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‘Most people will spend €45k to €50k’

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Campervan sales are soaring thanks to lockdown savings and Instagram dreams of a beach lifestyle

From the outside, Tracy Gallagher’s white van is identical to thousands of similar models transporting delivery drivers and tradespeople up and down the country. Inside, however, it’s a world apart.

It opens into a miniature wood cabin, complete with a raised bed shrouded in lace netting, with storage and a fridge underneath, a rustic wood kitchen with a Mexican-tiled splashback, and hanging copper kitchenware over a gas hob. There’s a hammock seat suspended from the ceiling and even a cheese plant in a hanging basket. It’s an Instagram dream.

Gallagher is part of Ireland’s growing population of self-build campervan owners. Caravanning and camping is still popular with the retirement community, but growing numbers of millennials and young families are getting on board, especially since the pandemic.

Musician Tracy Gallagher inside her converted campervan, which she renovated at a cost of €5,000
Musician Tracy Gallagher inside her converted campervan, which she renovated at a cost of €5,000

Gallagher was ahead of the trend. A full-time musician, she renovated the van in 2018 with the help of a friend. Then in her early 30s, “I was living in shared accommodation and all of my friends were buying houses and settling down and I was starting to wonder was I ever going to have my own space. I had a dream of living by the beach. But that just wasn’t feasible with where I was financially at the time. So I came across somebody on YouTube and started watching van life videos, and I got it into my head that’s what I wanted to do,” she says.

“People thought I was crazy. They were like, you don’t even know how to use a hammer.”

Undeterred, she sourced a 2008 Renault Master with 240,000km on the clock for €2,700. Together with her friend Enda Reid, they set themselves a budget of €5,000 and a target of renovating it in three months. The most expensive part of the renovation was spray foam insulation, which she ranks – along with a really good mattress and her portable chemical toilet – as among her best investments, because it means the van can be used in winter.

Since then, “Mags” – the campervan community has a penchant for naming their vans – has taken the full-time musician to work at weddings all over the country and on trips to France and the United Kingdom. She tends to camp wild for two or three nights and then books herself into a service campsite. “What I’ve done a few times, which is a bit luxurious, is go to a spa for the day.”

Owning a van, “the freedom is indescribable. If something happened to the van, in a heartbeat, I’d get another one.”

She calculates that she uses it at least 40 nights a year and it doubles up as a spare bedroom when she has visitors to stay at her Dublin home. Reid enjoyed the experience so much that he went on to set up his own business, Oldboy Campers, and is now on his 15th van conversion and booked up until the end of 2022.

From the outside, Tracy Gallagher’s white van is identical to thousands of similar models transporting delivery drivers and tradespeople up and down the country. Inside, however, it’s a world apart.
From the outside, Tracy Gallagher’s white van is identical to thousands of similar models transporting delivery drivers and tradespeople up and down the country. Inside, however, it’s a world apart.
Tracy Gallagher’s campervan features a sink and tap, small stove and even a cheese plant in a hanging basket. It’s an Instagram dream
Tracy Gallagher’s campervan features a sink and tap, small stove and even a cheese plant in a hanging basket. It’s an Instagram dream
Van life: Tracy Gallagher’s raised bed shrouded in lace netting, with storage and a fridge underneath
Van life: Tracy Gallagher’s raised bed shrouded in lace netting, with storage and a fridge underneath

Data from the National Vehicle and Driver File, a database of all 2.5 million vehicles in the country, shows the number of campervans in the country rose from about 11,200 in 2018 to almost 12,600 in April 2020 and had reached 13,700 by October of that year.

In the Dáil last October, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe said “increased demand for motorhomes and campervan registration requests” was contributing to delays in Revenue providing VRT quotes to drivers, but that backlog had been fully cleared by February.

Meanwhile, the Facebook group Self Build Campervans Ireland has 10,700 members, though there’s no way of knowing how many of them are actively converting a campervan.

Dave Hanley, who has been renting out and converting campervans at Vanderlust in Ennistymon, Co Clare, since 2007, says the market for commercial vans professionally converted into campers is also booming. “It’s the whole explosion on social media, van life, everyone looking at YouTube videos and on Instagram, with their nice shiny interiors and their beach lifestyles.”

It is “lovely, but you have to be realistic. It’s not for everyone”. You need to be prepared for a “less is more” approach to packing and creature comforts, he says.

