I have made great friends, I have a fabulous job, we own our own house, we’re happy, my son is happy and I constantly thank the stars that I live here. Forget the American dream, it should be called the Dutch dream!”

UK: ‘I’m moving – and can rent a two-bed apartment for €500 a month’

“Although I’m still in Dublin at the moment I have taken up a job offer in the UK and will be emigrating this summer. I have already looked into apartments there and I’m honestly shook at the difference; who knew that there’s actual places of good quality to live in? I’m paying €800 a month here for a double room and sharing with five people. In the UK I will be paying €500 for an entire apartment for myself WITH AN EXTRA BEDROOM.

“I did not want to leave Ireland as I am a homebird and like being close to family, but I cannot stay here any longer – there is no hope for a house on my own even though I am working a good stable job.

“You’d think that with a degree and a good job you should be able to afford these things but that’s not the case in Ireland. It’s desperate. I’ve already had online viewings for five places and I’ve only been looking a week, there is no shortage of places to live.”

Glasgow: ‘Many young people here move out of home and into their first purchase’

“I bought a flat here in the west end of Glasgow and moved in in January 2021. I first came here in 2016 and prior to that had never had any realistic hope of buying a place as a single person in the freelance world.

“When I started my job here I realised that so many people had their own flat. A lot of the junior staff members had moved out of their parents houses and into their first purchase. I found that mind-blowing!

“Of course the property market here is not straightforward and the Scottish system takes time to navigate, but at least you know that with a bit of persistence you can get there.”

John, Barcelona: ‘Housing supply issues and Airbnb rentals have pushed up prices’

“I have lived in Barcelona for the past 10 years and bought a property here in 2014 when prices were really low, so my mortgage is around €450 per month. I feel very thankful I bought when I did because rents in Barcelona have risen exponentially over the past few years because of housing supply issues and Airbnb rentals pushing up prices.

“I would certainly not have been able to buy the flat I live in today at the current market prices, even though prices have dropped a little because of Covid. Like Ireland, Spain has a culture of property ownership. Buying property means paying 10% stamp duty so people tend to buy for life and stay in the one place. Mortgages in Spain are usually max 80% of the property value so it can be difficult to build up enough savings to get on the ladder. I suspect the bank of mum and dad is what enables many to get on the ladder.

“To rent a property in Spain you need to typically put up a two-month deposit, plus one month commission for the rental agency, so that is not a cheap option. I would recommend buying if you can. P

“Pros of living in Spain include the great weather, rich culture, relaxed lifestyle and a lower cost of living compared to Ireland. But the cons include low salaries, high taxes (higher than Ireland), water taxes (I pay €240 per year for water), high stamp duty making it expensive to sell and buy properties.”

South Germany: ‘Our rent has been €1,100 for the past nine years’

“I am living in South Germany for the past nine years, with my wife and daughter. We rent a house (three stories over basement) which is 193m2. We found the house through a letting agent. When we met with the landlord, (who gets the final say of who is permitted to occupy the property) they offered us the option of staying in the house for a few days to see if it was a good fit for us.

“We paid two months deposit which the landlord is obliged to lodge into a bank account and any interest it gains over the period of our residency is returned to us on vacating the premises. The house was presented to us in immaculate condition, and we are obliged to return to the landlord in exactly the same way when we leave. The detached house has a private entrance, yard, two sheds, a car port, and a large garden.

“The total rental cost is €1100 per month, and that hasn’t changed in the nine years. It is situated in the middle of a town with a population of 10,000 people. Also the landlord is obliged to pay water charges and bin charges. The house was completely unfurnished, which was perfect for us, as we had all our furniture from Ireland.

“The biggest difference between Ireland and Germany is 63% of the German population rent. Tenants have great protection and stronger rights than the landlord. While the property is worth almost a million euros, it hasn’t changed the rent value. German landlords tend to have tenants for many years. The quality of the four-bedroomed house is excellent.

“Finally, if we ever had any technical issues the landlord is obliged by law to take action within a certain time frame after notification. The rental system in Germany, from my experience is superb compared to Ireland.

“We are currently trying to return to Ireland and had considered renting in the Wicklow/Wexford area. I was shocked to see that it’s very rare can you find a 4-bedroomed detached property; anything that is available is a three-bedroomed semi detached house or smaller, in really poor order, furnished with old shoddy beds and furniture; any landlord advertising for weekly rent payments shouldn’t be permitted; house sizes in ireland are tiny and rental costs are absolutely insane.

“So we have decided to purchase because the costs of a mortgage work out cheaper than paying rent.”

Boston, USA: ‘We bought our house in 2019 and it’s already gone up in value’

“I moved to the US in 2008 and rented for the first 11 years. Had issues with mortgages because we did not have green cards and banks won’t touch you without a proper visa. Bought a house in 2019 that has already gone up in value by 10-15% – house prices in Boston are nuts.

“Renting in Boston was fine. Yearly leases with renewing not a problem. There are a lot of up front payments as you usually have to pay the renting agent a month’s rent as a fee and this is a big barrier to moving. This is along with first month’s rent and another month’s deposit so in a city where a two-bed is close to $2500, you have to have $7500 to move.

“One weird thing is that you move out the day your lease is up and move into the new house the next day so there is a night where you are essentially homeless. We managed to work around this the two times that we moved but it was a little stressful. Some people end up storing their stuff in trucks or in pods overnight. Also, everyone moves on September 1 which is also so strange.

