It certainly explains the astonishing buoyancy of the market at the moment, especially in Yorkshire. It had taken just five days to find a new owner for Behrens Towers, and while I briefly rejoiced at the prospect of being able to pack my bags faster than Harry and Meghan at Frogmore Cottage, I changed my tune when I started looking seriously for somewhere else to live.
It was becoming, said one agent in the North York Moors, like the 1980s all over again. Demand was outstripping supply and prices would soon go through the roof. “As soon as people can get out again, you won’t be able to find a house anywhere,” he told me. The one I’d called him about had seen buyers virtually queueing at the door.
As with most developments in the property market, this is good news or bad, depending on your current position. If you’re buying and selling, the peaks compensate for the troughs, but those who have yet to put a foot on the housing ladder will find the first rung higher than ever.
For Yorkshire, it confirms what those of us who have lived here a long time have always known – that this is a place to aspire to, not to escape from. Families who have been cooped up in formerly trendy parts of north London, watching endless episodes of All Creatures Great and Small, have apparently recognised this and begun to seek out the different quality of life they believe they can find here.
As a result, prices in parts of the county are likely to rise by nearly 30 per cent over the next five years – more than double the rate of growth in London – according to a report this week from the property firm, Savills.
The trick now is beating the crowds. And so, with an estate agent’s letter of dispensation in my pocket and a vaccine jab mark in my right arm, I am taking Mrs B on the road this weekend.
Normally a trip like this would be second nature, but it’s the first time for months that we have been much further than the post office, and we’re conscious of standing out like sore thumbs, or worse, tourists. We’ve been warned to take not just masks but also a supply of polythene gloves to put on before touching someone else’s furniture. Only a year ago this would have seemed like a gross insult but now it’s a sensible sign of the times.
Certainly it makes more sense than last summer’s visiting ritual, the £22bn test and trace exercise, which the Commons watchdog said this week had done nothing to reduce infection levels. It seemed futile even at the time; how could you possibly hope to keep pace with a fast-spreading virus by writing your name on a form at Wetherspoons and waiting for some civil service consultant to cut and paste it from a spreadsheet?
The Public Accounts Committee agreed. Ministers, it said, had treated taxpayers like a cash machine to feed the consultants – some of whom were charging £6,624 a day. When the Treasury moves part of its operation to Darlington in a few years’ time, those will be the very people pushing up the house prices in the villages around Richmondshire.
But the real beneficiaries of the great move northwards could be those rural areas, especially in the Dales, that have been starved for generations of incoming young families with money to spare. For many of those brought up there, the bright city lights had proved irresistible. Suddenly, the magnetic field has been turned on its axis.
I can’t deny having been tempted by some of the properties on sale in the Dales, but nor could I escape the feeling that to consider buying one at my age would be self-serving. For years, villages in the National Parks have been in danger of becoming retirement havens for former town dwellers, with the result that young buyers have been squeezed out of the market.
Partly for that reason, Mrs B and I are heading as far east as possible on our weekend trip. If some of the houses on our shortlist were any further out to sea they would be on Heligoland, not Holderness.
“Why do you want to move to Hull?” asked an estate agent on the Humber. I told her that three years from now, she wouldn’t have to ask. She’d be turning people away at the border – and unlike me, they’d be speaking with a north London accent.
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