Hanley converts about 60 vans a year at an average spend of €20,000 to €25,000 on top of the cost of the van, which he can help source. Once converted, the van has to be re-registered at 13.3 per cent of its new post-conversion market value, which can add considerably to the cost. “Most people will spend, by the time all is said and done, €45,000 to €50,000.”

Good investment

On the upside, campervans are holding their value, with people selling them back to dealers two or three years later for close to the price they paid. Meanwhile, motor tax on camper vans is €102, regardless of vehicle size, and insurers will generally look at them as a second vehicle, so insurance can be as low as €330. “They’re certainly a good investment if you’re using it,” says Hanley. “But there’s no point having something monstrous sat in your drive for 11 months of the year if you never go anywhere.”

One of the trends he has observed over the past couple of years is that smaller vans are becoming more popular. “People are downsizing. They all started with massive six-berth vans. Now they’re going for more compact vans that allow you to go to nicer places and travel a bit more.” Navigating the Burren in a six-berth motorhome could be tricky, he says, “unless you’re a bus driver”.

The advice offered by Brian and Nora Lacey, who convert commercial Volkswagen vans into bespoke campervans at their Wexford-based business Happy Campers, is to treat your campervan like a second car. “It’s a lot of money to spend on a vehicle to have it sitting up there, except for four or five weeks of the year,” says Brian who started the business as a hobby a decade ago with his brothers. It now employs five people.

Prices for a two-berth conversion start from €10,500 at Happy Campers, with the customer providing the van. At the other end of the scale, they have just completed a conversion of a brand new van to the customer’s specification which “will be on the road for €51,000”. But in 10 years, “that campervan will have a minimum value of €30,000 to €35,000”.

Brian and Nora Lacey of Happy Campers: the Wexford-based business converts commercial Volkswagen vans into bespoke campervans . Photograph: Maura Hickey
Brian and Nora Lacey of Happy Campers: the Wexford-based business converts commercial Volkswagen vans into bespoke campervans . Photograph: Maura Hickey

The good news is that it’s fast: a conversion without an elevated roof can be done in about five days; for one with an elevated roof, it takes eight to 10 working days. But the bad news is that Happy Campers is now booked up until almost the end of the year.

And if you want to buy a second-hand purpose-built motorhome straight from a dealer, you’ll also have to wait. Business is “crazy. We can’t get vans to keep up with it. We’ve never seen the likes of it. The whole industry is waiting on new stock,” says Pat Horan, one of Ireland’s longest established dealers in campervans.

He has been selling them in Borrisokane, Co Tipperary, for 40 years. Since the pandemic began, he has started trying to source them from Europe to keep up with demand. But increased demand and raw material shortages due to Brexit, the pandemic and other factors means prices have gone up, too. A few years ago, you could start off with a budget of €10,000 to €15,000. That would hardly get you something from the scrapyard now, he says. “Even to go €10,000 more, you’re at the bottom of the barrel.”

The retirement community have traditionally been the main market, but now families are also looking to spend their lockdown savings. “For the past 15 months, people haven’t been at the pub, they haven’t been at restaurants, they haven’t been on foreign holidays. There’s a good bit of surplus money out there at the moment. Last month, we sold seven campers in a week, and three of those customers bought those campers over the phone. They hadn’t met us, they hadn’t seen the camper, and they sent us on the money before they collected it. If someone said that to me two years ago, I’d have said go away and get the white coats.” But, he adds, it’s a safe investment: he is currently buying them back from customers two or three years on for the price they paid for it.

Safety aspects

Horan also runs a parts business for people doing their own conversions and business is booming. But he worries about the safety aspects of some of the work being done. “That’s the negative side of the pile of home conversions going on. I’m scared of what’s going to happen there. Ireland is not as well regulated as the rest of Europe. We’ve seen some horror stories here where people have been fitting gas appliances themselves. It terrifies me that there might be some big explosion some night in a campsite.”

The other thing Ireland doesn’t do well is support facilities for motorhomes. “Ireland is awful. We have Third-World facilities; in fact, we have none,” says Hanley. “What’s upsetting is the fact that all of this money is being spent on advertising what we have, which is an amazing island. And then people rock up [in a campervan], and they’re told to bugger off.”

