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D-Day arrives for legions who camped out for ex-Army homes

After sleeping by the A2 in Ballykelly for more than a week hundreds of first-time buyers are this morning seeing their dreams come true.

Streams of hopefuls have come from across Northern Ireland to the old Shackleton Barracks creating a tent city by the road that runs through the normally quiet Co Londonderry village.

They had come in hope of buying one of the 317 former military homes that, having been refurbished, were put on the market from between £30,000 and £65,000.

On Friday morning the first batch were invited to move in from the side of the road and take shelter in one of two marquee tents before handing over a deposit and taking the finals steps to ownership.

In batches of 10 they were brought in to the heated marquees where regular doses of tea and coffee were on hand and a barbecue was scheduled for 6pm with entertainment.

A spokesman for the Merrion Property Group yesterday said: “The gates opened at 9am this morning and we started letting people in in groups of 10 so that there was no panic or hysteria.

“Everyone seems to be happy and we're glad to be able to get them away from the road.

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“From 9am tomorrow we'll be taking them in batches of 10 to the booking office so they can put down their deposits.”

The houses at the former army base have been open since Tuesday, allowing the prospective customers to wander around and decide which house they want to buy. Because of the numbering system the buyers have a list of their top 20 choices to pick from.

The spokesman said: “If you are number 50 on the list there is the chance that your first choice house may have gone so this gives us the opportunity to go through the list until we hopefully get to a pick you do want.

“There are plenty of houses to go round — 45% of them are under £40,000.

“We advised people to have their mortgage in place before putting the deposit down and most of them have done so. Their mortgages and solicitors are in place and they are ready to go. They have eight weeks to sign the unconditional contract and then they are in.”

He added: “There has been a great atmosphere all week, great camaraderie. It has all gone very well. It has been a very busy week for everyone involved.

“We hoped for the numbers but we didn't expect them to start coming last Friday.”

Nicola Cosby and her fiancé John Taylor are among those who have spent the last week camping out and have spent what they hope will be their last night under canvas.

She said yesterday: “They let us through the gates and we're all sitting in these big tents. One chair to a person. The gates are closing at 9pm tonight and then the sale starts at 9am tomorrow morning.

“My sister and her partner are here too so we'll all end up doubling up on the chairs. There could be well over 600 people here tonight.

“It's all very relaxed. People are chatting to each other —getting to know their neighbours.

“There's no sign of any frustration. It's very upbeat.”

After camping out for a week and now with the end in sight, Nicola said: “I don't know what we'll do with ourselves. We've had great support all through the week from family and friends.

“I was supposed to be at St Mary's University this week but I told the lecturers I wouldn't be in because this was too good an opportunity to miss.”

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