A blogger who shall remain nameless wrote on my Facebook wall on the day that my partner and I bought our new apartment: “Congratulations on joining the grasping classes! Pah.”
Ouch. Over the last few months, the significance of this comment has started to sink in. On Friday for instance I was at a friend’s birthday dinner party. As my friends dribbled in, I was asked four separate times how selling the apartment was going. Each time this resulted in me reflexively talking about the housing market, negative equity, tax, estate agents, the whole kaboodle. And each time I realised that it was stuff I was genuinely concerned about. On the fourth occasion it suddenly hit me like a bolt from the blue: I am now officially that bore at dinner parties I used to avoid who wanted to talk about house prices. My friends are now officially those boring people who actually initiate conversations about house prices.
And the worst thing is, we don’t even live in the fucking apartment! There’s nothing wrong with it, only that it is a one bedroom affair and there are two of us. We own it because my partner put a deposit down on a new flat that hadn’t yet been built during our first month of going out together, way back in 2005 when the housing market was still buoyant and it didn’t seem like much of a risk. Then one month before exchanging contracts in the summer of 2006, the fucking thing burned down (coincidentally, Lord Levy – whose own offices burned down a few months before in mysterious circumstances – was helping police with their inquiries in Colindale Police Station next door to the apartment building). We didn’t actually get to buy the thing – and we stood to lose a big deposit if we didn’t – until January this year. As you will no doubt be aware, since then the housing market has been, well, not great.
So I now pay more attention to news reports about house prices and the Bank of England than I ever have done before. A quarter of a percentage point can now raise or lower my spirits of a morning. I get palpitations each time I look at my bank account online and see a big red six figure sum glaring at me.
The simple fact is, we aren’t really doing that badly. The advantage of buying property at 2005 prices is that even with house prices wobbling at the moment we are unlikely to actually lose money (although making money is looking like it would take a minor miracle at the moment). And let’s face it, we have privileged enough backgrounds to be able to put up with the inconvenience and the anxiety for a few months. I’m acutely aware that there are people for whom the state of the housing market has a tangible effect on their quality of life. Far from becoming inured to the way our whole economy is underpinned by property prices, becoming a property owner has just made me realised what a crock it really is. At least I’m getting to see its full awfulness before in a few years time I become at one with my class and start working the system to my full advantage.
(the saddest thing is I just went back through this article and changed the word “flat” into “apartment” – I’ve become the most pathetic wanker ever)