“Mortgage rates are low and there are no restrictions on term no matter what age you are, which means that you can keep payments relatively low. Anyone who owns a house has to pay property tax which varies from 0.9-1.5% of the value of the house every year and this is usually blended into your mortgage payment so if you have a mortgage of $2300/month, your actual payment will usually be about $1k more once you add in tax and insurance which all goes to the bank. It’s great to finally own a house but it would have been better to buy 10 years ago when prices were half what they are now.”

Vancouver, Canada: ‘I moved back to Ireland because rent and the cost of living is so high there’

“I’m a 25-year-old woman who recently had to move back to Ireland from Vancouver because their cost of living and housing is a whole lot worse.

“Getting a mortgage over there costs 70% more than in Ireland and my rent was the equivalent of €1000 a month to live in my landlady’s basement OUTSIDE of the city. Another couple also lived in their own ‘apartment’ next to me in the same basement, we just didn’t have a door into each other’s sections.

“I work quite a well paid job from home so luckily was able to move back to Ireland. I tried to find better living situations in Canada but it was impossible. The quality of their housing is a lot worse than Ireland too. The walls were incredibly thin and fragile both in my own and in friends’ homes so you could hear every sound and they were quite cold, and internet was extortionately priced.

“Moving back to Ireland was the best choice I made, I actually found a house fairly fast in Cork and I’m paying much less than what I was in Vancouver for an actual house with a lot more space.

“I wasn’t even allowed to use a parking space or the garden in Vancouver at all and this is very common. All places come unfurnished so you’ve to buy all your own furniture too and make sure you get rid of it before leaving or you don’t get those deposit back.

“From listening to friends who did try to get a mortgage there, you basically have to bid as high as you can and hope that you’ve bid the highest but it’s near impossible. Housing prices are rising rapidly over there as well and anyone I know who does have a mortgage had to go through a ton of renovations to even make it habitable so it didn’t sound worth the cost at all and they are all in terrible debt now.”

Now with two babies and both of us self employed, our mortgage approval dropped to €147,000 - despite the rent we’d been paying for the last number of years being more than the mortgage repayment. (25)

Mark, Malmo, Sweden: ‘Rent and bills are €640 a month between two of us’

“We live in a 59 m² apartment, with kitchen, bedroom, living room and balcony. Importantly, the apartments here are well heated and soundproofed. We live in a lovely neighbourhood a 10 minute walk from the city centre. It costs 5,995 SEK, or roughly €590 a month. Amazingly, this includes all heating and bin costs too, and you get use of the communal laundry facilities. We only have to pay electricity and internet on top of that, so it works out about €640 a month between the two of us.

“It was pretty easy to find the place through a Facebook ad and had it set up before we moved here.

“Renting is huge in Sweden. Despite lots of privatisation in the last 20 years, public housing companies provide the most of the housing here. Although they now function more like private companies and have to turn a profit to ensure they receive public funding, they still have to abide by the universal Swedish principle of housing for the benefit of everyone (‘Allmännytta’). This brings with it a whole range of protection for renters, such as rent caps, long-term rental contracts and high-quality, well-managed properties.

“As a result, it’s really common to find families as well as single people that rent here long term. This neoliberal restructuring here has made housing the target of much criticism by more critical researchers, but it’s just incredible how streets ahead of the situation in Ireland it is. The long Swedish history of protected renting means it is probably a bit of a fallacy to compare the situation in Sweden to Ireland, but it makes for depressing comparisons nonetheless.

“Myself and my girlfriend lived with her parents until I left at 26 and she followed me over last year. In Dublin, we would be paying triple the price for something of half the quality of our apartment, with a long commute to the city centre on top of that. We have considered moving back when I finish my masters here next month but the housing situation is the number one reason why that is neither realistic or sensible.”

CD, Melbourne, Australia: ‘Our apartment has a gym, sauna, pool and jacuzzis and costs €110 per week’

“I live in Melbourne CBD, genuinely smack back the middle of the city, so prime location. I rent a one-bed apartment with my girlfriend and it has everything you could dream of.

“Top class gym/sauna, cinema,golf simulator, integrated bbq area, infinity pool and two massive spa Jacuzzis with panoramic views to die for on the 38th floor.

“I found the place in three days and then a week late I moved in. Rent works out around €110 per week ( I gave my mother more living in the box room in Dublin)

“The rental market here in Melbourne has a lot to offer, due to the lack of international travellers since Covid came about, so it worked out in my favour.”

Matt, Berlin: ‘It’s a renter’s city’

“Having moved to Berlin in 2013, I found it quite easy to get an apartment. Within days of arriving in Berlin, I went to various viewings (within the Ring Bahn, pretty central) and had a few choices of places I could take – all with very affordable rents of €600 for a whole apartment.

“I decided to defer for a few months until I got a better feel for the city and was able to take up the lease from a friend who was leaving. This is where I lived until 2019 and I was paying €736 a month (not including bills) for a one-bedroom apartment in a lovely area close to a lot of amenities like parks, bars, restaurants and public transport – very liveable.

“I was earning a decent wage, so my rent was 20% of my income. To put that into perspective – if I was to have the same set up in Dublin I would be paying around 50% of my income towards rent.