He has researched the cost of basic facilities which allow you to empty waste and refill your water, and reckons they cost as little as €3,000. “The county councils would make money out of it. It’s a no-brainer.”

Martin Gaughan, a television director in his 20s, has been chronicling his campervan conversion – and his adventures in the timber yard – on Instagram (@theboujway.) In the early weeks of the first lockdown, he sat down with his boyfriend to plan a 27-country roadtrip. As the plans advanced, it became apparent they were going to need a camper to do it. He bought a 2015 Vauxhall Movano for about €7,500, and then spent months researching how to convert it. The total conversion cost is going to come in at about €7,500, though he says his spend on building materials “is on the high end”.

It’s clear from Gaughan’s Instagram stories that he has put a lot of thought into the design: from the Scandinavian-style birch plywood cladding and the box-shower that hides under the sink, to the pull-down screen for movie afternoons. “There’s a million and one ways you can go about designing a van and it’s all about what you want.”

TV director Martin Gaughan working on his campervan conversion. He bought a 2015 Vauxhall Movano for about €7,500, and then spent months researching how to convert it. The total conversion cost is going to come in at about €7,500. Photograph: Alan Betson
TV director Martin Gaughan working on his campervan conversion. He bought a 2015 Vauxhall Movano for about €7,500, and then spent months researching how to convert it. The total conversion cost is going to come in at about €7,500. Photograph: Alan Betson

In his case, a lot of the decisions were driven by the roadtrip. Since they want to take in part of the Arctic circle, he invested in a very good heating system and insulation. “It’s so overwhelming at the beginning, but you can just look at it in stages: find a van, design, layout, insulation, electrics, furniture and the finish.”

He launched himself into it nine weeks ago. “I knew I was off work for a month. There were 16-hour days for more than 30 days straight. It was so relentless and painful, I’m still reeling. But you can make huge savings if you decide to really tackle it yourself. There’s a huge sense of satisfaction.”

He did most of the work – other than the electrics – himself and was also able to draw on the help of family and friends, especially his dad. “My dad is so crafty with his hands, part of the reason why I wanted to do [it] was to almost emulate how my dad would turn his hand to anything. And I knew I’d have him there as a fallback.”

It’s now 90 per cent done, “but I’m afraid I’ll be saying it’s 90 per cent done for another year. You are building a house on four wheels that has to have all the functionality of everything you have in your house.”

The conversion project was born out of an ambitious travel plan but for his first trip, he’s planning something a little closer to home. He is looking forward to taking the van to Phoenix Park, where he’s going to park up for a day and look out at the deer while he works. And his first overnight will be at the Mayo Dark Sky Park, an area spanning 150km, near where he grew up, that is recognised as one of the best places in the world to view the night sky.

Dave Hanley of Vanderlust with one of his new campervans in Ennistymon, Co Clare. Photograph: Eamon Ward
Dave Hanley of Vanderlust with one of his new campervans in Ennistymon, Co Clare. Photograph: Eamon Ward

Man the Van: Tips from the experts

1 It’s not for everyone, so if you can, try before you buy. Vanderlust still has about 12 weeks’ availability in its fleet of vans this summer. Prices start from €1,000 a week for a two-berth VW transporter and go up to €1,500 a week for bigger vans that can sleep five.

2 Buy from a registered dealer, says Pat Horan. “If we can’t guarantee it, we won’t take it. We would have seen 10 at least this year that we wouldn’t let into the yard, and they’re gone the next week on Done Deal.”

3 If you’re planning to self-build, do your research. There’s a wealth of online resources, including YouTube videos and Facebook groups, and lots of people willing to help and advise. “I probably spent a year researching, really going down the internet rabbit hole. There’s such a wealth of information out there online,” says Martin Gaughan.

4 Don’t forget to budget for VRT if you’re doing a conversion, says Brian Lacey. “There’s three things you have to keep in mind” when you’re budgeting for a campervan. “One is the cost of the van. Then there’s the cost of the conversion. Then there’s the VRT,” which is 13.3 per cent of the open market selling price, as defined by Revenue. As a rule of thumb, for a brand new four-berth campervan, that’s a VRT of about €6,000 to €6,500.

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Japanese knotweed saves £11.8billion off property values  

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Japanese knotweed is responsible for shaving £11.8billion off the value of Britain’s property market, new research by a removal specialist claims.

