Ross Clark

What virtual property viewings don’t show you

  • From Spectator Life

I’ve never worked out why anyone would want to buy an outfit over the internet without first seeing it in the flesh and trying it on. I know my wife does it all the time — although the constant piles of parcels by the door, full of stuff waiting to be sent back whence it came, pays testament to drawbacks of buying things sight unseen. Then again, a suit or a dress is only a suit or a dress. I would rather buy clothes online than I would a five-storey townhouse.

But maybe I’m a bit of an old stick-in-the-mud. There are some buyers, it seems, who are only too happy to buy blind. According to buying agent London Central Portfolio, 22 per cent of purchases they have handled in the capital this year have been made by overseas investors who haven’t actually set foot in the properties they are buying.

I know it hasn’t been easy travelling around the country, let alone the world, this year. Even so, the very idea of buying a property unseen makes me shudder. It reminds me of all the properties I saw when I was house-hunting, where the reality didn’t quite live up to the expectation — and I certainly wasn’t paying £10 million.

Estate agent videos don’t show you Meatloaf-loving neighbours, pig farms or a leaky roof

There was the house converted, I was told by the estate agent, from an old horsehair factory. It sounded delightfully rural and Victorian — until I got there and realised that the horsehair factory hadn’t entirely gone away. The rest of it was still there: a sea of asbestos-roofed sheds attached to the bit I was supposed to be buying. Then there was the farmhouse that turned out to be a porn factory; the cottage where the only way to get upstairs was to squeeze through an 18 inch gap between wall and bannisters; and the house where the owner had sought to cope with a hole in the roof by stuffing an old mattress in the loft to soak up the rainwater.

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