Property: Don't let bargains fool you

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The Independent Online
Many years ago I wrote a book called Creative Accounting. It was, even though I say it myself, a rather good book and was greeted with critical acclaim and commercial success. The former I can take credit for, the latter was attributable to a subtle change made by the publishers.

The book was a critique of an accounting system which allowed reported figures to be all too easily manipulated. The publishers, by clever adjustment of chapter headings, managed to transform a worthy and questioning tome into a "how to fiddle your accounts" book. This landed me in a lot of bother with the Institute of Chartered Accountants, which threatened to kick me out, but also demonstrated the value of the "how-to" approach to publications.

This is merely a preamble to explain my interest in a press release from Knight Frank boldly entitled "How to buy for less and make more". This title is rather wasted on a press release and should really be appended to a 300-page book complete with maps and glossy photographs. This could be a bestseller with potential for annual updates and accompanying videos. I see royalties galore.

Indeed I can imagine this being the flagship title for a veritable library of books. Other publications might include "How to find something to buy anywhere in London or even further afield if the market does not improve in the not too distant". This would be very much a speciality publication. It may not have mass appeal but would go down well in the snug bar at the Fount of All Knowledge. Another title in the series could be "How to find a helpful estate agent". This would be a short book.

Back to the Knight Frank missive which is tantalising in the extreme but in keeping with most "how to" publications is not particularly useful.

According to the firm's Rupert Sweeting: "Many people feel that predicting which regions will experience the best price rises is as unreliable as gazing into a crystal ball. But for experts on the ground it is sometimes easier to define the growth areas because of new rail and road transport systems - commuting times are still the key for many families."

I refer Rupert to an ancient Chinese saying: "He who looks into a crystal ball with his mouth can only see what he hears."

I cannot take issue, however, with Mr Sweeting on his basic argument that new road and rail routes do enhance property prices unless, of course, the new road or railway happens to go through your back garden. This has a worrying tendency to depress house prices.

More worrying is that having pointed out that commuting times are king, Mr Sweeting then goes on to explain that the best bargains are to be found in areas where there are no transport connections whatsoever. Even better bargains are to be found where there is no transport and where your house is separated from the the rest of the world by either a river or hills or both.

So if you have no need to work or for any kind of social intercourse and are quite happy to forge rivers and leap mountains in one bound then you are in line for bargain-basement home owning. You are probably also in line for "sad and lonely person of the year award".

I will not trouble you with the survey of best-value areas which includes thing like "any unexplored area within easy distance of the M25" for Surrey and "South Northamptonshire" in the section on Oxfordshire.

In my humble opinion the property market is driven by supply and demand. As I have discovered, when there are no houses for sale and lots of people want to buy them, then prices go up. There may indeed be bargains in the hinterland and tundra of this country. But if there is no demand for them they will remain as bargains in perpetuity.

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