Property: It's an ill Nino that's blowing

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The Independent Online
At last I have uncovered the real reason why it has proved so difficult for me to find a house to buy. It is all to do with El Nino, which has become the global explanation for the inexplicable.

I remember El Nino as the flaxen-haired female who accompanied the beaded Frederick in that rendition of the classic hit "Puff The Magic Dragon". But I sometimes forget that my memory is not what it used to be.

It transpires that El Nino is the meteorological equivalent of the comet Hale-Bopp. I am told by those who know these things (The Fount Of All Knowledge snug-bar regulars) that El Nino is a tidal aberration in the Pacific Ocean which occurs every six or seven years and plays havoc with our weather systems.

It is all to do with warm water, trade winds and the coast of Peru. It also does strange things to the human psyche, creating dramatic imbalance and heightened nervousness. The last El Nino coincided with a wicked property slump, so it is perhaps no surprise that we are now in a property boom.

The thing about El Nino is that it injects uncertainty into our lives. That makes people grumpy. If it is hot when you expect it to be cold and wet when it should be dry, destabilisation sets in.

This feeds through to our private lives - and to property prices. The problem is that the abnormal becomes the norm and extreme positions are substituted for moderation. This is because the human body does not respond well to erratic weather. More important, these weather conditions do not need to be experienced first hand to affect the subconscious. The mere sight of floods in the Algarve has a disturbing and hidden impact.

The consequence is rampant extremism, which unwittingly forces normally rational people towards the irrational. What our subconscious begins to ask is: if there are floods in the Algarve, why should there not be a four-fold increase in property prices? A bizarre Arctic heat-wave equates with a bizarre asking price for a three-bed semi. Why do you think Saddam Hussein appears to be limbering up for another Gulf confrontation? The last El Nino, don't forget, was 1991-92.

It is not a coincidence that the most unusual property price movements have been witnessed in the south-east of the country where the weather systems have been most erratic. The South-east is the victim of a prolonged drought, and this has been translated into a prolonged rise in property prices.

Here scientists, and the snug-bar regulars at The Fount, are at a loss to offer a reason why property prices move in different directions during El Nino. All they know is that the property market is exposed to extremes. Those extremes, however, can be either upwards or downwards.

The El Nino effect on the property markets could last for another year. So far it has worked against me, pushing prices well beyond my modest graft.

All that my change. One of the questions vexing property professionals is whether the market will go into dramatic reverse. The current flattish profile of house prices is distinctly un-El Nino-like. Might we now be poised for a fall? I hope not. A property slump helps no-one.

The really bad news is that, during an El Nino-prompted slump, you can't escape the depression by retreating to the sun. By definition, the sun will be somewhere else.