Monday, September 23, 2013

The North-South divide


Izzy looked up at the nice lady who’d spent the previous hour inspecting every nook and cranny of our property, and politely asked her, “Excuse me, are you going to buy our house, then?” 

The poor woman was completely thrown. After a rather too lengthy pause, I let the lady off the hook: “I think it depends on whether you keep your room tidy or not.” 

“Yes, I do like tidy rooms,” the lady confirmed, with a sigh of relief. 

That seemed to satisfy Izzy, who wandered off to organise her mermaid collection.

I wonder if our 4-year-old has any concept of what moving house will be like. She seems to think we’ll just get on a plane and end up in California, and somehow the whole house will have come along with us. 

Over breakfast this morning, she put down her spoon and looked at me severely. 

“Daddy,” she said, “we need to move to America very quickly.” 

“Why’s that?” I asked, fearing she had inherited her Mother’s dread of the impending Northumbrian winter. We’ve already switched on our central heating. Maybe Izzy was feeling the cold. 

“We need to go right now, because I’ve just remembered I left Ariel at Nana’s house and I want to rescue her in case Typhoon (the dog) eats her.” 

“Oh, don’t worry. We’ll ring Nana and tell her to put Ariel on a higher shelf.” 

Izzy nodded with relief, then dipped another toast soldier into her overflowing egg. Moving the house to America can wait another day. 

So all the national newspapers tell us that the housing market has picked up. There’s even fear of some sort of price bubble on its way. 

Well I wish someone would blow up a price bubble up around here. 

Prices started picking up in California a year ago and now there's a frantic race for almost every property. Loans are flowing for people with just 10% deposits, so people have no trouble finding the funds to move. Obama’s policy of spending his way out of recession has worked: the economy is already expanding fast. 

Over here, the housing market has certainly started to move, but only in the South. 

Our London rental property, which we’d much rather sell to pay for a place in California than Izzy’s toyfilled home up here, and which has sat on the market undisturbed by offers or interest since March, has suddenly encountered a stream of potential buyers. One is on his fourth visit and has even brought along his builder, so Izzy may not have to uproot her mermaid collection after all. 

Our London agent just sent me a map of England showing the regional variation: prices in London are currently rising by 1% per month; here, it’s 1% per year. The North East was the first place to be hit by the recession, and, as always, will be the last to recover. 

I was down in the capital a couple of weeks ago, feeding the goldfish and seeing the BBC, and the contrast is staggering. It’s like another world. 

There’s a slew of new, high-end restaurants, the quality clothes shops are full, and luxury cars cruise round every street corner. It’s as if the downturn had never happened. 

If there’s one thing I would want the next government to sort out, it’s this eternal North/South divide. But there are no votes in the North: that’s the downside of living in a Labour stronghold. So I doubt it will feature on either of the main parties’ conference agendas over the next fortnight. 

With an election just two years away, it’s all about political expediency and ambition, and pandering to the South East marginals. They will happily let property prices rise quickly in the home counties so people will feel good about their assets in 2015. Let the North go hang – they’ll manage, they always do. 

Someone really ought to set up a new party of the North. That would show them. Maybe Izzy could be its mascot.

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