Virtual viewings, high prices and bidding before you even step through the door: these are the experiences of trying to buy a home during level five lockdown.
With restrictions set to continue through April, there are another few months of disruption to the property market ahead.
Potential buyers are finding themselves unable to view apartments and houses in the way they normally would.
On The Hard Shoulder, reporter Laura Donnelly spoke to house hunters, estate agents and financial advisors to get an idea of what exactly it's like out there at the moment.
Ciarán Mulqueen and his wife have been searching for a new home for 18 months, and he has started documenting the experience through an Instagram account called Crazy House Prices.
He said: “People, once they’ve reached sale agreed, have been able to go into the house - and it’s not at all what they thought.
“The bedrooms are tiny… the wide-angle lens on the camera making the bedroom look a lot bigger than it is.
“A lot of the time these ads maybe don’t have a floor plan included… so you’re not able to get a good measurement on it until you’re in there.”
He said some people are treating bids almost as 'Monopoly money', and bidding just to get in and have a look at the house.
For now, Ciarán and his wife are staying put where they are until lockdown ends and more supply comes into the market.
Estate agent Barry McDonald from REA McDonald says they're working on the guidance that they can't hold viewings until a sale has been agreed.
He said: “In normal circumstances, the buyer would have seen the property three or four times by that stage… now they haven’t seen the property at all.”
Barry said people are able to ask for their deposit back if they don’t like the house when they finally get to see it, and there are plenty of potential buyers who are reluctant to bid at all on a property they haven’t seen.
He observed: “There are other people - and I’m not criticising this, although it’s very unhelpful - who are almost scatter-bombing bids all around the place for various different properties… they’ll get their foot in the door, and then they’ll decide which house is best for them.
“By-and-large, all of those [sale agreed] situations… the deal has stuck.
"A big factor there is the quality of the technology - the pandemic has kicked estate agents into having to up their game… between virtual tours, walkthrough videos, and really high-quality photography."
He said there are definitely cases when photography can make a place look better than it is.
While he said more often than not buyers are happy with the place they've chosen, there have been situations where people are disappointed when they finally get to see the place they've bid on.
He said: “I had it just recently that a first-time buyer was out to buy the house she’d been bidding on. She was very excited to come and see the house… and she was definitely deflated when she saw it.
"It wasn’t as big as she was expecting, and the general condition wasn’t as good as she was expecting.
“After a little bit of time to think about it, she came back and said they weren’t going to go ahead.”
A house-buying frenzy ahead?
Financial advisor Paul Merriman says bidding for houses is always a tricky situation, especially if the top bidder drops out and therefore drives up the price for everyone else.
Post-lockdown, he believes we’re going to see a return to people queuing overnight for houses - particularly new-builds - due to limited supply.
For those currently in a situation to buy, his advice is to seriously consider pushing ahead with the sale.
He said: "If you have a loan offer from a bank and you’re in a situation to buy… it’s something you really need to consider. The main reason is we have a massive supply & demand issue in this country.”
Paul said the house-building quota hasn’t been met in recent years, and that’s going to be the case again this year.
He also believes there'll be another surge in demand after people come off the likes of the PUP.
However, he said people still have the option to continue renting - stressing that taking a step back and waiting a year or two to avoid the house-buying ‘frenzy’ is definitely a viable option.