John Brown: 'The housing market picking up has only made me feel worse'

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The Independent Online

It was one of the great hopes at the onset of our recent economic travails that, if anything good might come out of the recession and the slump in the property market, it would be to put an end to the national mania over all things to do with housing and DIY.

In place of interminable television shows devoted to tragically self-absorbed people plotting to move to the country/abroad/the Moon – or to give their ex-council house in Dagenham the Tribeca loft look – some of us dared to believe that we might return to something approaching sanity when it comes to our place of abode. Some hope.

I say this only because this week we have approached the end of an arduous period which has seen us buy and make alterations to a house in the teeth of the economic gale – an experience as lengthy as it was tedious.

Having sold our place in the spring of last year for a relatively decent price in order to make the move northwards to start a new job in Yorkshire, I had the feeling that we were the last ones to get out of the property market alive. To add to the general sense of propitious timing – through luck rather than judgement, I hasten to add – we opted to rent until we could find something suitable to buy. Friends and newspaper pundits alike insisted that we could not fail to make a killing and had only to sit back and watch the prices tumble around us. So, over the course of the long cold winter, as the world teetered on the brink of disaster in the midst of the financial crisis, we looked at dozens of houses, and popped in cheeky offers that bordered on the downright insulting.

It was all to no avail. Maybe it was impetuosity, or perhaps it was because everybody up here believed that, coming from London, we must have more money than sense. But no one would budge their price to anywhere near the fantasy levels envisaged.

The search for a "distressed seller" proved sadly illusory, and we ended up buying the place we were renting – which left me, at least, with the gnawing sense that I had somehow failed to capitalise on having the good fortune to be buyers in the most woeful period for property since the Black Death.

Recent days, meanwhile, have seen a rash of positive economic signs, including indicators that the housing market is picking up. Far from making things better, however, this is making them worse for me. As once-stubborn "for sale" signs around us turn to "sold" like so many autumn leaves yielding to the changing season, I have – instead of enjoying the opportunity to forget the whole depressing housing market nightmare – become increasingly preoccupied with it.

This was especially the case last Saturday, when I craned my neck to check out couples as they queued up to view the competitively-priced four-bedroom detached in need of modernisation (I looked it up on the internet, of course) just over the road from us.

Only yesterday, as I soaked up a bit of late summer sunshine in the front garden, I spotted an estate agent parking up his sporty Mini and striding purposefully towards a neighbour's house for what must have been a valuation.

It was only through sheer force of will that I stopped myself from following him to see which house he was visiting and pleading with him to tell me what was going on and, crucially, how much he had quoted them. The whole experience has left me with the bewildering knowledge that I am not only an unlikely and undeserving victim of the credit crunch and a born-again property bore but also a hopelessly nosy neighbour.

Perhaps I need to Escape to the Country.