“Berlin is a renter’s city, and strict controls have been put in place to control rent and keep the vultures out. The federal government work for the people as opposed to the wealthy, especially in Berlin. Perhaps this is a part of their socialist influences coming from East Germany. A friend of mine took lease of a brand new luxury apartment in Stadtmitte, right in the centre of Berlin for a whopping €1,700 a month. That’s considered very expensive over there.”

Sydney, Australia: ‘I was earning more than twice my monthly rent every week’

“I was in Australia for a year – I left Ireland as I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, and worked in Sydney mainly doing labouring work. I was on $1500 a week after tax, rent was less than $750 per month on a house share. We are absolutely getting fleeced in Ireland.

“I would love to go back one day but with my mother being old, I’ll be in Ireland for hopefully a while yet.”

Copenhagen: ‘We live in a cooperative block of apartments’

“In general, you need to be Danish, living in Denmark for over five years or be able to document strong family ties to the country to be able to buy property. The system’s not perfect but there is a mentality that they are not just properties, but homes.

“Myself and my Danish partner essentially live in a cooperative block of 32 apartments (andelslejlighed). The building is valued (in a standardised process, consistent with these type of buildings) and we have bought a share of it with the right to occupy our apartment (80m2). We could get a mortgage for the share just like if we were buying a property outright. Keeping in mind that wages are higher here, our share cost approx. €220,000 euro, which is good for a two-bedroom, reasonably popular suburb of Copenhagen, close enough to cycle to the centre of town, maybe comparable to Marino.

“We pay about €500 monthly for the building’s upkeep, shared garden maintenance, property tax, water, wifi, bins etc. It is also a deposit for our heating costs which we get refunded if we don’t use it. Electricity we pay separately.

“The amount we paid for our share is about half of what a similar apartment with ‘full’ ownership would be (ejerlejlighed) but essentially our apartment is for us to do with as we please. The price of the share is set and when we sell, we cannot legally accept more than the valuation of the share. It is not sold on the free market and therefore not prone to significant short term increases or decreases (although both are possible over time).

“If we invest in improvements in our apartment we can keep the receipts and request that it be added to the price of our share. Again, all improvements are assessed consistently by an independent person when we sell. These improvements will depreciate over time so you have to be smart with what you do, or pay professionals to do, but even losing a little here is still an investment in your home and nothing compared to the dead money in rent.

“We may only receive our money back if we sell within the next couple of years but that’s OK for us. We like the stability. We are not trying to make a profit, just have a good quality of life. There are often waiting lists to join the associations so we cannot sell to our children or friends or own multiple properties in addition to this one. We can’t rent out to students or airbnb, we have to live there which means more people get access to these opportunities.

“Waiting lists also are a popular way to get into long term cheap rentals here. It may take a few years but once you are in, it is again possible to have a good stable home through a rental. Evictions are hard to implement and as the rental buildings are often owned by pension funds, they are happy with consistent long term growth, not quick profits.

“A company tried to enter the Danish market in recent years (Blackstone) and use loopholes to claim they had renovated apartments and the tripled the rent. There was outrage in the media and government moved to close the loopholes and stem the problem. In fact, when a rental building is being sold, there are also some rules that the residents should be offered to buy the building and set up a cooperative association before it can be sold on the free market, again meaning the people have more control and options. This is something that blew my mind when I got here.

“I love the mindset to protect the people. I want to move back to Ireland soon but it’s hard to move out of this environment to try and get a place to live in Dublin!!”

Copenhagen: ‘We moved into our home three weeks after viewing it’

“We moved from Cork to Denmark in 2016 after we sold our home in Cork. We took a one-year lease on a home in advance of arriving. It’s usual in Denmark to pay three to six months’ deposit plus one month in advance. All rentals are covered by legal agreement with detailed rights for both parties. No one evades the taxman.

“After six months we decided we would buy our own home. We had fun looking, and the online searching was way in advance of what is / was available here – 3D floor plans, costs of heating, electric, tax etc all outlined.

“We approached our bank, within 24 hours they gave us a figure we could work with and off we went hunting. No issue getting a mortgage just had to prove I had a deposit & I had a job… no digging up records from years ago.

“As the bank manager said, you don’t pay, we will work an agreement or we take the house back – no problems! We found our house, paid our 10% deposit – which once accepted gave us sole rights and 10 days to withdraw, no gazumping. If we withdrew after 10 days, the vendor keeps the deposit. 

“Here is the good part: No requirement for a solicitor although you are free to use one. The estate agent and bank do all the work between them. The vendor needs to supply all necessary reports – structural, electrical, environmental … these are approved by local Kommune (county council) and available to all prospective buyers to review. Again you are free to hire own engineers should you wish. You can even take out a policy which the vendor must pay half cost, to ensure that anything that an engineering report did not find, is covered for 10 years if it proves to be an issue.

“We moved into our home three weeks from the date of viewing. Our mortgage was cheaper than monthly rent. ~ €1300 in Danish Kroner. Property tax ~€900 per year. The vendor would have received a one or two year rebate as they sold half way through the year; we paid second half.

“For family reasons less than a year later we had to move back to Ireland. We sold our lovely Danish home exactly one year to date of moving in. We were lucky to get a good rental property and landlord in Kilkenny. My new job was in Dublin, but it was impossible to get any equivalent home near Dublin. In any case we preferred the countryside, but couldn’t go back to Cork – just too far.

