Where you live will be one of the biggest factors in the success or failure of your move to Ireland or Northern Ireland. Beyond the comforts of day-to-day living, it involves affordability, convenient access to desired social contacts, shopping and other lifestyle factors and, as applicable, proximity to work and schools. Wherever your choice of location, a wide range of rent or buy choices awaits you.
One thing that happens to retirees (even those who don't relocate) is that they rediscover themselves. They may have expected to spend a lot of time doing 'X' when they retired, only to find themselves preferring to do 'Y'. S0, if you were a big-city type in Canada, you will probably want to live in Dublin with reasonable access to the city centre, even, for example, if your thought is to play far more golf than you’ve had a chance to play before your move. On the other hand, if you lived in the country or holidayed extensively in cottage country in Canada, you might want to try a smaller city or even a rural setting. The second largest city, Cork, has a population of some 125,000 with Galway next at about 75,000, both being the major centre for their surrounding area. But size difference is only one factor in considering them as alternatives to Dublin. Perhaps the main other differences are their lower cost of living and their weather. In general, Atlantic coast communities have more and heavier rain while Dublin rain is about the same as in Toronto but less stormy.
Your main dilemma, however, may well be to decide whether to rent or buy. There have been tremendous swings in accommodation prices in recent years. First there was massive Celtic Tiger inflation fuelled by the greed, corruption and incompetence applicable in various degrees to Ireland’s banks, developers, contractors, regulators, government and so-called professional auctioneer, valuator and other business and property advisors, and to a combination of speculative greed and naiveté among the general public. With the inevitable crash that followed prices collapsed, in many cases to less than before the bubble began. Also left in the Celtic Tiger’s wake were hundreds of ‘ghost estates’ (‘subdivisions’ in Canada) some with houses completed and partly sold, some with unfinished houses that were worth finishing and some with partly built houses that were not worth completing. Along with the housing price collapse, rents dropped, too. A positive new development, effective October 1, 2012, is that the actual prices at which properties sell will be available through a public register; this will eliminate the inflated amounts many believe were put forward in the unregulated past.
The lower prices now prevailing will entice some to buy rather than rent. Others will be cautioned by the unlikelihood of near-to-medium term appreciation as well as the risk, shared by both the buy and rent decisions of foreign exchange fluctuations that will apply as Canadian currency is converted to euros. It is worth wondering whether investing the money that could purchase a house or an apartment might yield more than enough to pay rent, maintain liquidity in an uncertain economy and in many cases simplify one’s estate (especially for estates that will ultimately be settled in Canada). As for exposure to the euro’s foreign exchange shifts, which certainly have been significant in recent years, the rent option may be the better if one plans to keep in Canada the cash and investments held when they move, bringing over only what is needed to live on, as it is needed. Certainly that postpones the agio, the exchange charges that profit the banks when exchange transactions are made.
Irish Newspaper Property sections will quickly provide a feel for the style, availability and costs of properties for sale in the area in which you are planning to locate. Estate agent, letting agent and other Web sites such as www.daft.ie and www.let.ie are also available. While you will be able to buy or rent a modern or period home or apartment with all the latest conveniences, you will find significant differences between the Irish and Canadian approaches to architecture and grounds. Irish homes and apartment buildings come in a variety of styles, the vast majority reflect Ireland’s traditional architecture, which differs from Canada’s both in external style and floor plates. Among other things you had better like the layout of any home you might want to buy because, unlike in Canada, timber frame is not the order of the day. Instead, internal walls are made of concrete blocks, space-taking and very expensive to alter. Many affordable Irish properties reflect a greater priority for the back garden than to 'kerb' appeal, with walls of stone, trees and/or shrubbery concealing the front of a property. The Irish treasure their gardens like Canadians pursue the perfect lawn.
To minimize the stress of the changes from a move abroad, some will want the familiarity of their favourite furniture, expensive as bringing it with them may be. Others will want to use what would have been expensive shipping costs to buy new furnishings as part of their new start. Whether buying or renting, those wanting to bring furniture with them should find where they want to live by making a pre-move trip to find there future accommodation and visualize and measure how their furniture would fit in to it. A further consideration if renting is that most rental units are furnished. It is possible, but very unlikely, that a rent reduction may be gained by using one’s own furniture, especially with the landlord having to store what is displaced.
Buying a Home or Apartment Wherever you buy or rent a home or apartment you should not expect that the cost adjusted to Canadian dollars will get you the same level of home you would get in Canada unless you are coming from one of Canada’s low-real-estate-cost areas. Despite the crash you will pay at least as much for accommodation equivalent to what you’re used to in Canada.
Since the greater Dublin area is home to more than a fourth of Ireland's population, and probably a greater than that percentage of those who move to the island, finding accommodation there is the focus of the comments that follow. The considerations raised can be pursued for other areas in Ireland and Northern Ireland through the types of information sources referenced above. In uncertain economic times one cannot give firm benchmarks for property prices but even post-crash it is more than likely that you will pay more in city centre Dublin and the suburbs close to it than you would pay in Canada for like properties.
As with large Canadian cities, the cost of accommodation in Dublin's commuter belt areas is lower than in the city itself and especially 'the leafy suburbs' near to the city centre. But Dublin's commuter belt traffic gridlock problem is at least as bad as the worst of it in Canada. Before the Celtic Tiger boom, Ireland was a relatively poor country with huge housing stock and infrastructure deficits throughout the country. Much of the 'highway' infrastructure was based on patterns set in simpler times, even hundreds of years ago. While there were significant construction projects to remedy the housing and infrastructure deficits during the Tiger period, there is still some distance to go and the trade-off between commuting problems and lower house prices will prevail for sometime.
The Irish Government's www.citizensinformation.ie provides valuable discussion of the legalities and other aspects of buying a home in Ireland.
Renting Proponents of the rental alternative focus on lower housing market and foreign exchange fluctuation risks, particularly where estate considerations are involved, and on having someone else be responsible for insurance and upkeep. They also take a dim view of the costs, delays and restrictions of the 'planning permission' requirements that are central to the development and alteration of property in Ireland; they're just not worth the hassle, they say. The Irish Government's www.citizensinformation.ie also provides valuable information on the legalities and other aspects of renting in Ireland.
Making Your Choice If you are inclined to buy, it is important – one could say essential – to either come to Ireland for serious shopping before the move or, if that isn’t possible, to rent, at least for a short time, to enable you to buy wisely. Coming over to find a rental place before the move is also a good idea, especially if, as noted above, you plan to bring furniture.