News is about the unusual, and readers believe that as much as editors. “No one hurt today” and “No change in Middle East dictatorships” are not the headlines that will sell papers nor set the heart racing amongst people thirsty for something interesting.
But should our national newspapers’ property sections be quite as ‘unusual’ as they are?
I studied the big sections this weekend. Odd property stories pop up in many places but I am talking of the property pages of the Saturday and Sunday Telegraphs, the Friday and Sunday Times, the weekend FT and the Friday issues of the Independent and Daily Mail.
Leaving aside the celebrity tittle-tattle, the interiors and lifestyle pieces and generalised market comment, and of course completely ignoring advertisements, this is what I found:
- There were 45 stories, of which 35 were largely or wholly about properties or trends in the south of England, and only two about the north of England or Wales. The remaining eight were largely or wholly overseas property stories;
- Some 63 individual properties for sale featured in those stories, either because (very rarely) a story was about an individual home or, more typically, the story was about a trend and it used homes to demonstrate the point;
- Of those 63, only six were new-build or very modern and the rest were older - usually much older and typically ‘picture postcard’ type homes;
- Prices of the 63 properties ranged from £60,000 to £6.8m and the average was no less than £1.03m (by way of a benchmark of quite how untypical this is, today’s Academetrics index shows the average price of a home in the UK to be just over £221,000 or about 20% of the average you find in a property supplement).
Now as journalists often believe, but rarely say, these figures actually prove nothing at all. A different weekend’s property sections would produce slightly different results, I am sure. But there are some trends:
- While some papers have Scottish, Irish and Welsh editions (in which a few homes from those areas feature) it is hard to justify the southern English bias of the papers overall - it is far greater than sales of the newspapers in question, for example;
- A popular shout from PRs and developers in the new-build sector is that property sections under-represent their product, but in my analysis they get 9% of the homes featured...in excess of the share of sales taken by new-build homes;
- Homes featured are wildly more aspirational than actually affordable. That voyeuristic approach to how the other half live and buy, makes property an interesting subject to many. But whereas the motoring pages, for example, will test drive a Mini as well as a Bugatti Veyron, the property pages stay resolutely upmarket. In our current times, I'm not sure that's the right thing to do.
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