Live the high life… in a mid rise

How radically left-wing is Labour’s proposed ‘renationalisation’ of the railways? Though militant Mick Lynch of the RMT union ‘strongly welcomed these bold steps’, the real answer is: hardly at all. The revolutionary socialist group Counterfire agonised thus: ‘While it would be extremely obtuse to say that Labour’s policy is bad, it would be naive to say it was adequate, let alone particularly socialist.’ I’m struggling to disagree with that summary. The central idea of taking train operating franchises into public hands as they expire comes as no shock: LNER, Northern, Southeastern and the dreadful TransPennine Express have already met that fate, along with Scottish and Welsh trains, and those that

Louis XIV would envy your life

Some things in life acquire an outsize popularity which defies all common sense. The outlandish appeal of such things cannot be explained except by reference to René Girard’s theory of mimetic desire – the idea that there are many things we value not for their intrinsic utility and enjoyment but because we see that other people want them. Examples of such positive feedback loops in excess fashionability would include sourdough bread, Miss Taylor Swift and houses in Clapham or Fulham. Property is simply a stupid, rivalrous, uninnovative, rent-seeking repository for people’s money Fulham, for instance, is so far west it should have its own time zone. If you work in

Who uses Grindr? 

Meet market Who uses the gay dating app Grindr?  – The site claims 27m users worldwide, 80.5% of whom identify as gay. – 13m users are active on a monthly basis. Some 923,000 are paid users. – 80% are younger than 35. – 39% are single. – 48% are in the US. – The average user is on the site for 60 minutes per day. – The ‘explore’ feature – which allows users to see who on the app lives in a particular town or city – is accessed more in London than any other city in the world. – Grindr accounts for 3% of global use of dating apps.

Jeremy Hunt should stick to sensible pledges – it’s too late for big moves

Imagine you’re Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, drafting your Autumn Statement for delivery in three weeks’ time. Bookies’ odds for a Tory general election win have moved out to six-to-one (against Labour’s dead-cert one-to-seven) following by-election wipe-outs. The Lib Dems look set to nab your South West Surrey seat if you don’t stand down anyway. And you can’t give your back-benches red-meat tax cuts because public borrowing for this year could run £30 billion higher than forecast. Releasing the pension ‘triple lock’ to save money would alienate older Tories. Inheritance tax giveaways that might please them would be campaign gold for Labour. A stamp duty cut would do nothing for floating-vote home-buyers facing

I’m not convinced Thomas Heatherwick is the best person to be discussing boring buildings

Architects are often snobby about – and no doubt jealous of – the designer Thomas Heatherwick, who isn’t an actual architect yet still manages to wangle important building commissions. And he knows this. In his documentary for BBC Radio 4, Building Soul, where he examines what he calls the ‘blandemic’ in today’s architecture, he asks to interview fellow Spectator writer Jonathan Meades, who responds: ‘The last person who should be doing a series on urbanism is a designer.’ Heatherwick wears this as a badge of honour. Indeed, qualifying as an architect is no guarantee of quality – check out the past nominations for the Carbuncle Cup, the now defunct prize

What’s behind the bungalow boom?

‘Bungalows are almost perfect,’ as the old gag goes. ‘They only have one floor.’ But these once unfashionable properties are rapidly becoming anything but a joke. While the mortgage crisis is cooling most sectors of the housing market, demand for bungalows is growing. Estate agents report the properties receiving dozens of offers, selling for tens of thousands over the asking price or being snapped up before officially going on the market. The usual breed of downsizers and retirees looking to replace large family homes with something all on one level are facing stiff competition from budget-conscious purchasers seeking to renovate single-storey homes – and often turn them into family homes

In praise of the suburban semi

In 1939 George Orwell took aim at burgeoning British suburbia and its population of lower middle class lackeys in his novel Coming Up for Air, memorably describing the new homes being built on the fringes of cities as ‘semi-detached torture chambers where the poor little five-to-ten pound a-weekers quake and shiver’. More than eight decades on and the Office for National Statistics reports that one in three of us lives in a semi-detached home, an architectural style with a far longer and more interesting history than Orwell may have been aware of. They are also – officially – the hottest property type on the market. Analysis of more than 100,000 house

Are mortgage rates the next crisis?

The average two-year fixed mortgage now sits at 6 per cent, according to financial data group Moneyfacts – just below the 6.65 per cent reached in December last year, after the fallout from Liz Truss’s mini-Budget. Five-year fixed rates aren’t too far behind, at 5.7 per cent. For many of the 2.4 million homeowners whose mortgages are up for renewal between now and the end of next year, this is, at best, cause for alarm. At worst, it’s an alert to a crisis. Later this week, we’ll get last month’s inflation data – and the next rate update from the Bank of England. Threadneedle Street’s dilemma is only getting worse. Between

Why developers deserve to pay for the cladding crisis

In recent months, Michael Gove has been upsetting not only the house-building industry but its defenders, too. The Levelling-up Secretary has been accused of ‘blackmail’ by online newspaper Cap X, which compared his actions to ‘Putin’s Russia or Erdogan’s Turkey’. The Telegraph mocked him up on a wrecking ball Miley Cyrus-style, and several trade press articles have accused him of ‘declaring war’ on the industry. The reason? Gove has ordered housing developers to pay for ‘life safety’ remediation measures on blocks they built, which have been found to have serious fire safety defects in the aftermath of the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire – regardless of whether they were to blame

How the bottom fell out of the prime country market (again)

As trophy homes go, the Grade II*-listed Glen Usk is hard to top. Set on the west bank of the River Usk in Wales, it is a white rendered neoclassical fairy-tale of a Georgian country house and its current owners have thoroughly renovated the eight-bedroom home, set in 35 acres.  At the tail end of 2021 it went on the market with estate agent Fine & Country for £6.5 million. In November the Monmouthshire property’s price was dropped by £2 million after failing to find a buyer (and also to reflect a decision to reduce the amount of land to be sold with it from 75 acres to 35). Three months later,

Why are experts always wrong about house prices?