“It took a solid year looking for a suitable house to buy, plus as we are second-time buyers the deposit was 20%. I am now almost 50, never mind that wife is younger, so my maximum mortgage term is 17 years and that was a stretch.

“Dealing again with Irish banks, it felt like I had been living in Outer Mongolia for 40 years, not a fellow European nation for just two years, despite fact I had kept my Irish bank account open. It was a nightmare, but we knew it would be. We persevered, dealt with another bank despite 30 years history with Bank of Ireland. We managed to get a 10% deposit derogation, otherwise we would never have been able to buy our home, with cost of rental and putting children through Irish ‘free education’ – that’s another story.

“We’re happy to be home, but part of me really misses being in a country that works for its people, where the state is set up to provide services and empower its citizens and all having a culture of contributing to state and wider society.”

Sam, Alberta, Canada: ‘A natural disaster meant that house prices dropped’

“I left Ireland in 2012 and headed to a very remote city in northern Alberta, Canada. It’s located about 1000 km from the Arctic Circle and its a city that thrives on the oil sands. With a population of about 75 thousand and growing. My wife and I rented here for five years until it got to the point where I got fed up of paying someone else’s mortgage so we decided to get our own.

“Housing prices in this city were very high at one point so we waited to see if they would drop and they did somewhat with the help of a natural disaster. The city caught fire, literally. We had a forest fire that led to an 80 thousand person evacuation out of the city for six weeks. When we returned the street we had in mind to purchase our first home was completely gone. Wiped.

“House prices started to drop and when that particular street was being redeveloped we decided to purchase our first home. Single family home, three bedrooms upstairs and one downstairs in the basement which is a separate rental apartment. Having a basement suite to rent seems to be a common thing here as it helps pay your mortgage because the average cost of a house here is about half a million dollars for a four-bedroom detached home with a lot size of maybe 150 ft by 75ft.

“Salaries are particularly high here but it is justified with the price of everything else. Housing prices here now have dropped even more and it’s a buyers market and they are selling.”

Cape Cod, USA: ‘The median price of of a house is $500k’

“I live on Cape Cod, MA in the USA. I’ve lived here for about 22 years. I just bought my first house two years ago for $250k. I’d always rented before that. I shared with other people for a few years and then rented on my own. I was lucky and managed to rent from friends and had very cheap rent – $600/$800 a month.

“Then I had to rent in the ‘real world’ at short notice which was $1,200 for one side of a duplex. This got me looking at buying my first house. House prices here have shot up since Covid, so I was lucky to buy before that.

“The median price of a family home is around €500k here now. My house is a small (750 sq ft), two bedroom. I live alone so it’s fine for me. The general consensus here would be it’s better to own than rent. Obviously paying a landlord is money that you never see again.

“Renting can have its advantages though. No maintenance or upkeep costs. Appliances are replaced by the landlord if need be. I’ve never rented or owned in Ireland as I left after college. My mortgage payment is $1400 a month and I have the peace of mind of not having to move at short notice.”

Toronto, Canada:

“Our housing story is one of a lucky escape and being in the right place at the right time. Myself, my wife and our two kids left Ireland in 2004 to move to Toronto, Canada. We had two properties in Ireland, so we sold one to help us get set up here and held onto the family home in Kilbeggan, Co Westmeath, just in case it didn’t work out here in Toronto so we would have somewhere to return to.

“Remember, at that time in Ireland the property market was in full swing at the height of the ‘Celtic tiger’. Banks were throwing money at people, with interest only loans, >100% borrowing vs the purchase price, and all kinds of schemes designed to keep the Irish property market on fire. So keeping the house was our way to ensure we would be able to return to Ireland if needed… otherwise we thought we could be priced out by the time we returned.

“When we arrived in Canada we went about finding a home to buy and quickly realised that the banking and mortgage process was far more conservative than we were used to in Ireland. We had to have minimum 20% deposit to put down. They didn’t accept our strong credit rating reports from Ireland. Even though we had a substantial down-payment we were deemed high risk until we were able to build a Canadian credit history.

“We ended up getting a mortgage on a semi detached, three-bed house in an up and coming area for $330,000, with a strong down-payment, with what’s called a ‘B’ lender who take on ‘higher risk’ borrowers at higher interest rates for one year while we worked on building our credit rating. We, coming from the fast and loose Irish banking environment, felt that the Canadian carefulness was very restrictive and almost insulting that they made it so hard to get a mortgage however, delighted, we landed jobs, moved into our house and we were all set. 

“The property market in Toronto was also rising quickly, however, rather than it being as a result of false inflation in a false bubble, it was, and still is growing rapidly as a result of rising population through strong immigration policies and also Toronto being the economic hub of Canada (not everyone agrees) with a lot of major international financial, manufacturing and every other sectors leading institutions holding a footprint.

“In 2006, we were settled and decided we were going to stay here in Toronto so we put the house in Ireland on the market and it sold fairly quickly. Prices had increased so it was a good time for us. Little did we know what was about to happen to the Irish housing market ….. Very lucky. Had we held onto that house, the following year we would not have been able to sell the house for even 50% of what we got for it in 2006.

“Incidentally, thanks in part to the strict controls on lending by the Canadian banking institutions at the time, Canada was relatively unaffected by the global recession on 2007/8. The economy kept growing and we didn’t have to deal with the fallout and bailouts as a result of the scandalous government and banking practices of countries like Ireland and the US. 

