Who wants to be a property millionaire?

You can't sit on your butt in a house for a year, let alone 25, and wait for its value to soar

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Hang on, let's work this out. If it is really true that one out of every 20 householders in London, according to a new survey from the Centre for Economics and Business Research, is a millionaire, I must know one heck of a lot of millionaires. Unless places like Wandsworth and Tooting and Acton and Harrow and Hackney don't count as London, and only the bits inside the Circle Line such as Knightsbridge and Notting Hill do. No, that couldn't be right either. If you own your own pile in Knightsbridge or Notting Hill, you're not just a millionaire, you're a multi-millionaire with, as likely as not, several other residences dotted about the globe, sundry ex-wives and a yacht.

Hang on, let's work this out. If it is really true that one out of every 20 householders in London, according to a new survey from the Centre for Economics and Business Research, is a millionaire, I must know one heck of a lot of millionaires. Unless places like Wandsworth and Tooting and Acton and Harrow and Hackney don't count as London, and only the bits inside the Circle Line such as Knightsbridge and Notting Hill do. No, that couldn't be right either. If you own your own pile in Knightsbridge or Notting Hill, you're not just a millionaire, you're a multi-millionaire with, as likely as not, several other residences dotted about the globe, sundry ex-wives and a yacht.

That, at any rate, is the classic millionaire stereotype which, sadly, does not apply to any of my householding friends in London, who, far from being millionaires, always appear to be skint. This information did much to cheer an academic acquaintance of ours whose annual salary as a professor at a Scottish university is a great deal less than Madonna spends on shoes every week. He had also read the new property millionaire London survey and was bemoaning the fact that 25 years ago he had sold his modest villa in Hampstead for £16,000 and had just learned from his erstwhile neighbours that it was currently on the market for £1.6m. "If I'd just sat on my butt and done nothing for 25 years, I'd be better off than I am now," he griped.

Of course he wouldn't. Instead of being a wonderfully extrovert and resourceful professor of architecture taking students on annual field trips to renovate traditional black houses in Uist or crofts on Shapinsay, he would probably be working for one of the fashionable new breed of architects who advise couples about to divorce how they can best divide the marital home into two self-contained flats. Besides, you cannot sit on your butt in a house for one year, let alone 25, doing nothing except waiting for its value to soar. Houses need constant repair, and builders in London earn 10 times as much as Scottish academics.

If my friend Sarah, who owns a pretty little house in Battersea which, theoretically, at least gives her a one in 20 chance of being a millionaire, were to put two lodgers in her basement she could probably afford a new roof. In the meantime, where does she find the £30,000 the builder from the Yellow Pages told her it would take to make the basement habitable? If she were lucky enough to have a garage (a few London houses still have them), she could put in one of those hoists that Kwik-Fit mechanics use to lift cars six feet in the air so that they can fiddle about underneath. This would allow her to have two cars in a single garage and, with luck, another on the drive outside.

Parking in London is big business. A man at the other end of our street rents his garage and driveway to three out-of-town motorists who pay him £150 a week each for the convenience of being able to park in central London within walking distance of the Tube.

As a non-property owning Londoner - we don't own a house; we rent a flat - I suppose I should be feeling just a little bit miffed that we never bought in to the metropolitan property market. All my friends did when they got married, following the usual progress up the housing ladder. Mortgaged to the hilt they all started out with a one-bedroomed flat in Fulham progressing, when the baby arrives, to a semi in Southfields and then to a detached three-bedroomed des res with garden in Berkshire. Finally when the husband was promoted to a partner and all the children wanted ponies they achieved the ultimate dream, the old rectory in a picturesque Cotswolds village which the wife did up like the cover of Interiors magazine and from which the husband commuted to London every day.

You know the rest. Train travel so expensive, so tiring darling, he needs a pad in London, has an affair with his secretary and eventually leaves wife, children, ponies, rectory - what Topol in Fiddler on the Roof called the full catastrophe.

I've lost count how often I've seen it happen, and I was about to say that you're better off renting, leaving the repairs to your landlord and building a house on a Scottish island. Alas this is no longer the case. Crofts you could have picked up five years ago for £20,000 are being snapped up for 10 times the price. The owners of a jerry-built, timber-framed kit house, admittedly with a spectacular view of the loch, just up from our house have put it on the market for £600,000. If I were them I'd knock it down and put the view on the market for a million. One of those London fat cats is bound to want it.

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