House of horrors: finding a gaff in Dublin

*gaff  Irish slang word for house

In the summer of 2016, I left my life behind in Baltimore’s stifling July heat: a well-paid job with great co-workers, friends at neighborhood bars like a scene out of Cheers, and my family a stone’s throw away.  I had packed up my most important belongings into two suitcases and with a one-way ticket, got on a plane that would take me across the Atlantic.  I was to start my Master of Public Health course at University College Dublin in September.

My former hood in South Baltimore

The months beforehand flew by in a whirlwind of activity, all building up to my departure that boiling late July day. I had spent the morning saying goodbye to friends over brunch and having our last drinks at our favorite neighborhood spots.  I would land in Dublin the next day with a month and half of time to kill before the term started.

I figured I’d find a studio apartment in less than a week, then would spend the rest of the time getting acclimated and finding part-time work.  I pictured everything falling easily into place for my new life.

But there I found myself, three days after arrival, in a completely fruitless housing search; I sent nearly 30 messages each day without a single response.  Almost immediately, I realized that my plans for a studio were just not feasible.  With the average rent for studios being around €800, my student’s budget wouldn’t cut it.  Unknowingly, I had entered the rental market during one of the worst crises the country has ever seen.

daft rental
Rental trends for Q1 of 2018 courtesy of

I laid on my hostel bunk, a 29-year-old curled up in the fetal position, realizing I had made a terrible mistake.  I could just back out now, I thought.  I’ll buy another one-way ticket and go home.  Sure, there will be some questions, but once it all blows over, everything will get back to normal.

But I didn’t go back home.  Each day, I woke up early and began my search.  I crafted a template telling the advertiser about myself and I sent messages from morning until night.  Finally, replies began to trickle in.  I saw two properties and ended up being offered a room in the second one.  It was large, had a double bed, and was a 15-minute walk from the UCD campus.  I was ecstatic and relieved and paid the deposit immediately.


In total, the time from beginning my search to securing accommodation measured a week.  This doesn’t seem like a terribly long time, but while I was in the midst of it, with disappointment, frustration, and flat out fear around every corner, the days stretched on like an eternity.

Nearly two years on, the market has only gotten worse.  Recently, a coworker finally found an apartment after two months of searching.  TWO.  It’s not normal and something has to give.  Until it does, keep your head down and check out some things I learned first-hand:

  1. Do your research ahead of time. Look into neighborhoods you’d be interested in living in before you get to Ireland.  Don’t just focus on areas directly surrounding your job, university, or the hippest spots in town.  Dublin is a great city for cycling so consider areas accessible by bike.  Also, check out which neighborhoods are connected to your office or university via city bus lines.  Use the commute time to do reading for class or watch Netflix.
  2. Give yourself extra time. Plan to get to Dublin well in advance of the start of your course or job.  The rental market gets tighter the closer it is to the beginning of term.  With everything else you’ll need to organize (visa, registration, buying household items), scrambling to find a place to live should be the absolute last thing on your list.
  3. alerts are your friends. Remember all that research you did?  Use that knowledge to set-up filters on  I also recommend enabling email alerts for those filters.  The faster you can send out a message for a new room/studio that is posted, the better your chances are of getting a response.  These ads get thousands of views after only a few hours on the website.  Do you think the advertiser is going to read through all of those messages?  The vast majority of landlords will click through the first ten or fifteen, send invites to the suitable candidates among them, and call it a day.
  4. Got an offer to view a room? You’re not in the clear yet.  You are likely not the only person who has been offered that time slot.  Here are two things I’ve learned from recently securing my very own studio in the well-situated neighbourhood of Donnybrook in Dublin 4.
    • Get there early. When I arrived 10 minutes before the showing, there were already 9 people standing outside the building.  Luckily, it was not first come, first served, but this is not always the case.  The lines for these viewings get out of hand very quickly.  You’re going to want to guarantee you’re up at the front.
    • Come packin’ heat. And no, I don’t mean holstering your six shooter (even if the housing situation makes you keen to pull a murder-suicide).  When I was shown my current flat, not only did I register my interest immediately, I had a folder full of documents.  A bank statement (proving I had the funds for all the up-front costs readily available), roommate and employer references, proof of employment, GNIB card, and passport.  Again, the need for this arsenal will vary from place to place, but it never hurts to be prepared.
  5. Go with your gut. Does the situation scream shady to you?  Sadly, the fact of the matter is, many landlords in Dublin get away with some entirely shady (and in some cases, downright illegal) behavior because they can.  If you decide to take a room, get everything in writing before handing over any amount of cash.  If you can, take pictures of the space, including items that are damaged or broken, and email them to the landlord as proof of the condition upon move-in.  Renting an apartment here is how I imagine the Wild West was.  There are no rules and nearly anything goes.  Know your rights and don’t let a slumlord take advantage of you.
  6. Most importantly, don’t give up hope. It’s easy to feel desperate in this rental climate, but don’t let yourself be defeated.  Be persistent, flexible, and willing to make some small compromises.  I made the mistake of having a rigidly-defined set of expectations going into it.  While having standards is absolutely necessary, one must accept that it’s unlikely to find a place that ticks all your boxes.  On the flip side, do not feel pressured to take the first place you see just because it’s there.  An unhappy living situation can impact your overall experience, even if everything else is positive.

These days, when curled up in bed it’s with my arms around a pizza while I watch Always Sunny reruns.  Leaving it all behind can be scary and in the beginning, extremely challenging given the external pressure finding a home poses.  But looking back on my own search, pushing through the many hassles of house hunting was definitely worth it.  I hope it is for you, too.

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