Property: Home Truths: March

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Falling out of love with your house is becoming such a problem that I wouldn't be surprised if special helplines were set up for stressed home-owners: the recession has turned our nest-making instincts inside out, and now it is damaging our affection for the homes we live in. People who have been trying to sell for a long time may, it appears, start to feel completely alienated by the places that once charmed them so much.

This is the finding of Frustrated Movers, a research document produced by MFI, which reports that some of the sellers who have done longest service in the market have started to doubt their own taste. One such victim said of his house: 'You don't feel quite the same about it again. I don't dislike it, but it's as if it's not good enough because nobody wants it.'

So closely do people identify with their homes that they can start to think they may be in need of restoration themselves. 'You start off blaming the house and then you start wondering: 'What's wrong with me?' That's when it gets bad,' said another frustrated vendor quoted in the report.

Deep disillusionment with the whole idea of home-ownership is obviously spreading fast, fertilised by the ashes of long-cremated hopes. Among those who had owned their homes for between three and five years, 22 per cent no longer believed that it made sound economic sense to do so. Among those who bought in the last two years, the proportion of unbelievers was a startling 67 per cent.

The only point of cheer is that once sellers have decided to retire from the fray and have reconciled themselves to staying put, the frustration and depression can vanish quickly. 'We gave ourselves a deadline; if we hadn't sold it by then, we'd take it off the market. And once we'd decided that, it was wonderful. Like coming alive again . . . So I began to plan what I might do if we stayed.'

People's desire to live somewhere else is nowhere better illustrated than in their choice of house name. There is a lovely regional illogicality to some of the most popular ones extracted from the Halifax computer list of 16.5m borrowers and investors. Those who live in Greater London have a strange attachment to the name 'Cottage'. But the surprising number of householders in Yorkshire and Humberside who call their properties 'Cotswold' seems to reflect an even stronger feeling of displacement. The national chart- topper could hardly be more prosaic, however. It is 'The Bungalow'.

I feel a tremendous sense of unease about the fireplaces in our house. The ones in the bedrooms regurgitate soot and lumps of masonry. That childish sense of wonder at what the chimney might yield - water babies, dancing chimney sweeps, bearded old men with sacks of presents - has entirely surrendered to the unromantic suspicion that the flue may need rebuilding. A new Victorian Society leaflet on fireplaces will probably goad me into action. A delightfully illustrated explanation of the development of chimneypieces, grates and accessories is followed by awful words of warning: 'The flue,' it says, 'should be swept at the end of summer every year.' The penalties for negligence are severe. Some flues, it warns, are so narrow that internal damage is inaccessible. You have to drop an inflatable rubber lining down inside, then pour in chemical foam to harden and create a new rigid shell. This is awesome.

The next piece of advice - on cleaning stubborn stains from marble chimneypieces - is worthy of Mrs Beeton herself. What you need, apparently, is a special poultice made with fuller's earth, talc, and sepiolite or powdered chalk. Having applied this, you must cover it first with tissues or blotting paper, and then with plastic. 'Be prepared to poultice a badly stained area several times, experimenting with different solvents if necessary until the stain is finally lifted out,' the leaflet says.

A flavour of the hard 20th-century times we live in comes with the final reminder that we should all take good photographs of our chimneypieces and make a note of the measurements, in case they should be ripped

out by architectural thieves. ('Care for Victorian Houses: Fireplaces' is available from the Victorian Society, 1 Priory Gardens,

London W4 1TT, price pounds 3).

I wonder if people buying new houses realise how much of their money finds its way into the pocket of the local water company. According to the House Builders Federation, the connection of water and sewerage can cost up to pounds 2,276 for a single house. These 'infrastructure charges' were introduced by the 1989 Water Act. Needless to say, housebuilders boil at the mention of them and are campaigning hard for their abolition.

The smaller independent estate agents are beginning to complain bitterly about the way some of the large corporate outfits are getting rid of their repossessions. One independent told me recently that a big chain of agents in his area was doing a brisk trade in three- bedroom semis priced at about pounds 33,000. He estimated that their true value was pounds 40,000.

The result is that the lenders get their money back more quickly; but if the quick-sale price dips below the level of the mortgage, the dispossessed former owners are faced with a bill for their negative equity. The miserable home-owner loses out yet again.

On the other hand, the lenders themselves could stand to lose substantial sums by waiting for higher prices. Trevor Abrahmsohn, managing director of Glentree Estates, remembers a repossessed Hampstead property that went on the market at pounds 1m. The banks rejected offers close to the asking price, to see it sell two years later at pounds 640,000.

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