“Fast forward to present day and the Toronto property market is still on fire. That same three-bed semi detached house we bought in 2004 is now valued in the region of $1.2 million and the average house price in Toronto is just around $1 million (and it will probably need some work at that price). Banks, while still somewhat conservative, have looser restrictions making it easier to get a mortgage. The Canadian Federal government introduced a ‘Foreign Buyers Tax’ to slow down the amount of investment, particularly in Toronto and Vancouver, by foreign investor firms. China was, and continues to be a major player of that foreign investment money coming in. This had a temporary slowing effect however the property market is roaring again in what is believed by some to be an unsustainable rate.

“Covid has driven prices way up in areas outside the main urban centers as many people move more to working from home, allowing them to avail of the relatively lower property prices and lower population densities. This has now driven house prices up in the areas that were traditionally more affordable and also resulted in an adjustment in the Condominium market both for selling and also rent rates… rents have dropped as much as 20% in the last year in some buildings in the Toronto downtown core. The reduction comes from a very high base so rent is still not cheap.

“Buyers are now moving towards to houses rather than condo’s as it means you don’t have to deal with close proximity to others like travelling in an elevator with strangers and the H-Vac systems are central in condos which isn’t ideal for air quality. These factors are all feeding the price increases in the single dwelling house segment of the market. Prices for this segment are now out of reach for a huge number of people in their 20s to early 40s who are at the early to mid stage of their careers. Real estate agents are fuelling this buying frenzy by creating multiple offer bidding wars on almost every house on that market.

“The process here is very different to that in Ireland. The house is listed, often well below market price to stir up a large interest from potential buyers, viewing appointments are made, a date is set (usually within a week of listing) for offers to be submitted. The offers are assessed by the sellers on that date and they either accept or send back for people if they want to amend their offer (usually means bring a bigger offer), the successful bidder is selected, the papers are signed by both parties, large generally non-refundable deposits paid over and the deal is then sealed all on the same day. There is no backing out on either side unless there is an agreed clause that holds the deal subject to, for example, home inspection or financial approval. Many people now wave these clauses as they could be the difference of being successful or not which puts even higher risk on the buyer. There is no ‘spit and a handshake ‘Sale Agreed’ deal’ that either party can walk away from or is open to gazumping by a higher offer at some point between agreement and closing. The seller then has the pleasure of paying 2.5% or even up to 3% to each the real estate agents for the seller AND the buyer.

“Now that we are here almost 17 years, our kids are in their twenties and they are living in a city where it seems there will be no possibility of them being able to purchase their own house with some financial assistance, even if they opt to move an hour or more outside the city. It’s a stress that they shouldn’t be feeling at this stage of their lives.

“Parents are now reorganising their retirement financial plans, in some cases postponing their retirements completely in order to work out how they can help their kids if they can. Reverse Mortgages are coming into the mainstream as an option for parents to give their kids their inheritance before the parents die rather than the kids having to wait for death inheritance. Property developers are moving from single dwellings to higher density townhouse type developments on traditionally single dwelling sites. Condo designs are being re-thought to accommodate families (three-bed) rather than young, single or pre-kid professionals but even these are now becoming unaffordable.

“The culture of homeownership in Canada is strong and similar to Ireland whereby it’s an expected life accomplishment to own your own piece of property and the security that comes with that.

“Toronto, like every other urban center, has a long history of homelessness. Now, like we are seeing in Ireland, there has been a huge increase in people living in tents on the streets, in parks, boardwalks, derelict or open land areas, woods etc.

“The issues in Ireland and Canada, while not identical, are very similar and the responsibility for these situations lay at the feet of all levels of government and also those in power at the central banks. Their choices in policies and whether to act or not are at the root. They have allowed this situation to grow, sometimes intentionally, in full awareness of the effects on ordinary people. The responsibility to provide real solutions to help people out of this spiral lies at those same feet.”

Now with two babies and both of us self employed, our mortgage approval dropped to €147,000 - despite the rent we’d been paying for the last number of years being more than the mortgage repayment. (30)

France: ‘Moving to France to buy a house was a no-brainer’

“Three weeks short of my 55th birthday, myself and my 66-year-old partner set sail for France in our Opel Meriva. We had our two large dogs in the boot and left Ireland with whatever we could fit on the back seat!

“For us, it was a very fortunate move. The reason why it was fortunate? Well, had we stayed in Dublin and lived there through the Covid pandemic, which reared its ugly head a mere matter of months after we left, I don’t know how we would have survived.

“The problem was we didn’t own a house in Dublin – we were renters. People often talk about renting as being nothing more than money down the toilet, but for me that really wasn’t the problem. The main problem, apart from extortionate rental levels, was for me the lack of security of tenure. That’s a very difficult way to bring up a family and plan for your future.

“For a whole variety of reasons, including a marriage breakdown, I had never managed to be a homeowner. I found myself a single parent with no financial support from my children’s father and renting was my only option. I later met my partner who had moved to Dublin from the UK and he too was a tenant.

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“In the summer of 2019, the cost of renting an average three-bed house in the South Dublin area was at an average of €3,500 per month – really?! We considered ourselves lucky because we were only paying a little under €2,500 but lived in fear of the annual lease not being renewed. If we wanted to stay in the same area, which we did, we would potentially be paying up to €1,000 per month more and in order to secure a property, we would have to hand over €7,000 – a month’s rent and a month’s deposit. This situation was completely untenable.

