Aoife Finneran: Don't ask me to feel guilty about being able to buy a cheap house
CALL it the silver lining on the recession cloud. House prices have finally dropped to a level that young earners can afford.
Let's leave aside for a moment the fact that countless college-leavers are unemployed or that the banks make Ebenezer Scrooge look generous when it comes to lending.
Now, for the first time since 2002, a lump of bricks and mortar is likely to set you back less than €200,000.
And, for a generation of young cubs who grew up during the Celtic Tiger, it means that owning a home is no longer a pipe dream.
We're the ones who sat back and looked on wistfully as we watched others forking out the equivalent of the national debt of Bolivia for a small semi-D in the suburbs. Sure, everyone knew it was crazy to spend half a million on a pile in what would soon become a ghost estate, but that was the measure of the desperation to get on the property ladder.
For those who waited patiently, the time is now right. Mind you, it all makes for some rather awkward social situations. After all, what do you say when you meet some misfortunate mired in negative equity with a house that's now worth half of its original price?
Eh, sorry about that!
You can hardly continue the conversation by boasting about the fact that you've just snapped up your own little pied-a-terre for a song.
I fear this could be the next big social hurdle for those who have been relatively unscathed by the recession.
It's one thing to have to hide your shopping bags from designer boutiques in a bid to avoid ostentatious displays of wealth. It's quite another to have to mumble uncomfortably into your wine glass as you admit that yes, you've just purchased a house in the same estate as your colleague/friend/casual acquaintance. Not only that, but you acquired it for about €150,000 less than he/she did.
Oh, and while he/she actually camped out for two days in 2007 to get their names on the list for the as-yet-unbuilt house, you were practically love-bombed by the desperate estate agent who happily knocked tens of thousands off the price as soon as you looked half-way interested.
Talk about a conversation-killer. It won't have escaped any homeowner's notice that average house prices have fallen drastically from the €311,000 peak three and a half years ago.
For most people, this translates into a crippling mortgage from which they cannot hope to escape and a crippling sense of gloom that perhaps they should have waited instead of getting swept along on the tide of ownership obsession.
Yet for the select few in the right place at the right time, it's a case of sheer good luck. Even in the midst of our blackest economic crisis, some of us are set to reap the benefits.
Frankly, I'm considering that it's not something to apologise for, given that we're the generation who will probably end up working until we're 90 to pay for the mistakes of others.
And while we're toiling away, nose to the grindstone, we'll be remembering the stories of those halcyon days when pensioners enjoyed free travel and quit work at the fresh young age of 65.
See? There's no point begrudging our current good fortune. After all, we'll all have our crosses to bear eventually.