SMUG MONEY: Friends who own homes, I’ve a confession…

Written by Rebecca O'Connor on 20th February 2017

… I know what the value of your house is. I looked it up. Just as soon as you sent me your address, I headed straight off to Zoopla.

That’s not true actually. But other people, I know for sure, do do that. I know because a friend once casually remarked on the value of my house without me ever having mentioned it. I was kind of taken aback at first, wondering why she was interested more than anything. She wasn’t about to buy somewhere, so it wasn’t as though she had just happened across it on Rightmove. She must have actively looked for no reason other than to know. It made me feel a bit uneasy.

People are super-interested in the value of other people’s homes, according to some new research from Keatons, the estate agency, which found that 36 per cent of Britons check-up on the value of friends’ properties. Morbid curiosity? Envy? Valid research?

Men are more likely to look up values of friends’ houses than women apparently and the East Midlands is the nosiest region, with 44 per cent of people surveyed saying they knew what their friends’ homes were worth.

Thanks to property valuation websites, it’s almost impossible NOT to know what your own home and those near you are worth. But to look up friends’ addresses? There are possibly other things to do that will make you feel better about yourself.

Keatons spokesperson said: “It’s a very British thing, to be preoccupied with property and prices. An Englishman’s home is his castle, after all. It’s important to keep an eye on values, though; that way you know when the right time to move, or improve, might be.”

The habit of checking up on other people’s asset values is ironic in a country that is so anally retentive about incomes and any other talk about money, personal wealth, and so on. If we perhaps had a bit more invested elsewhere, like, I don’t know, ISAs and pensions, and a bit less invested in property, we wouldn’t be quite so obsessed.

These days, you don’t have to tell anyone what you earn when your house is a very tangible statement of how much money you have, because that’s where so much of it is.

But constantly comparing your own house to other peoples’, much like reading womens’ magazines, is a recipe for dissatisfaction, even if you live in a palace. I bet even the Queen gets a pang every time she sees a picture of the Taj Mahal.

Move somewhere remote; buy a fixer upper – both ways to get more for your money

So next time you find yourself Zoopla-ing a friend’s postcode, step away – you are judging yourself at the end of the day. Focus on the great things about your own home. And if you really want a bigger house, coveting isn’t the way to get it – here are some ways to achieve the home you desire:

  • Overpay on your current mortgage. If you can overpay by 10% a year – the usual limit set by lenders on annual overpayments, you will pay it off MUCH quicker. Even just getting your loan-to-value down will help with repayments and is especially useful when you come to buy somewhere new – you will have more money to show for your sale.
  • If you are renting, save in a Help to Buy ISA or when it arrives in April, a Lifetime ISA. The Government gives you a free top-up when you come to buy your first home on savings in these vehicles.
  • Remortgage to a cheaper deal. One thing to make you feel really smug is knowing that you are on one of the lowest rates around. Depending on your loan-to-value, rates could be as low as 1.3 per cent.
  • Buy a fixer upper. The best way to get a bigger house for less is still to buy a place that needs some work/ is a total wreck. But depending on your budget and tolerance for living somewhere unpalatable for a while, be prepared to suffer some mess and stress in the process.
  • Increase the value of your own home – put some love into it. Decorating is the quickest, cheapest route to potentially adding a few £1000s. Changing the carpets or windows or improving the garden, the next cheapest for the highest potential returns.
  • Move somewhere remote – like northern Scotland. You can get some surprisingly big houses for relatively little if you are ready to up-sticks completely. It could be a great adventure – or a quick route to unemployment and isolation.