Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Just like Stalin, I’m seeing red over house prices

Listen to this: “Mankind is divided into rich and poor, into property owners and exploited.” Wise words indeed. You can feel a fine mix of compassion and outrage behind them. Alas, I fear the latter came to predominate in the writer. His name was Joseph Stalin.

Could have been a good guy, but then he goes and murders millions of people. Funny how things turn out, eh? Maybe it was something he ate.

Now, the word in the opening quote that I want you to focus on — you are focusing, aren’t you? One of us has to — is “property”. It’s said to lie at the heart of the class system.

But we all want to be property owners now, rich and poor alike, be it a caravan or a castle that lies at the heart of our demesne.

As I contemplate moving house again, I consider how bonkers the whole property palaver is. For a start, I’m getting a new bathroom — just to help sell the house to someone else. For four years, I’ve put up with old lady’s peach wallpaper and a shower that dribbles like a man with prostate problems.

Now that I’m leaving, the house has a swanky bathroom. That is “if” I’m leaving. As we were packing books into boxes, I said to my friend: “After all this, I might just stay.”

“Say on, good imbecile.”

“Well, it’s such a hassle moving. I haven’t even got a mortgage arranged from the bank yet. They’re going to want to see my accounts for the last three years.”

“Surely, you have these?”

“I have two years and a tin of receipts.”

“Well, we shall fall off that bridge when we come to it.”

“And then there’s all the people you have to deal with. Lawyers. Estate agents. Bankers. If you added Boris Johnson I’d have the full set of objectionable plonkers.”

“You speak as a journalist.”

“Touché. But what of the people coming round, and their idiot questions? Even I, a bluffer by trade or profession, cannot wax eloquently on the subject of boilers. Why do they always ask about these? There’s hot water. Just shut up.”

But come round and ask about the boiler they shall. And, what’s worse, I’ll be going round looking at the homes of others, asking in turn about their boilers and feigning admiration for their property, when I hated it as soon as I splashed across the moat.

A thought arises: what if nobody at all comes to view the property? That would be worse even than an army of boiler obsessives.

Still, there are signs that the market is picking up a little. In Northern Ireland, that means the decline is slowing, and a report this week suggested the proportion of first-time buyers was the largest since 2001.

That’s more promising than the situation in the Republic, where first-time buyers have been warned not to have children. Apparently, lenders won’t shell out or will deduct an amount for each infant. “Here’s your loan and some complimentary condoms.”

Property: it’s all nuts. All we want is somewhere to live. With me that may well mean the Scottish countryside again, a prospect to dread. I can’t even remember how to play the banjo.

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