Victoria Summerley: Town Life

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The Independent Online

As things started to settle down to normal after New Year - the central heating broke down right on cue last weekend - I got a press release from the estate agents John D Wood. Apparently, they'd discovered that on Christmas Day, 545 people had visited their website looking for somewhere to buy or rent.

Not only that, but the figure was more than double the number of people who had visited their website on Christmas Day 2005, which was 261. According to Peter Young, the managing director of John D Wood, this is one more indication of the competitive state of the capital's property market.

"While it is surprising so many people are thinking about property on 25 December," he says, "it does reflect the strength of the current market, especially in London, which is fuelled by lack of supply and the liquidity of buyers."

I'm sure this is true, but I take issue with the first part of Mr Young's statement. Call me a cynical hack, but I don't find it in the least surprising that people were investigating moving on Christmas Day, in between pouring drinks, opening presents, basting turkeys and setting the pudding on fire. (Call me a sexist hack, but I'm willing to bet most of the 545 individuals were men.)

In my household, it's only when we're on holiday or have a couple of days off that we get time to discuss life-changing decisions like changing jobs, or moving house, or starting a family, or taking up the saxophone, or whatever. The rest of the time, we're too caught up in the daily routine - work, school, homework, listening to violin practice - even to think about where our lives are taking us.

Younger London buyers were probably hoping that some Christmas fairy dust would somehow sprinkle itself over the property market, and they might magically find somewhere within their budget, rather than be condemned to rent for the rest of their lives.

That's the charitable view. The uncharitable approach is to imagine the scenarios that led to what I suspect may have been some surreptitious Yuletide surfing ...

Scenario One: "That's the last time I'm driving down the M4 on the Friday night before Christmas." This spouse is looking for a place in the country closer to the doting grandparents in Bath or Bristol. If unsuccessful, he/she will invite the doting grandparents to spend Christmas in London next year. Then it will be they who get stuck in thick fog on the M4 on the Friday night before Christmas instead.

Scenario Two: "Now I've spent Christmas with your mother/father/parents, I can see where you get all your irritating habits from." This couple requires two one-bedroom flats.

Scenario Three: "You're absolutely right - I had no idea his/her alcohol/halitosis/dandruff problem was so bad." This family is searching for a property with one less bedroom so they can say, with convincing regret, that they simply don't have the room to put guests up over the festive season.

Scenario Four: "Honestly, sweetheart, I adore your family, but I've got to make sure this new contract/ book/course gets off the ground." This spouse is resigned to the relatives arriving en masse, but hankers after a home office, or sanctum, that doesn't also double as a spare bedroom. Then he/she can plead pressure of work and bury themselves in the study for three days the minute the first guest arrives.

Scenario Five: "Just think, darling, this is our first Christmas without the children." After 21 years of being spoilt rotten, the brats are off skiing with friends or spending their first proper salary on a trip to Hawaii or Mozambique. Mummy's a bit tearful (too much Beaumes de Venise after lunch), but Daddy's glued to his laptop. For the past five years, he's been looking forward to cashing in all that equity and spending his hard-earned on himself for once.

A nice little mansion flat or perhaps the wing of a converted country house is what he has in mind. No more bloody lawn. No more bloody roof repairs. No more bloody Country-Living-fantasy kitchen complete with Aga and dried herbs hanging from the ceiling only yards from the roar of the South Circular. Yes, it's a wonderful thing, the internet.

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