If you are inclined to buy a historic property, we are sharing our experience here.
Some of the steps may be the same for a "normal" property, but we don't know!
We never looked at normal buildings...
Step One: Find a castle or historic property
We started looking in 2012-13 on a whim. We googled "castles for sale in Ireland" before a visit. Here are a few useful websites:
Premier Properties : Helen Cassidy, Auctioneer
Former Glory : Period Property in Ireland
Castle Hunter: Bena Stutchbury
The other castles we seriously considered buying were all in ruins:
Ballymaquiff in Galway
Corofin in Galway (sold)
Ballinvard in Cork
Carrignacurra in Cork (sold)
This little graphic is of our castle comparison matrix compiled in 2013 when we were looking at other castles.
Sigginstown was originally under offer when we first enquired. Two years later on a return trip it was on the market again and we visited in October 2015 for the first time. We originally started looking in Galway, then in Cork, and ended up buying in Wexford!
Not all castles we looked at were for sale. It is possible to find out who owns a property and inquire if there is interest in selling it. Sometimes properties go on and off the market. Bena was invaluable to us, as she provided consulting advice even though we were not buying in her local area. John Keane was the auctioneer (realtor) who listed the property and was quite helpful.
Step Two: Decide on criteria
After seeing several tower houses we realized that we were more interested in the journey of renovation than purchasing one that was already "done up". This is a big decision as the budget for purchasing a renovated tower may be less than the cost of purchase plus construction. We also decided we needed enough land to hold various workshops since we we do medieval re-enactment. After seeing some towers and thinking about getting older, we were thrilled to see Sigginstown with the attached buildings. This meant we could live in the house on primarily one floor. Our fourth criteria was structural stability. There is a huge difference in cost and challenge when the walls have big cracks or are falling down! Besides these large decisions the architectural details were secondary. Our tower is smaller than many others, but with the attached house we didn't mind.
Step Three: Meet people who have done this
Once we met Helen and Bena, we started to hear about other castle owners. These people were super helpful and willing to share their experience. Thanks to all the owners of Killiane Castle, Foulksrath Castle, Kilcoe Castle, the cottages at Clougheast Castle and Butlerstown Castle for allowing us to climb around and talk to you before taking the plunge. A special thanks to Sonja and Kevin of Tullaun Castle for being our "castle mentors"! Every one of the situations was different, and it gave us hope that most of the owners were not fabulously wealthy!
Step Four: Get serious about the budget and effort
Understand that these historic properties are listed monuments that require significant approvals. We understand that (it is emphasized by everyone), but we have not yet experienced the effect!
During the three years of looking, we compiled various conceptual budgets and comparisons. When we went back to Sigginstown in January 2016, we met several professionals (Emmet Stafford & Catherine McLoughlin, John Creed, Pat Tallis, Ivor McElveen, Richard Browne) on site to talk about feasibility. Once there was agreement that the building was structurally sound, we discussed various approaches to making the attached house habitable. It was difficult to get any real idea of cost without drawings. Several people we met said "budget a million". Since that was not an option, we met with our financial advisor to see if we could afford a conceptual amount with purchase prices and also contingency. Gordon refuses to live on cat food in his old age due to this project. We will live in a big box if we have to! Our budget forces us to be very creative about approach and to take our time,
Since this is a major project, probably the biggest in our life outside of having children, we needed a plan. Liz is a project manager so we created a scope document that outlined our intent. Although this document continues to evolve it was essential to weigh out the risks, potential costs and figure out how we would tackle each phase. We decided that Gordon would go to Ireland during the spring and summer to handle construction, and Liz would manage the paperwork and project remotely as much as possible while continuing to work. We will recruit friends and family to come help, and try to do less critical tasks and repetative ourselves.
Step Five Understand the Legal Process
Once we decided to go ahead and make an offer, we needed legal advice. We were referred to Maggie Mulpeter who had arranged another castle purchase. Maggie was great and helped us understand the Irish process. She also handled our payments to various people as we did not have a bank account yet in Ireland. We first made a offer via the auctioneer, and after some haggling we settled on a nominal agreement and sent in a 5% deposit. Maggie did the title search and Engineer John Creed reviewed the boundary lines. The map had to be redone and a few other things. During this time Monica Walsh provided us Irish tax advice since we were new to VAT, income tax and various other relief situations. We also had to apply for Irish Personal Public Service (PPS) numbers, in order to register our property. The paperwork was a little confusing at first but once we contacted the PPS office by phone and told them we lived in the US, they were very helpful and we sent in the forms remotely. By early May we decided that we have planned and investigated all we could, so sent in the other 5% deposit and signed the contract which was then binding.
Step Six: Closing the Deal
After we sent in the second deposit, signed contract and PPS numbers to Maggie, we transferred over the remaining purchase amount and fees. Maggie concluded the remaining paperwork with the seller's solicitor and auctioneer. The whole transaction was done remotely. We did not have to be present and it was a bit anti-climactic knowing we had bought the property but nothing really changed (except seeing our bank account diminish!)
You can see a re-enactment of our purchase story as part of the House Hunters International reality show episode "Castle Hunting in Ireland". This is aired occasionally on U.S. television and can often be found on YouTube. The episode was filmed in 2017 after we had bought the property, and substitutes habitable castles for sale instead of the other ruins we looked at. This was due to the format of the show which concentrates on places people can actually live in, versus ruins! Our budget is also modified - in the show it is set at $900K in order to see the places for sale. Our total budget is a much more modest $500K which includes the original purchase for €150K of the castle and 5.5 acres of land.
The show features these castles in addition to Sigginstown:
Ballyhannon in Clare
Turin in Mayo
Caherkinmonwee in Galway