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"I'm addicted to property porn"

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They say the first step to conquering addiction is admitting you have a problem. So here goes – I’m addicted to property porn.

For the avoidance of doubt, I mean surfing estate agents’ sites for alternative accommodation, not watching people frot against moulded brickwork or put chimney breasts to uses for which they were never intended. You were very kind to me when I confessed to my secret desire to live in a burrow with the Wombles, but I think a carnal love of cornicing would be stretching your patience wafer-thin.

I can’t stay away and to be honest, I don’t know how anyone can. It’s pictures of the insides of people’s homes! How can you not want to nosy round? Kitchens are my favourite. How can one room, always designed for the same ultimate purpose – to keep people fed, the dishes clean and an emergency stash of brie and coke cool in the fridge – be so different? The average website offers a veritable kaleidoscope of options for every room – some so right! Some so very, very wrong! – and enables you to while away hours in mental planning, notional shopping and swift, harsh rushes to judgment.

It is the last that is most satisfying. Property websites provide one of the few outlets left for totally victimless bitchery. Social networking has many advantages but it has ruined gossip sessions and spleen-venting. You have to watch yourself. But shouting at a screen about a stranger’s choice of light fitting or butcher’s block? Calling your partner over to join with you in hating a coffee table? Even – ahem – ringing your sister, getting her to log on to primelocation and enjoy a mutual boggle at a coal-effect fireplace in an otherwise unspoilt mid-eighteenth century farmhouse? That’s not just ok, that’s a vital maintenance requirement for your mental health and sanity.

Property websites are a valuable window on to the world

As with real porn, most people I think understand the attraction even if they don’t indulge – or prefer not to admit that they indulge – themselves. But as with porn, the attractions of different types of material to one person frequently leave another baffled. My best friend, for example, searches only for houses in the £1million-plus bracket – Georgian townhouses in London and rambling farmhouses (sans coal-effect fireplaces) in Norfolk or Kent are particular favourites. She lusts after property she could never – short of a lottery win or a brief marriage to a very rich man with a very weak heart – afford. I don’t understand this, but then it is all of a piece with her lifelong tendency to dream big. Or as I, her defiantly prosaic and definitely boring friend who has come in decidedly useful from time to time at clearing up the wreckage left when her rickety ship of ambition founders on the rocks of reality, call it – “be an idiot.”

I, a constitutional smalldreamer, whose ship is more of a badly patched dinghy, only look at houses equal to my own. I like to check that I wasn’t robbed when I bought it and that the market’s holding up in case I ever need to sell in a hurry to fund a ransom demand if someone kidnaps one of the cats (only if they get my favourite one. I wouldn’t cough up for the other) or a loved one’s trip abroad for better cancer treatment. I’m not being flippant. These are the things I think about, the events and possibilities I internally cater for every day. Ah, by our use of property website shall ye know us.

For those to whom this is all sounding like a monumental waste of time, let me assure you that property websites are a valuable window (often fully double-glazed but frequently festooned with appalling fabrics and tiebacks) on the world. You can tell – as you roam up and down the land from the comfort of your sofa, looking at what’s selling and what’s not shifting, who’s slashing prices and who’s not, where repossessions are spiking and where already ridiculous prices are still climbing – exactly how politicians are lying to you and why. Anyone dropping by rightmove on a semi-regular basis will have known a double-dip recession was coming long before it hit the headlines, will have known that banks still aren’t lending, will have known that everywhere outside London (or at least certain parts of it) is basically screwed. You can keep your Georgian townhouses. I’m buying the next house I see that has a bunker big enough to take a (lost) decade’s worth of canned goods. See you down there.

Do you agree with Lucy's column? Share your thoughts in the comments below or @Stylistmagazine on twitter.

Picture credits: Rex Features

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