International Living magazine, an online publication that encourages Americans to seek better employment opportunities and living standards around the world, reports that there are fewer than 2,500 thatched cottages left in Ireland.
According to Kathleen Peddicord, the magazine’s American-born editor, Ireland had tens of thousands of cottages with thatched roofs just 20 years ago.
Peddicord has lived in Waterford for several years and notes that thatched cottages today are still desirable dwellings — but they come with hidden costs.
So serious has been the decline that the cottages have been placed on a kind of endangered species list and are afforded special protections. Owners are required to make renovations in the style of the original dwelling and can apply for government grants for the restoration work.
“You could build new, but the materials are in short supply today, and those who know how to do the thatching are even scarcer,” Peddicord said. “Plus, much of a thatched cottage’s charm is its history. Most date to the 18th and 19th centuries, using building methods that date back even further.”
Scarcity has made thatched cottages hot properties. As recently as the early 1990s it was still possible to pick up a genuine thatched cottage for as little as $20,000 or $50,000.
Now, a little piece of the Emerald Isle could set the buyer back as much as $500,000.
Ireland’s Sunday newspapers recently highlighted a 250-year-old three-bedroom thatched cottage in County Limerick with outbuildings on 55 acres. The asking price? It started at euro 440,000.
Still, Peddicord noted, a two-bedroom thatched cottage in Kilkenny in excellent renovated condition went for only $160,000.
But even if you bought a thatched cottage at such prices, it might only lead to further headaches. Under current legislation for preserving these Irish icons, roofs may not be changed under any circumstances. Today, that means any repairs must be made by an expert thatcher who, because the skill is so rare, can charge as much as he or she likes.
Brian Rothery has bought and sold several thatched cottages in County Wexford. He said that until recently the cottages were still advantageous to own if the property was located in a tourist area, where they attracted a lot of attention and could be rented out for more than a conventional house. Now, he said, “insurance companies are either not insuring thatched roofs or charging exorbitant premiums.”
In Rathmullan, Co. Donegal, realtor Jim Deeney said that his own broker in Letterkenny could only find insurance for thatched cottages through Lloyds of London.
An example of the costs of having thatched property came recently in County Dublin: a fire in a thatched cottage in Raheny damaged the roof and left the elderly owner with a euro 23,000 bill for a replacement roof. Today, thatchers replace decayed roofs with fire-proof thatch, but fireproofing adds to the cost as well.
Asked about the sudden increase in prices for thatched properties, Deeney suggested that it was the result of the Irish property boom generally, which has seen prices shoot up sometimes hundreds of percentage points in the last decade.
“In this area, you wouldn’t make a lot more selling a thatched house than a conventional one,” Deeney said. “You’d be talking about euro 250,000 and that’s kind of normal for an average three-bedroom house in Rathmullan.”
Insurance costs were also up across the property market, Deeney added, and not just for thatched cottages, although obviously they had special insurance concerns, he said.
But regardless of the costs involved, it seems thatched cottages are still experiencing a renaissance in Ireland. An Internet search revealed several dozen information web sites about thatched cottages. A recent survey in Ireland found the greatest concentration of thatched dwellings in County Offaly, with as many as 75, most in good condition. The survey noted that previous research in the 1990s found only about 40 such buildings in the county.