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The nosy neighbour

Do not ask the name of the person who seeks a bed for the night. He who is reluctant to give his name is the one who most needs shelter. 

Whilst out for a walk the other day I spotted a gorgeous looking house. So, like any law-abiding citizen, I had a good gawp through the fence and then went home and looked it up on Google Street View, Google Earth and net House prices.

Oh my word. It struck me that it’s quite an illustration of how badly awry our housing sector has got.

Now, admittedly, I live in a pretty affluent part of the south-east, itself probably the most affluent part of the whole country. But a house that was sold in 1995 for £133,000 went for £1,175, 000 only 20 years later. Yes, the original one had probably been knocked down and re-built with all the trimmings, but a quick nose at some of the other sold house price in that road and round the area showed that the same bonkers escalation has taken place over the years.

House prices are only really relevant at the moment you are either buying or selling (or –mortgaging I suppose). Would it really make a difference if our houses were suddenly worth half what they were yesterday? On the one hand, it would open up the market an allowing more people at the bottom to get onto the ladder. On the other hand, it would royally mess-up anyone whose houses were purchased with borrowed money. Which is a great many people.

I think this whole thing has bothered me so much because I read an article on the BBC about the number of people still stuck in council bed-and-breakfast accommodation or kipping down on friends’ sofas for months at a time. The number of homes built for Social Rent – actual, real council rent rather than ‘slightly cheaper than the private landlord sector’ – according to the Affordable Housing Supply Statistics from the DCLG since 2010, has fallen from 39,600 to 5,300. If you include the number of homes built to include affordable rent’ and shared ownership, the picture isn’t much better – down from nearly 62,000 in 2010 to 41,000 in 2016-17.

My question then is this – Has the housing market gone so far with price rises that there is no mending it now? I still know a lot of people in their twenties and even early thirties who have more or less come to terms with the fact that they will never be able to afford to purchase a property in the area where they want to live, work and put down roots . Sure, Help to Buy managed to get a lot of people onto the housing ladder that possibly wouldn’t have been able to afford it otherwise. Or maybe they would have been able to afford to get on the ladder, just not with that particular house in that particular area. Help to Buy also boosted the housebuilding sector at a time when it needed it and it also, arguably, helped to artificially maintain house prices.

I have no idea what the solution is. Maybe I’m overthinking the issue. Maybe I should just go back to using Right Move the way most naturally nosy people do when they aren’t actually thinking of moving – as a bit of light property porn.

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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