“We had often spoken about moving abroad but the prospect was a little terrifying. We had no lump sum from the sale of a property to set us up, but by the same score, the prospect of being faced with having to move in Dublin was equally terrifying. We started checking out the cost of renting a house in France and it didn’t take us long to figure out that for the same cost of making an unwanted house move in Dublin, we could actually cover the cost of the move to France, pay a month’s rent and deposit there, and have enough money to live on for 3-4 months once we got there. 

“For us, it has been a triumphant move! We had no difficulty whatsoever in finding a house, we began by taking a long-term holiday rental for a year. This was fully furnished and equipped and allowed us to establish if the area was right for us. We have subsequently taken another similar rental for another year. Covid and lockdown restrictions have inhibited our ability to seek a longer-term rental, but we are completely confident that once these restrictions are lifted, we will have little or no difficulty securing a lease on a long-term rental property.

“It is so much easier to do this here. People frequently rent for life here and are allowed to treat the property as a home, decorating it and maintaining it as if it were their own. We currently pay a third of the rent we paid in Dublin, but this rent includes all our utilities as well. In addition to our income in Dublin, the only way we could afford our rent was to have students living with us on an ongoing basis. After arriving in France, I set up as a Virtual Assistant and quickly managed to fill my books and now enjoy a regular income working remotely, which combined with a far lower cost of living, mainly due to affordable rent, we can enjoy a quality of life that we could never have aspired to in Dublin.

“My whole life’s focus isn’t on how we are going to be able to afford this month’s rent and I feel I am able to live my life in a way I haven’t been able to for years! Not a backward glance! It has been, for us, a complete ‘no brainer’.”

Switzerland: ‘The quality of housing is far superior to Ireland’

“I’m an Irish person and have been living in Switzerland for over 10 years. In the beginning we rented and I felt very uncomfortable living in a rental property. We were not allowed to hang pictures using nails. We could not add fixtures or fittings that involved making holes in the walls. We could not paint the property. It was just the Irish mentality towards renting that made me feel that way.

“I was 30 and had grown up in a house owned by my parents. For a short time after college I moved into a shared property but shortly afterwards bought a house with my then boyfriend. And subsequently we moved house, selling the first and buying something bigger.

“When we decided to stay here we bought a house. An upfront 20% deposit is required to purchase your first property in Switzerland. This leaves a mortgage of 80%. However of this 80% you only actually repay 20%, leaving 60% of the ownership with the bank. Obviously this can be renegotiated and repaid too however it is very common for mortgages to be passed on with the property when the owner dies. Switzerland is a wealth based economy and you actually pay less tax if you have more debt.

“Rental properties are the norm here. People rent long term. If tenants do hang pictures or shelves, these must be removed and all the holes filled in before exiting the property. There is no prejudice towards people if they rent or own a property. More people rent than own. The quality of housing in Switzerland is far superior to that in Ireland.”

London: ‘It’s much more expensive to buy here than Dublin’ 

“I moved to London five and a half years ago, after spending 9 years studying and working in Dublin. Having never had the luxury of not paying rent by staying at home I’ve been renting for the last 10 and a half years, c£90,000+ in total. I was very fortunate that I had rent during college covered by my parents.

“While housing is cheaper in Dublin, renting is much cheaper here. I’d be paying well over my current £1,000pm rent for a comparative place in Dublin. This has allowed me to save a bit more. However, despite saving for the last six and a half years I am still at least a year/18 months away from affording to buy a two-bed ground floor conversion.
Despite having saved more than my annual salary, I still have to put together stamp duty fees, furniture fund and legal fees etc. which will total c£30,000 – it’s much more expensive to buy here than Dublin.

“I’m steering away from apartments due to cladding issues and that they are overpriced. Despite earning a good salary and being able to save up to 40% of my salary, buying a house is not feasible in London – yes I could move further out, but I didn’t move to London to live far away from it. I’m not seeking sympathy, merely acknowledgement of how ridiculous the housing market is and that other generations never had to save more than their annual salary as a deposit (20%) for a two-bed ground floor conversion.”

London: ‘It looks doubtful we can afford to return to Ireland any time soon’

“I’ve lived in London for almost six years having previously rented in Dublin for 10 years.
I initially rented in London but then bought a new build flat two years ago.

“Renting was definitely easier in London than my experiences in Dublin and the process is much more formalised and clear. There seems to be plenty of availability and the standard is reasonable. Buying is obviously more difficult and very, very expensive in London with many differences to Irish property acquisition.

“But I don’t think it is any easier in Ireland. My husband and I recently looked at returning to Dublin but the 20% deposit coupled with the bank’s reluctance to lend makes it a very daunting prospect. We have also recently found out our building is deemed unsafe and requiring some replacement of the building materials due to new building requirements following the Grenfell disaster.

“We are in a leasehold situation (very common here in any building other than a house) and so it’s likely all the costs of this will be passed onto us. We also pay a service charge and ground rent annually. Another bill here is council tax which is paid monthly and is around £160 a month for our property size and location.

“Housing is expensive here but probably similar to Dublin if you don’t consider the exchange rate. The average price of a property in my area in London is around £550,000.

“Overall we feel very fortunate to have managed to buy a property here but we may have some very expensive bills coming up due to the building issues above which may wipe out any savings we’ve made by paying a mortgage rather than rent. Hopefully that’s the worst case scenario but until this is settled our flat is unsellable and we cannot remortgage either.

