I was walking down a small leafy street in Birmingham the other day. I don't know where the leaves had come from. There certainly seemed to be no trees nearby. But what caught my eye was that outside every house there was a 'For Sale' sign. Every house. I have seen streets in which more than one house was for sale. I have been down streets in which half the houses were for sale. I once drove down a street which was due to be demolished for a motorway, and most of the houses were up for sale (optimistically, as most potential purchasers would be aware of the plans for the motorway). But never had I seen the melancholy sight of a street in Britain, even in Birmingham, in which every house was on the market.
What could possibly be the explanation? Had the recession bitten so deeply in this section that everyone was bankrupt? Had every single resident of the street put all their money on Italy to win the World Cup final? Had everyone's horoscope told them simultaneously to get out of the big city while they still had the chance? Was there someone living in the street who was so vile and so repulsive that everyone else had decided to get out? And he had decided to get out, too? There were certainly far too many houses in the street for it to be mere coincidence, and yet I could not think of any rational explanation . . .
From Mr Archie Wayload
Sir: I think I can satisfy Mr Kington's curiosity, not to mention his woeful ignorance. The explanation is quite simple. From time to time we estate agents (yes, I am an estate agent and proud to be one) like to review the design of our house boards. (House boards are the estate agent's signs which you call 'For Sale' signs.) After all, a house board is for many people the first clue that a house is going on the market, so it has to be made as attractive and effective as possible. Now, fashions change, and what may be attractive one year may just look jejune the next. What is eye-catching one year can be off-putting a mere 12 months later . . .
So, new house boards must be designed. New styles, new typefaces, new colours. But how and where to test them? Well, every year we take over a suburban street in some big town - by arrangement with the residents, of course - and put a house board on each house. We then go and look at all the new designs and make our choice. I think this must have been what you saw.
From Mrs Doreen Galahad
Sir: I live in a small suburban street which was recently taken over by a TV company to film an episode of Last of The Summer Wine or The Darling Buds of Provence or one of those similar soaps, I am not sure which. It was an episode in which one of the characters puts his house up for sale, and therefore had a 'For Sale' sign outside. Well, we have recently learnt that many fans of the programme came on pilgrimage to see where the episode was filmed, so in order to capitalise on this visitation, the occupant of that house kept her 'For Sale' sign outside. Her neighbours didn't see why she should have all the publicity, so she too put up a 'For Sale' sign. Once it started, it got out of hand, and now we all have them. Perhaps this is what your writer saw.
From Mr Ben Waters
Sir: I can provide an explanation for the strange plethora of estate agents' signs saying 'For Sale', as seen by Mr Kington.
I live in a small suburban street in Bristol (not Birmingham, actually, but you can't expect modern journalists to spot the difference), and unlike most small streets these days, we are all on very good talking terms, very friendly, in and out of each other's houses, although there does tend to be a slight division between those who are elderly and living alone, viz me, and those with children, viz almost everyone else. But there is one person in the street who is universally disliked by everyone, no names, no pack drill (actually he is called Mr Bradshaw), and he has recently put his house up for sale after being totally ignored by everyone for years.
You might think we would all welcome this. You would be wrong. The fact is, he is asking pounds 110,000 for his little house, which he has no chance of getting, and if he did he would mess up the pricing of the street for years, so although we want to get rid of him, we also don't want him to get pounds 110,000 for his house. To this end, we hit on the ingenious idea of all of us putting 'For Sale' signs in our gardens, so that any potential purchaser would get the impression that, for some strange reason, everyone in the street wanted to get out and he would therefore be unwilling to move in . . .
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