Property: Columnist in robbery shock

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The Independent Online
WHY was it, I wondered to myself last week, that in a survey of suicide rates in Europe, no figures were available for Belgium. While the Finns seemed perfectly happy to reveal that they topped the top-yourself league, the Belgians were altogether more backward in coming forward. My favoured answer to this self-imposed question is apparently illegal under the Treaty of Rome, so I must content myself instead with another rhetorical question. Would the headline "People moving house warned it's boom time for burglars" be more accurate if the last word was replaced by the new word robbery?

I ask the question because while the accompanying news story explains that people are 50 per cent more likely to fall victim to criminals during a house move, they are several thousand per cent more likely to be the victims of daylight robbery during the entire process.

From the first tentative enquiry at the estate agents to the anguished moment when you can't remember which cardboard box contains the ashtrays, the process is tainted by a mysterious sub-culture intent on parting you from you money. Each link in the property chain represents a dark alley at the end of which lurks a member of the upper criminal classes intent on relieving you of your cash.

In that respect the futility of my pursuit of home ownership over the last year represents a silver lining in an otherwise deep grey cloud of despair. I may not own a home yet but at least I have not been ripped off, shaken down or seriously stung by the villains and blackguards who terrorise the property market.

Returning to the newspaper headline, I have to say that I must take issue with the findings of the research on which the story was based. From my own experience, the chances of burglary during a house move fall rather than rise. It was in another lifetime that I once had the pleasure and privilege of home ownership. In those heady days I found myself on the move quite frequently, the innocent victim of relentless creditors. In those days burglars were the least of my worries.

Whenever I moved house and my motley collection of belongings and furniture made its way to the U-Move Rent-A-Wreck van a number of things would happen:

a) neighbours assumed that the council had designated the bit of pavement between my house and the van as an official rubbish dump;

b) burglars would add things to my pile;

c) the local charity shop would offer me a copy of their latest catalogue.

The biggest problem I have had with moving house is not loss of property but loss of memory. The number of times I have forgotten where my new house is and tried to force entry into my old house is embarrassing. Indeed I am probably the reason why the survey has identified so many burglaries.

So disturbing was this problem that I sometimes thought about ending it all and going to live in Belgium. Then again ...