Let’s talk about…House hunting

Housing crisis: dwelling on the challenge of finding accommodation in Galway

Last Sunday, after settling myself in on the 15.05 train from Galway, I realised (far too late of course) that I’d made the fatal mistake of letting IrishRail.ie auto-select my seat.

I’d been assigned a spot without a table, which usually would make very little difference to me, but of course it happens the one day I plan to use my laptop on the train. Most of the time, I just spend my travel time catching up on the latest Discover Weekly playlist Spotify’s put together, but on this journey, I’d hoped to set myself up with the laptop for an hour so I could comfortably attend to the seemingly fruitless task of house-hunting for a new place in Galway… has anyone noticed there might be a shortage of affordable housing at the moment(!)?

Unaffordability isn’t even the only major hurdle – the general property shortage is up there too. Type ‘Galway City Centre’ into one of the country’s biggest rental accommodation sites, Rent.ie, and you’ll be met with the so-dire-it-feels-inconceivable reality that only six properties in the entire city are available (or so it is at the time of writing at least, maybe dozens will be added by the time this comes to print and pigs will fly and it’ll all be grand). I’d expected to find the housing situation significantly worse than the last time I was on the task two years ago, the anecdotal accounts from friends who’ve struggled for places recently being evidence enough, but the first-hand experience certainly brought the reality crashing home.

Something that’s become readily apparent in the short time I’ve been on the accommodation hunt is just how small the window of opportunity is for the properties that are there. The naïve relief I felt at coming across a suitable place in budget on day two of my search, for example, was quickly squashed when I refreshed a few minutes later and found that the listing, which had only been up a few hours when I spotted it, had disappeared entirely from the site, presumably gone to someone quicker on the draw.

And however increasingly limited the options are, it also isn’t helped by the occasional shady listing that pops up every now and then and throws you off. The other day, I came across an ad for a property that looked too good to be true, and noticing the watermark for a letting agent in the corner of the pictures that was mentioned nowhere in the description, thought it best to email the agent directly to ask about it instead of contacting the person on the ad. Sure enough, they got back to me to let me know that they hadn’t posted it, that the pictures were for a property outside of Galway they’d had on their site a while ago, and the ad was, as suspected, a scam.

But even if you do manage to filter out all the scams and find a real listing, replies to enquiries are far from guaranteed. I guess it makes sense – I can imagine that given the slim pickings, everyone who posts a property is immediately met with a sea of responses. The ratio of landlords to hopeful tenants is immeasurably skewed – something a lot of landlords are well aware of, judging by the amount that’s being charged for some places. Of course you expect higher prices during a housing crisis, but some of the rates you come across are honestly mindboggling, with certain people just blatantly taking advantage of the bleak situation to charge truly unreasonable prices, simply because they can.

I remember the first place I had in Galway, a shoebox of a room in an estate a few minutes from the Square, and how at the time, its size sometimes made me worry I was being overcharged at (just over) €400 per month. But just the other day, a similar room in the same estate came up on a Facebook house-hunting group, this time going for just shy of €700. If that didn’t exemplify to me just how much Galway housing has changed in the short time I’ve been living here, I don’t know what would.

Ironically, as I sat on the Sunday train, tipping away on my laptop, I was reminded of the situation I was in just before I managed to nab that shoebox room. Having not been able to find September accommodation, I commuted for the first month of college with Bus4U (a service I highly recommend over the train if travelling between Roscommon and Galway by the way – the fares are cheap, the drivers are friendly, and the journey’s often faster considering the wait you usually have in Athlone when travelling by rail).

To make use of the three hours spent commuting daily, I would try and get my college work done during the journey, with my laptop balanced on my legs just as I found myself doing last Sunday. And though I was relieved when I finally secured a place, the commute was actually grand for a while – plus, while I note rent, groceries, bills, and just about everything has gone up since I started living in Galway, my Bus4U tickets are probably my only weekly expense that hasn’t seen a hike. So if my accommodation search continues to be as lacklustre as it has so far, at least I know what my fallback will be.

That said, if anyone does know of a place, do give me a shout…