“It looks doubtful we’ll be able to afford to move back to Ireland any time soon, the housing market just seems very inhospitable there even for a family with good jobs and equity.”

Mainland Europe, Asia and Australia:

“So, I’ve lived abroad for coming up on five years now (all in rented houses/ apartments), between mainland Europe, Asia and Australia. I’m happy to say I’ve never really had an issue with finding accommodation anywhere. In my experience, there’s always accommodation available, it just requires research and time.

“When finding short term housing, I think Airbnb is a great option. I recommend negotiating with landlord/ realtors outside of the platform for a better rate if you pay upfront for a 2 -8 week period. When it comes to longer term accommodation, I think word of mouth is a great way to find places, chatting with friends or colleagues can open some doors. And then if there’s anytime when I’m in between housing I’ll crash in a hostel until I get sorted. Hostels are also a great way to meet people to live with, I ended up living with a guy for four months during Melbourne lockdown I shared a room with.

“A lot of my friends who are late twenties, early thirties are happy to rent and like a good quality of life without the 30 year pressure of owing the bank. In my situation it gives a lot more freedom both in my personal life and my career. Then on the other side, the property market in Sydney is hot. Most properties here are sold at auctions at the property which can go pretty high. A lot of properties are selling at 20-30% over the asking price which turns a lot of first time buyers away from this option. I think if you have the capital or a solid investment strategy purchasing property is a great idea and I think this is happening a lot in Australia. Purchasing property is still a popular option here, with a lot of younger people either buying smaller properties or moving out to west Sydney where property prices are lower.

“Renting in Australia is very reasonable relative to salaries and also compared to Ireland. I like to live beside the beach, so this carries a higher rent. I live in a shared house with 5 other people less than a 10 minute walk to the beach and I pay $250 per week inc of all bills. On a monthly basis I pay just over €600 per month which I’m pretty happy with. Rents for a room in a shared house/ apartment close to the beach in Sydney, Perth and Melbourne can range from €500 to €1k per month.

“I think the mindset needs to change in Ireland in regards to housing and owning a new build.”

Now with two babies and both of us self employed, our mortgage approval dropped to €147,000 - despite the rent we’d been paying for the last number of years being more than the mortgage repayment. (29)

Kevin, Hong Kong: ‘Almost all houses here are apartments’

“I moved to Hong Kong in 2011 and have lived between here and the south of China for nearly 11 years. It’s a really nice place to live and despite what you see in the new about protests and so on, life is fine here for a foreigner. I have been renting since I came here and spend most of my time living either on, or close to, Hong Kong Island. The rental range has been between 15000HKD (€1600) to 25000HKD (€2600) a month for a size of 300-700sqft.

“Almost all houses are apartments here given the limited space and the fancier apartments are large complexes with swimming pools, a concierge and club house which obviously drives up the rent.

“In Hong Kong it’s possible (and pretty common) to live on one of the outlying islands. There is a large ferry pier close to the CBD that runs 24/7 with a higher frequency during rush hour. Late last year I took the plunge and moved to one of the lesser known islands. It’s basically a small little fishing village without any of the usual chains of shops or restaurants. The population is approx. 25k people and only 200 of those are foreigners. The rent here is cheaper, approx 18000 HKD which is about €1900. 

“On the ‘buy’ side, I purchased a property in Ireland three years ago which is being rented out and I plan to buy another in the coming months. I have used savings for this as its difficult to get financing when not an Irish resident. The EU brought in rules that meant banks were obliged to monitor their FX risk, which, in my case would have been CNY or HKD. Given the complexities with this I believe they scaled back this offering. There are a number of brokerage firms who will offer extortionate rate mortgages to expats using SPVs however you will pay 4.4-4.6% depending on the tenure. Ideally I would buy in UK as the stamp is low and there will be an influx HKers arriving on BNO passports once it all opens up again but I am hesitant to buy through virtual viewings.

“In HK anyone can buy, however you will be hike with a 15% fee unless you are a permanent resident. Foreigners are eligible for PR after seven years. House prices are pretty high here. A 700sqft house in a modern neighborhood on HK Island would cost around 1-1.5million EUR so you are really banking on the house price appreciating in value.”

Helsinki: ‘Many single people we know own their own apartment’

“We’re renting at the moment. We found it very easy to get housing here. We’re a couple in our early thirties with a small child. We are living directly in the city centre in a really nice, well maintained 43sq metre 1.5 bedroom apartment with hardwood floors, a large kitchen, living room and a sauna.

“We pay €1,090/month for the apartment and heating is free. We could have easily had a bigger apartment for less money if we went a little further outside the centre (10 mins by metro for example), but we wanted to see what life in the city centre was like for now.

“There was a huge amount of apartments to choose from here. The letting agent said he usually had to see about five viewers before he finds a tenant. Many single people we know own their own apartments here. It’s very common and achievable for someone on their own with a half decent job. Mortgage interest rates are also very low. I believe around 1.5%.

“There is also a lot of city apartments that are social housing or affordable housing and they are building more all the time. They are creating huge new areas of the city on old dockland and planning big projects way into the future.

When we lived in Dublin we were in a house share with five others. We moved to the countryside when we got married and planned for kids as there was no other option. It didn’t even cross our minds that we could afford to live in Dublin without housesharing. We wouldn’t have got married or had kids when we did if we didn’t have the option of moving to the countryside.