As many as 4 per cent of British homes are affected by the invasive plant – either on the property itself or on a neighbouring property.

The invasive plant makes homes significantly more difficult to sell as buyers can struggle to secure a mortgage on a property where it is found.

However, Britain’s biggest mortgage lenders told us that is possible to get a mortgage for a home affected by knotweed, but conditions may be imposed.

Japanese knotweed is an invasive plant that makes a property significantly more difficult to sell as buyers

Japanese knotweed is an invasive plant that makes a property significantly more difficult to sell as buyers

Japanese knotweed on a property reduces its value by an average of 5 per cent, according to the figures from removal specialist Environet.

It used that to estimate that with 890,000 households across the county are being hit by a typical reduction of value of £13,200 due to knotweed, this equated to £11.8billion in total.

The plant can be stopped from spreading – although this process can be costly, at around £2,500 for a 10sq m area for a herbicide treatment or £5,000 for a 10 sq m for an excavation.

Environet claims that removing the root system from the ground is the only way to deal with Japanese knotweed decisively with minimal change of regrowth.

It said that despite the lower costs, herbicide treatment is increasingly recognised as a control method only. 

This is because above-ground growth can disappear, but the root system beneath the ground is often induced into dormancy meaning it’s capable of regrowing in the future – particularly if the ground is disturbed by landscaping or building work. 

Environet says removing the root system from the ground is the only way to deal with Japanese knotweed decisively with minimal change of regrowth

Environet says removing the root system from the ground is the only way to deal with Japanese knotweed decisively with minimal change of regrowth

Nic Seal, of Environet, said: ‘Those buying and selling property are legally required to declare if the property is or has been affected by Japanese knotweed, but if an infestation has been professionally excavated with an insurance-backed guarantee to satisfy mortgage lenders, it is possible to restore the property value to close to the original value.’

He added: ‘Herbicide treatment of knotweed has always been very popular due to the lower costs, but the message is getting through that it’s only a control method and won’t solve the problem definitively.

‘Buyers are much more wary of buying a property which still has knotweed rhizome beneath the ground as there’s no way of knowing whether it’s completely dead. There’s also an environmental cost to using chemicals, which is of growing concern.’

Environet explained that the excavation element can be carried out during the winter months, allowing for full use of gardens during the summer.

What mortgage lenders say about knotweed 

Mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, explained that those buying a property where Japanese knotweed is found may find it less of a deal breaker than in the past where the lender may have automatically declined a mortgage application.

SPF Private Clients’ Mark Harris, said: ‘Should Japanese knotweed be identified, there are four categorisations assessing its severity, with 1 being best-case scenario and 4 being worst-case. 

‘Depending on which silo the property falls into, and whether there is specialist eradication work either ongoing or planned, and insurance in place, lenders may be willing to consider the application.

‘Depending on the severity of the problem, lenders may tailor the amount they are prepared to lend, or not lend at all.’ 

While securing a mortgage on a property with knotweed can remain challenging, lenders confirmed that they are open to providing finance if a management plan is in place. 

A Nationwide Building Society spokesman said: ‘Our policy on Japanese Knotweed depends on how far the plant is from the property. If it is less than seven metres away from the property, we would request a specialist report about eradicating it before deciding whether we could lend. 

‘If the plant is more than seven metres away, we would need written confirmation from the borrower that they want to proceed with their mortgage application despite the presence of the plant. 

‘What may be required is assessed on a case by case basis. Where the valuer identifies the presence of Japanese Knotweed, they may advise that a specialist report is required with respect to eradicating the plant and, where applicable, to report on repairing the property. Any report for eradication of the plant should include an insurance-backed 5 year warranty against re-infestation.’ 

And spokesperson for Halifax explained: ‘The presence of Japanese Knotweed itself is not a barrier to lending. 

‘We will be guided by the surveyor’s, and any subsequent expert’s, report on the scale, location and effects of any presence on or around the property.’  

How were the figures calculated? 

Official figures from the ONS show there at 27.8million households in Britain.

Environet disregarded 20 per cent of households that are flats as these are less likely to be affected by knotweed. 

That produces a figure of 22,420,000 homes in Britain. 

Environet’s survey conducted with YouGov in 2021 revealed that around 4 per cent of homes are affected by knotweed, either directly – meaning that it grows on the property – or indirectly where a neighbouring property is affected. 

