Property Downturn Hits Newspapers Too

One way of measuring the downturn in the property market is by looking at the space taken by agents and developers in advertising their product.

I have compared five main property supplements in newspapers – Bricks and Mortar in The Times, the property sections of the Saturday and Sunday Telegraphs, the Financial Times and Home from the Sunday Times – in the same period of June in 2006 and 2010. The results are fascinating.

Property advertising, measured by space, is this year roughly 60% of what it was in 2006; that probably comes as no surprise. But advertising for overseas property today is much more shocking – it is only about 20% of what it was in 2006.

So in June 2010:

• The equivalent of about 7 pages of the 16 in the tabloid Bricks and Mortar are ads, but overseas property feature in just a few small ads;

• The Saturday Telegraph typically has 4.5 pages of ads in its 8-page broadsheet property supplement and only one-third of a page is for overseas homes;

• The Sunday Telegraph has a tabloid supplement (Life) and of 8 pages given to property about 1.5 are ads. Overseas occupies under 10% of that space;

• Home has 17.5 pages of ads in a 32 page section and the equivalent of only 2 pages are for overseas homes;

• The FT’s House and Home is an exception to the rule – of 12 pages it has 6 given to ads and 50% of that is for overseas property. It’s worth remembering, of course, that most of the FT’s readers these days are based abroad anyway.

In all this I have excluded peripheral property advertising (from conservatories to carpets) and I have tried to take into account the Sunday Telegraph’s change of property section from broadsheet into tabloid.

This analysis shows three things:

1. Unsurprisingly, given the domestic economy’s downturn and the relatively poor performance of the Pound, hardly any British buyers are purchasing homes abroad. (This backs up a recent Savills survey which showed startlingly few British purchases overseas in 2009);

2. More surprisingly, domestic estate agency and developer advertising in these newspapers is actually quite good now, in most cases about 75% of what it was pre-downturn, and a great deal better than in the bleak year of 2008;

3. The real loss for papers is in ads for low- to mid-cost overseas homes. In 2006 and 2007 the Sunday Times in particular bulged with ads for cheap flats and villas in parts of the world most readers would have difficulty finding on a map. The sales of those properties have long gone, as we all know. What we weren’t aware of, was how big an impact that’s had on newspapers.

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