“I know no two cities are the same but I think Dublin could learn a lot from cities like Helsinki. They don’t have some magic pot of money here and the population is very similar to Dublin, so what can they do what we can’t? I think there has just been long term planning and socialist thinking here for a long time. Something that is completely missing in Dublin. You can clearly see that because Dublin has no metro, very limited social housing and never created a new section of the city that is high-rise. These all require long term planning.

“I would not live in Dublin now that I have a family. I don’t want to sit in some massive sprawling housing estate in a suburb with no services and no feeling of being part of the city, having to drive everywhere and sit on a bus for 45mins to get to the city.

“I just want to finish by saying that I loved living in Dublin and the craic in Ireland is great. I just think that they could make the city so much better and livable for families if they applied some European thinking and planned for the longterm!”

Melbourne, Australia: ‘Rental prices are similar to Cork but the quality is much better’

“I live in a share house in Richmond, Melbourne having moved from a share house in Cork city before this. Richmond is one of the inner suburbs, half an hour walk from the CBD, near the main stadium of the city. It’s sort of like living in Ballsbridge in terms of proximity but less posh.

“The price you pay for a double room in this large global city is comparable to the price of a double room in Cork (about €700 a month). However the quality of housing isn’t close to comparable, almost all houses here are recently renovated; certainly no damp or old interiors you tolerate when house hunting in Ireland.

“Along with this there’s so much choice, you can go to a viewing, take a few days to decide if you want the house, rather than in Ireland where you arrive to the viewing ready to pay the deposit in cash right there and then; such is the rush for housing. The bond is also held by an independent government agency rather than the leasor.

“Most rentals are professionally leased by letting agencies rather than individual landlord. For Australians like me in their mid 20s plenty are now rather easily accessing mortgages while it’s scarcely on my horizon if I happened to be back in Ireland.

“All in all it’s mind boggling that I can easily rent a room here in a nicer quality house in a world city for the same price as a room in Cork city. Housing is really a severe push factor from ever going back to Ireland.”

Barcelona, Spain: ‘Renting is relatively easy and the quality of life is excellent’

“I am a 26 year old male currently living here in Barcelona, Spain after graduating with a Mechanical Engineering degree in Dublin in 2018.

“Thankfully when I arrived I found a room here to rent for approx €550 bills included, then moved after three months to another apartment for €630 and stayed there for a further nine months in the center of Barcelona. I decided to downgrade for a couple months to another apartment for €450 and stayed again short term for six months.

“Following that, I moved to another apartment for €570 for another six months. After this, I was fed up with sharing apartments after moving so many times and having zero stability. While also looking for a long term apartment, I moved in with my girlfriend to an Airbnb apartment as one had opened up for a short term contract for six months for €750 total between us both (this was mainly due to COVID and the fact that tourists were not allowed in the country).

“We just found a bigger four bedroom apartment for €1100 plus bills with a long term 1-5 year contract. All the owner asked was €1100 deposit. We spent approximately 3 months looking for the apartment trying our best to avoid agencies as they are very expensive. They usually charge a two-month deposit plus the current month’s rent. The agency fee is then 10% of a year’s rent plus VAT. If you can avoid these fees then you will have to be patient in finding an apartment but it is possible.

“Saying all of this we are earning €4000 monthly between us, saving at least €1000 if not more each month. The salary is not amazing in comparison with what we would earn in Dublin but the lifestyle is much better here as we can enjoy long evenings and great weather nine months of the year with the beach and mountains very close to the city. Saving money here is much easier as rents are much cheaper and accessible in comparison. We don’t have much expenses and eat at restaurants at least four times per week. The whole process of short term rentals of shared apartments was very easy and quick with no real problems except for the normal issues related to roommates etc.

“It’s sad to think if I ever came home, that at this stage I will not be able to afford to buy my own house as the country’s housing crisis is getting out of control. I still have many friends in my age group and above that are living at home. Even if they are renting in shared accomodation they are not in a position to save any income for the future. Many of them are looking to emigrate in order to escape the constant cycle of not being able to save or consider a future in Ireland.

“I hope that Ireland can organise the housing crisis and allow young people to buy homes again. Otherwise I may have no perspective of coming home in the future.”

L, Sydney: ‘$2.5m might get you a 2/3 bed apartment’

“I’ve been living in Sydney for about 10 years and although the city seems expensive from a tourist POV, I’ve always found it relative to salaries that can be earned.

“Even when earning less, after rent was paid I felt I always had accessible income. In hindsight I could have saved more but was content to enjoy my late 20s and went on holidays and trips home frequently. Currently our rent is $2800 a month for a two-bed apartment 15 min walk to the beach.

“I’ve started focusing on saving the past four years, my wife and I have saved almost $300k. Sounds immense but in theory that’s about 15% deposit for a house in an area we’re used to living in. Of course we could move further afield but the last year has shown us being near friends is so important especially with trips home off the cards for the foreseeable future.

“Also you don’t move to Sydney to live 45 minutes from the beach. There’s little appeal of a $2M mortgage and the ‘value’ for money is not visible. $2.5m might get you a 2-3 bed apartment in some instances. It has all the tell tale signs of a crash having seen it occur at home but despite all the odds the housing growth continues – with 10% expected before the end of the year. It feels like you’re playing monopoly with the figures quoted.”