Over the past two generations, those with property in the UK have been unwittingly transformed from owners to investors. This makes no sense, and has led to a lot of baby boomers feeling smug and clever when in reality they’ve just been lucky. However, the effect has been lasting and means property owners are now a politically valuable group – and that what your house is worth has disproportionately strong influence on how rich you feel. And of course, now that everyone has an interest in the value of their home, there are plenty of supposed experts willing to pretend they’re helping you look ahead to see what will happen

A house-hunter’s guide to haggling

Not so long ago buyers were treating house-hunting as a blood sport – price ceiling-shattering bids and gazumping were commonplace everywhere from the Cornish coast to the London suburbs to the Lake District. But six months is a long time in property. Following the debacle of the mini-Budget and amid rising interest rates and soaring living costs, not to mention looming recession, the power balance in the market has firmly shifted. Vendors can no longer sit back and wait for the offers to pour in.  Buyers who don’t have to move are increasingly taking a wait-and-see approach. Those still up for a move are determined not to overpay, often hoping

The truth about why we hate estate agents

Once again estate agents have been named among the least-trustworthy people in Britain, rated in the public consciousness somewhere between politicians and journalists (ouch). Less than a third of people believe agents tell the truth, according to the annual Veracity Index from market research firm Ipsos Mori, which tracks consumer trust in particular professions – less than the same time last year. Many of us have our own horror stories of widespread chicanery in the sector: when moving house recently, for example, I was informed I would not be permitted to view a house I was interested in until I agreed to list my flat with the selling agent first. Agents

Is North London’s housing market recession-proof?

Of all the suburbs in Britain none has become quite so politicised as North London. This slightly leafy (and lefty) swathe in and around Islington – with Hampstead Heath marking its northern edge and Regent’s Park its southern boundary – is treated by our recent political leaders as a kind of shorthand for, to borrow a phrase from Suella Braverman, the ‘tofu-eating wokerati’. Liz Truss took a dig at her privileged metropolitan enemies who ‘taxi from North London townhouses to the BBC studio’ to criticise her, ignoring the fact that Islington is not all Upper Street boutiques and multi-million pound homes. Islington is one of London’s most deprived boroughs, and more than

House of cards: why are so many property sales collapsing?

Moving house is said to be one of the most stressful life experiences, right up there with bereavement and divorce. But what about the stress of not moving? Amid the upheavals of the past few months increasing numbers have seen their property ladder dreams collapse around their ears. According to market analyst TwentyCi there has been a ‘sharp increase’ in the number of deals falling through. More than 90,000 agreed sales disintegrated between July and September, an 18 per cent increase on the same period in 2019. Wendy and William Waterton know exactly what it feels like to be on the sharp end of a collapsing sale. In the past

How to spot a looming house price crash

From the man down the pub/on Twitter to major lenders and think-tanks, homebuyers and sellers can barely move for so-called experts dishing out advice on the property market. Rising interest rates and increased mortgage costs have prompted fears of a house price slump, with Capital Economics predicting a 5 per cent drop over the next two years. Credit Suisse is forecasting that prices could fall by as much as 15 per cent if interest rates hit 6 per cent – making it more of crash than slowdown. Buyers don’t want to make a major purchase at the top of the market, and sellers may be hesitant to list if they

Flat broke: my Help to Buy disaster

‘Do you want a cup of tea?’ The surveyor shook his head. It would take me longer to boil the kettle than for him to do a valuation of my 400 sq ft, one-bedroom flat. I paced awkwardly around. A minute later, he gave me the thumbs-up. Valuation complete, he left. I boiled the kettle anyway. Four years after the purchase of the flat, via the ‘Help to Buy: Equity Loan’ scheme, I couldn’t be more desperate to sell. Would I make a profit? I just want to escape its clutches and avoid a loss. Why sell? Let’s start at the beginning. Why buy? Perhaps it was an early midlife

It’s time for some home truths, Rishi

I wonder how many people in the country are bitterly disappointed that Liz Truss pulled out of her exciting one-to-one interview with Nick Robinson? I can think of only two. First, of course, Nick Robinson. Nick was very much looking forward to it. His ideal assignment would be to interview himself for an entire afternoon, but failing that, Liz Truss would do just fine. The other, of course, is Rishi Sunak, who must have been hoping that Liz would dig herself another hole and carry on digging until she emerged somewhere near Maruia Springs, say, in New Zealand’s Southern Alps. I suppose it is just about possible that some of

Britain’s crippling lack of infrastructure

England is in the grip of its most widespread drought in 20 years. Water companies are implementing hosepipe bans. Half the country’s potato crop is expected to fail. Photographs of reservoirs show them drained, dry banks open to the sky. Another heatwave is here, bringing little prospect of imminent relief. Britain hasn’t built a reservoir since 1991. The population has grown. Hot weather has become more frequent. Water use has become more strained. The barriers to actually doing something about it remain in place. Take Layla Moran, Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West. As late as March, she was doing the media rounds vigorously opposing the construction of a new

When will the Tories do something about house prices?

Anyone who doubts that the fiscal response to the pandemic has stoked inflation needs to look at the latest figures from the Nationwide on the housing market. Yet again they confirm that the deepest recession in modern history has been accompanied by a boom in house prices. Moreover, the inflation does not seem to have been reined-in by the ending of the stamp duty holiday. The price of the average home, according to the building society, rose by a further 0.9 per cent in November to reach £252,687. This is ten per cent up on last November and 15 per cent up on March 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic. How can