It means 889,600 homes are affected in total, according to Environet.

The average value of a property in Britain is £264,244, according to Land Registry’s figures for August. 

Environet claimed that Japanese knotweed reduces the value of a property by 5 per cent on average. This is based on its own anecdotal evidence of what a property is worth once a knotweed management plan is in place (ie the 5 per cent reflects the amount that a buyer might try to reduce an asking price by due to the stigma and risk of the knotweed returning after treatment or removal). 

The 5 per cent reduction translates into £13,212 being knocked off the average home.

As such, the total amount knocked off property values in Britain as a result of Japanese knotweed is therefore 889,600 households multiplied by £13,212, which is £11,753,395,200.

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Ikea offers personalised design service in Ireland

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Ikea is piloting a home design service in Ireland. The Swedish furniture giant opened the new service in Naas on Monday.

Customers will be able to consult the retailer’s in-house home interiors specialists at the new store. The company said the service would be free, personalised and one-to-one.

It said people would be able to talk through ideas for upgrading their kitchen, living room or wardrobes with a designer. They will also be able to order any Ikea products from the store for delivery. Unlike Ikea’s other smaller store in Carrickmines, south Dublin, there will be no items available on site to bring home on the day.

The company said Ireland was one of eight markets worldwide in which it is piloting the new service.

“This new service allows us to bring our home furnishing expertise to the many, with bespoke design solutions that best reflect our customer’s unique style and design challenges,” said Martyn Allan, Ikea’s market manager in Ireland. “At the same time, we get the opportunity to listen to and learn from our customers to continue to develop our store formats.

“We are so proud that Ireland is part of this pilot, offering us the opportunity to move closer to our customers in towns and cities currently without IKEA stores,” he added.

People looking for a design consultation will need to book in advance online. When the company confirms the booking, it will let the customer know what to bring with them, such as measurements or photographs.

Over one or two consultations – which will not cost anything – the designer will draw up a 3D plan which will be accessible on the Ikea website to the customer up to five days after the consultation.

The store on Naas Main Street will feature some room sets and the company says the consultations will operate in strict compliance with current public health guidelines.

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Dubs get exercised over digital dollars

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Dubliners are to be “paid” for a walk in the park with “civic dollars” they can cash in for coffee and cake and other goods and services, in an effort to encourage outdoor exercise.

Visitors to five parks in the Dublin 8 area can earn the community currency if they sign up for a new smart phone app to allow Dublin City Council to track their park use.

The scheme is being piloted in the area from the Liberties to Inchicore, following research by the council’s Smart D8 team which found just 40 per cent of local residents took regular exercise, but 92 per cent said they would use a park for exercise if it was available to them.

Visitors to St Audoen’s Park, St Patrick’s Park, Weaver Park and Oscar Square in the Liberties, and Grattan Park in Inchicore who use the app will be rewarded with civic dollars for every 30 minutes they spend in the park up to a limit of 5 dollars a day.

Data anonymised

The system uses GPS data and allows users to opt in once they enter a park. Their data is anonymised, and a user’s session will end automatically once they walk out of the park. Data gathered will be used by the council to analyse park usage and allow for future planning and infrastructure improvements.

The dollars can be cashed in for discounts in a number of local businesses including Little Bird cafe, the Bike Hub, Mobility Genie, the Digital Hub and Epic Ireland. The dollars can also be donated to community organisations for more expensive services including marketing or IT advice and legal consultations, with participating companies including Core Tech IT, Paul Saxon Consulting, Éire Graphic Design and VAVA Influencers.

The Smart D8 project was established earlier this year to investigate innovative approaches to improve citizens’ health and wellbeing in Dublin 8, with the involvement of St James’s Hospital and the Digital Hub.

The civic dollars pilot will run for five months, with the aim of attracting 1,000 users in the first two months, and could be rolled out to other parks in the city if successful.

Organisations accepting dollar donations include Warrenmount Community Education Centre, Robert Emmet Community Development Project, Solas Project and Fatima Groups United.

The scheme had the potential to “improve the health and wellbeing of our citizens”, Lord Mayor of Dublin Alison Gilliland said.

“We need to encourage increased use of our parks, and the civic dollars project will do that while having the added benefit of contributing to local businesses and community organisations.”


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