The Woolwich identifies ‘phantom movers syndrome’

This out of the ordinary behaviour — labeled ‘phantom movers syndrome’ — is documented in research findings issued today by The Woolwich, the Barclays mortgage arm. The research studies the lengths people go to in order to stay in touch with house price changes and reveals that in the last six months:-

* 14 per cent (more than one in ten) of those questioned have viewed other properties — with no actual intention of buying

* 9 per cent have had their property valued with no genuine intention of selling

* And 11 per cent have spotted a ‘For Sale’ sign in their street and called to enquire about the asking price.

Less surprising is the following behaviour:-

* Over half (56 per cent) have scoured their local newspaper to monitor house prices.

* Nearly half (47 per cent) admit to looking in estate agents’ windows to check local property values

And the obsession can carry over to new areas:

* Over a third (37 per cent) say that when they visit somewhere new, they scan a local estate agent’s window for house prices.

House Price Fatigue

An obsessive interest in house price changes can also be a conversational turn-off in social situations. The research showed clearly that people don’t like being on the receiving end of ‘property speak’.

* Over half (52 per cent) of us have come up against someone talking about the value of their home in the last 6 months…and only 16 per cent find it an interesting topic of conversation. Only religion and personal finance are more unpopular as dinner party conversations.

* Instead, we’d rather discuss current affairs (47 per cent find the topic interesting), relationships (44 per cent), sport (39 per cent), jobs (36 per cent) and clothes and shopping (32 per cent).

Andy Gray, head of mortgages for The Woolwich, commented on the findings: "The property market is clearly at the centre of much media debate and speculation and it’s inevitable that people will be interested in what’s happening to the value of their home. The housing market has slowed this year and will continue to slow as we enter 2004 so homeowners now need to view their home as a place of enjoyment and not focus on short term property market gains."

Regional Highlights

* Welsh are the nosiest neighbours — 24 per cent admit they have viewed properties just to check their market worth, with no intention of moving (compared to the national average of 14 per cent)

* Easterners and South Westerners are most likely to go through a phantom property valuation of their property to check its worth, with no desire to sell (12 percent compared to the national average of 9 per cent)

* The curtains twitch the most in Yorkshire and Humberside…Residents here are most likely to phone an estate agent to check a neighbouring property’s price, when they see a For Sale sign go up (16 per cent compared to the national average of 11 per cent)

* North Westerners are the most curious about property values in new areas — 45% say they have a look in Estate Agents’ windows when they visit somewhere new (compared to the national average of 37 per cent)

* The local paper’s property pages are an essential Phantom Movers resource in the North East and Yorkshire and Humberside — 64% here say they’ve monitored house prices in their local paper in the past six months (compared to the national average of 56 per cent)

* Londoners like to keep up-to-date price data at their fingertips — 18 per cent say they have used the internet to check property values, three times more than respondents in the West Midlands (compared to the national average of 13 per cent)

* Easterners (62 percent) and West Midlanders (58 per cent) are most likely to talk about the value of their home (compared to the national average of 52 per cent)

* Easterners are most likely to have checked house prices in an estate agent’s window (54 per cent compared to the national average of 47 per cent)

* Scots are more likely to make home improvements as seen on TV to improve their home’s saleability (30 per cent compared to national average of 18 per cent

* South Westerners are most likely to discuss "concerns" about the state of the property market: 48 per cent have encountered this conversation topic compared to national average of 40 per cent.