David Adams gave up looking seriously in the windows of the estate agents in Gerrards Cross high street a long time ago. Now he does it more as an exercise in dark humour. Very dark humour.
The 30-year-old care assistant was to be found yesterday perusing the homes on offer in one window: "a modest three-bedroom detached house'' - £1.3m; "three-bed semi in need of redecoration'' - £400,000.
"I earn just over £23,000 a year and standing here it feels like I'm in some kind of twisted joke," said Mr Adams. "I do a useful job, one that people here could not do without. But if I wanted to live here, well, I'd have to go and rob a bank.''
The average price of a house in this ultra-comfortable but unremarkable corner of Buckinghamshire now stands at £726,321 - an increase of nearly 300 per cent in less than a decade.
Or, put another way, this is the place in the country where hell will have to freeze over before a teacher, firefighter, nurse or police officer could afford to buy a house. A survey by the Halifax this week named the town as the least affordable corner of Britain for public-sector key workers.
A (very compact) house in Gerrards Cross will cost a nurse on a basic salary 29.5 times her income. For a police officer the price-earning ratio is 20:8. The national average for a first-time buyer is 4.5.
While other parts of the country have suffered in previous downturns, Gerrards Cross, with its golf courses, chic boutiques and links to central London, has been barely touched. Prices here now bear easy comparison to those in Mayfair, Kensington or Chelsea.
Seven estate agents line a 300-yard stretch of high street, easily outnumbering any other business.
Their display boards are awash with houses of modest size and price tags above £1mn. One agent was offering a "luxury one-bedroom flat'' for £1m. None had a property for less than £300,000. Across the town, diggers and builders busy themselves behind hoardings proclaiming "superior! One-two bedroom apartments''. Another mounted a sign saying "More land required - urgently''.
All of which should at least amount to a very happy community of estate agents. Think again.
Tom Dean, of the WR Beck agency, said: "I cannot remember the last time we had a nurse buy a house from us. People in Gerrards Cross want to maintain their essential services and we will lose them if people can't afford to live here. The Government and local authority need to release more land for affordable development.''
Trevor Kent, a former president of the National Association of Estate Agents and a fifth-generation resident of the town, added: "It is a dreadful problem. Unfortunately, it falls to us to break the bad news to new arrivals who have got a new job and come in saying they've got a budget of £250,000."
Nowhere is the tale of Gerrards Cross better encapsulated than in the circular private avenue called The Camp. Lined with Tudorbethan and mock Georgian mansions, each house has manicured lawns and a drive big enough for at least three SUVs. It is also teeming with builders, constructing annexes and several new homes.
Less than half-a-mile away on the other side of the M40 stands Gerrards Cross Fire Station. The station is manned by 14 fire-fighters. Fortunately, the Buckingham Fire Authority saw reality 10 years ago and built 12 houses behind the station. As one firefighter put it: "Without these houses, the town wouldn't have a fire brigade. We are lucky. There's another local station where guys have to commute from miles away.''
Penny Grey, branch organiser for Unison in Buckinghamshire, said: "We really have to ask ourselves - and the Government - if we want a situation where our vital workers can't afford a roof over their heads.''
Priced out ...
* AVERAGE KEY WORKER SALARIES
Teacher: £26,400 pa
Police Officer: £22,770
* AVERAGE PRICES IN GERRARDS CROSS
1 Bedroom Flat: £230,000
2 Bedroom Flat: £375,000
Source: Roberts Newby PartnershipReuse content