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2004-10-12 `In need of refurbishment' can mean a curtain around toilet

I put the key in the door of the little one-hundred-year-old cottage, pushed the door open, and stood for a moment in the entrance hallway.

 

To my left, two wooden-floored bedrooms lay empty - one with an open cast iron fireplace - and to my right stretched a spacious living room, and off it - the master bedroom. At the rear of the cottage, a more recent extension comprised a tiled kitchen and bathroom.

 

I rolled up the wicker blind, allowing the streaming August sunshine to fill the space - my space. After years of rented accomodation, I was at home.

 

With a mortgage weighing heavily around my neck, how was I to afford to do all that was necessary to give the cottage my individual stamp?

 

But there was no rush, it was at least habitable for the moment, and I could take my time. I had the rest of my life to make it my own.

 

Two years previously I had paid a deposit on a three-bedroomed house (`off-plans') in North Dublin, described in the brochure as `a by-word for modern living'.

 

But what I had always craved was a country cottage, and after waiting almost two years for the lazy builders to put the finishing touches on my starter-home, I was beginning to get itchy and began hunting and viewing again.

 

After a few trips to snoop around potential nests, I began to really get my head around the house-buying lingo. In the same way many hotels and restaurants could be had up for `trade description offences' by having words such as `comfort', `quality', `happy' and `welcome' in their titles, so too auctioneers and house advertisements can be very misleading. I quickly learned that when a house is described as a `bijou residence', or as `intimate' or `cosy', it simply means it is tiny.

 

At times, when looking at properties, I wondered if the words `in a much sought-after area' meant `sought after' by the Gardaí­, or by drug-barons and pimps. When a property was said to be a 10-minute walk from the village, I learned to double that estimate, or to think in terms of Olympic walking. When a house was said to have been `tastefully decorated by the owners', I soon realised that the concept of taste was a loose term, and even more varied than I had previously imagined - there are indeed no parameters.

 

I viewed a cottage in Wicklow which was said to be `in need of some refurbishment'. As I walked through the three damp and smelly rooms, sticky cobwebs clung to my face like candy floss, rusty pipes dribbled brown bilge, while strips of orange and purple wallpaper danced in drafts. In the centre of the bedroom, a toilet stood proud, with a shower curtain around it for your more modest guest!

 

I gave up viewing houses `in reasonable condition' and `in good condition', only entertaining those `in excellent condition'. Several houses boasted `many of the original features', which in the case of an old house can mean anything from death-trap sockets to outside loos. When an area is said to have `a real feeling of community', that often means the house is surrounded on all sides by estates, and that when you undress in the evening you are going to be exhibiting your `crown jewels' to a captive audience.

 

If a property is `close to the new ring road', prepare to move to a by-pass. If an area is said to be `one of the area's best kept secrets', there is often a good reason it has remained a secret, and if you see the words `vibrant, modern and expanding community', just think traffic, people and lots of noise. Once I decided the cottage with the yellow trimmings was for me, I held my breath while the valuer assured me it was worth the price in the Estate Agent's window, and while the surveyor confirmed the house was structurally sound.

 

I filled in endless forms, wrote the biggest cheques I have ever written, and I talked in toy-money. My mortgage was in place. At my solicitor's office I waded through countless clauses, legal jargon, eventually signing there, there and there. Oh, and initialling there, there and there. With the final deposit, stamp duty and legal fees paid, at last I had the keys to my best-ever birthday present - "Glencar Cottage".