Kevin O'Higgins Solicitors

Clara Malone, 36: ‘I bought a two-bed apartment for €450,000. I never thought I wouldn’t be able to sell it’

Saturday, 10 January, 2015
The Irish Times
Rosita Boland

Clara Malone lives in Sandyford, Dublin: "I’m the youngest of three girls. I was born in Dublin, but we moved to Cork when I was one. We came back to Dublin when I was 10."

I did business studies at the University of Limerick. I felt I wanted to get away from Dublin. After graduation I worked for a year, then did a master’s in management information systems. Then I went out to Sydney.

I met Justin two weeks before I moved to Australia. It felt at the time that it was very unfortunate timing. I was not looking to meet anyone, because I was going away. It was three years before we got together properly.

When I was in Australia my grandmother died, and I didn’t come home for the funeral. I wish I had. She lived in Newmarket-on-Fergus, in Clare, and we often flew from Shannon, so she was often the last person I saw before I left Ireland. It got me thinking I was really close to family and I was so far away from them.

I was 26 when I came back. I got a job in HR. I lived at home for a year, and bought my apartment in 2005. It’s a two bed in Sandyford, and it cost €450,000. It was a new build. People said renting was flushing money down the toilet. I felt the only way of moving out of home was to be a responsible adult and buy an apartment.

I saw the apartment as my home until I was married, and then we’d sell it and buy a house together. I never thought I wouldn’t be able to sell it. I was going out with Justin then, but he was still living in Birmingham.

Justin got a job in Maynooth and moved back in 2006. He bought an apartment in Maynooth. If I’d had a crystal ball I’d have said, ‘Why don’t you rent in Maynooth instead?’, but I couldn’t have that conversation with him, because we weren’t going out that long, and it might have scared him off. We got engaged in 2008 and married in 2009.

We struggled to have children. We tried for three years. We had fertility treatment. Those three years when you’re just married are meant to be joyful, and they were really stressful. We never thought we’d struggle to have kids. We never thought we wouldn’t have a house or that property would cause us sleepless nights.

Both of us are on pay cuts. Everything is turned on its head. There aren’t any of my peers who don’t have money worries.

Justin’s apartment in Maynooth is in negative equity now, and it’s rented. When a tenant leaves, getting the place ready to rent again takes a lot of time and effort. There is always that anxiety about finding tenants. We have a month saved to cover the mortgage, but if it was vacant for two months we would be under very serious financial pressure. There is no spare money. We can’t save for a rainy day.

We have two children now, a girl and boy, 20 months and seven months. When I got pregnant, people started saying, ‘When are you looking for a house?’ We were sucked into a situation 10 years ago, and we’re not going to get sucked into any madness again.

We decided a year ago that we are not moving. The kids are small, and the apartment is big, and there is a great sense of community in this estate. The creche is a minute away. The apartment has become our home, not a place where we are waiting to go somewhere else. We don’t even have conversations about moving any more.

As a woman working outside the home, there’s a confidence that goes after you have a baby. When you are out on maternity leave you put your career on hold, no matter what anyone says. You have to even almost justify yourself by working harder when you go back.

Sometimes I ask myself, who am I? At the moment I’m a mother of two. I used to be a very successful HR person. When you’re in the work zone, work is so important. A lot of conversations start with, ‘What do you do?’ When you’re out on maternity leave your priorities totally change. Now my identity is as a mother.

I’ve been made redundant from my HR job, so the comfort blanket of returning to work, to a job I’ve done for 10 years, is gone. I’ll look for another job in 2015. I’m confident I will get one. I like using that part of my brain, and I could never imagine not having my own money. We have a joint account, and our own separate accounts, but, to be honest, everything I’ve spent in the last couple of years has been on the kids.

The creche costs for both children will be €2,000 when I go back to work. But with two mortgages to pay I couldn’t afford to stay at home, even taking out the creche costs. I’d love to be able to make decisions around what is right for us as a family, and not only because of finances. At the moment there is no choice.

We are giving ourselves another 10 years in this apartment.