On a weekly basis, with fingers tingling with a mixture of anticipation, trepidation and craving, my mother opens the property pages.
With a strange obsession, she then pores over the houses available in the area and how much they cost, punctuating the ambience of our sitting room with exclamations of surprise and rage at both the cheap and the extortionate.
She’s not alone. A surprising number of people take an extreme interest in the goings-on of the local property market, despite having little or no desire to relocate. It’s the only time we monitor the value of something we’re not going to buy – you won’t catch a vegetarian studying the sausages in Sainsbury’s.
But it’s not, I don’t think, genuine interest in houses and interior design that means we flick straight to the property supplement. I think we’re driven by a perpetual dissatisfaction with our own decisions – we’re worried if we made the correct choice in buying the house we live in. Bizarrely, we then pretend we are looking to buy, to try to convince ourselves we don’t need to. If the prices are high, that could mean our homes are more valuable, but does it also diminish our options if we wanted to sell-up and move? Is there someone out there getting a better deal than we did?
Like a child walking away from a sweet shop or a gambler watching the Grand National, we’re all driven wild by the idea that we could’ve picked wrongly. It doesn’t, of course, make us feel any better, because each week there will be an attractive house at an attractive price that someone else will be buying. We’re just looking for deals we’re not going to chase, and so there’s no point in looking at all.