IT’S scarcely credible that this week we are officially five years into what became known as the credit crunch.
Back then the crisis was known only to those in the financial world. The rest of us hadn’t a clue. We were living in a bubble thinking that house prices could only ever continue to rise making us all, well, wealthy.
Misguided men flew around the country in helicopters eyeing up land to buy for what they imagined would be endless demand for new homes and big profits for them. They persuaded lots of people to sell off their gardens, even their homes for a quick fortune. Life was grand then, everything seemed affordable. Sure couldn’t you borrow as much as you wanted for a new car or a holiday on the back of the equity in our home?
While we counted our blessings US and European regulators were panicking big time. They had to find a way to prevent the world’s financial markets going belly up. It has been described this week as ‘the day the world changed’. Few saw the ‘fast approaching storm’ according to one financial pundit.
No point in raking over old ground. We all know what happened and homeowners now bemoan the fact those homes are worth about half they once were. A study by property search website Rightmove reveals that those trying to buy homes believe that prices in their area are still too high despite a weak market. Those trying to sell obviously don’t agree. The survey says people in Northern Ireland are ‘least likely’ to believe the prices they are asking are unreasonable.
It’s often the case that the prices being asked in the estate agent’s window bear no resemblance to what will finally be paid. I know of sellers taking big hits just to get a sale.
Perhaps we’ve all forgotten what a home actually means to us. If it’s a place you’ve used as a cash cow in the past then you are not likely to regard it as ‘home’. Ask someone if they ‘love’ their home and wouldn’t think of leaving and they’ll think before giving you an answer. Obviously people have to move due to work commitments but could the current state of the market generate new thinking about how we see our homes? Could you ever see the day when you would give your home away to strangers for nothing?
This week I got a lesson in what it means to love your home, to see it as a place you could never leave and do everything you can to protect it.
Hazel Radcliffe Dolling died in 2006. You may remember her from the BBC’s Restoration programme on which her home Lissan House outside Cookstown reached the final in 2003. By that stage she has already put her home into a voluntary trust – Lissan Trust - having spent decades trying to keep it from falling down, or a worse fate in her eyes, having to sell it off to developers for housing or a golf course.
Hazel was the only child of the 13th Baronet Sir Robert Ponsonsby Staples (the Baronetcy was created by King Charles 1 in 1628) and she inherited the house on his death in the 70s. By the turn of the last century the once grand house which in its time had land reaching from the foothills of the Sperrins to the shores of Lough Neagh, was in crisis. Like so many of our landed gentry there was simply no money to keep the large workforce needed to run it and World War 1 had also depleted the stock of workers.
Hazel, who had married her father’s land agent, had no children or money so her struggle to keep the house going was heroic.
There’s a video in what was her bedroom where she talks of the deep love she felt for her home. She had left it when she was young, never imagining she would live there again but on a return visit to her parents fell in love with the place. She records: ‘The house wanted me, it needed me. I love this place, it’s the sense of belonging. I was meant to be here’. She lived with the constant fear it would have to be sold off to pay death duties. The thought ‘filled my heart with dread’, she said.
Today Lissan House has come alive again through the dedicated team of volunteers who run it. One was on her knees during my visit, polishing a large brass plaque to go up on the wall. It will take a long time to bring Lissan back to its former glory but it exists and is thriving because of the love of its late owner who couldn’t bear the thought of her home being demolished. She could barely pay her domestic bills and no doubt deprived herself of every luxury but she hung in there because she loved her home so much.
Every corner of that house is filled with love. Please visit it and learn what loving a home means. Your visit will help its upkeep and keep Hazel’s dream alive.