The new home is up in the air

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The Independent Online
I DID NOT think it possible but it has happened. The property market is having a New Year Sale. I thought it was just shoes, clothes and chickens that were going cheap. Not so. In the spirit of the January mark-down, a Halifax report shows a rare fall in house prices.

I am a bit of a sucker for the sales. I will buy shirts that are too small and shoes I do not need simply to exploit "dramatic reductions". I like to see myself as a value seeker rather than a bargain hunter although I do subscribe to the view that the more you spend the more you save.

So I was naturally inspired by the Halifax version of a bargain basement, ground floor, first floor and loft conversion. It was just what I needed to boost my flagging home-hunting spirits. My quest to buy a house had stalled and I needed something to get me back on the beat.

I had been particularly depressed after a chance meeting with a reveller at the Fount of All Knowledge "not the Millennium" New Year's Eve thrash. He was a mobile home salesman who persuaded me that the answer to my woes lay in a Stretch Elan Cosy Home. It may be a caravan to you, but it sounded like home to me. I woke up on New Year's Day not just with a hangover, but with a bagful of brochures, maps and contracts.

"They are not mobile, they are fixed," I parroted to anyone prepared to listen to my new vision of home ownership. "It's as simple as ABC. "Affordable, comfortable, durable, commendable."

"I think you mean it's as simple as AC/DC," Pedro said one day in the snug bar of the Fount.

I ignored the mockery and was prepared to press on until I saw the TV images of the recent storms and mobile homes doing a passable impression of 633 Squadron. I wondered how the non-slip dining table and tremor-resistant bunk beds were faring as the Stretch Elan Cosy Home lookalikes leapt from their moorings and arched gracefully into nearby trees. I also wondered why I had bought my New Year reveller all those Creme De Menthes and tonics.

You can imagine then that the news from the Halifax of house-price reductions was most welcome. With a spring in my step, off I trotted last week to the estate agents. "What have you got in the sale?" I asked.

"You mean what is for sale?" replied the workfare experiment type person.

"No, I mean where are the bargains."

"The bargains, I believe, are a range of mountains in central Europe,"he replied.

"But prices are supposed to be coming down," I said.

"No, sir," insisted Master Workfare. "House prices are undergoing a period of essential consolidation to provide much- needed stability in order to underpin the continued strength in the market place."

"What?"

"They're still going up."

"So there is no 50 per cent reduction?" I asked.

"The closest you can get to that, sir, is a bungalow."

"No bargains, no clearances?"

"The best I can suggest is that you queue for a much-reduced 98-inch TV set and live in that."

"What about lines which are not in the sale?" I inquired. "I don't suppose your spring collection is in yet."

"Sold out," he replied.

"To first-time buyers?"

"No, to the system. This Workfare lark, it really is a blah blah blah ..."

My head dropped and out I stepped into the icy blast of a gale. I felt like Captain Oates. "I'm just going down to the estate agents ... I may be some time."

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