The imminent demise of the Mail on Sunday’s property pages - so few they were hard to find anyway - may seem to a casual observer like a simple re-organisation of feature sections in one newspaper. But I suspect it has much more significance than that.
Just two years ago, long after the property downturn started but before anyone realised that the word ‘recovery’ had been removed from the housing market dictionary, the Daily Mail property section each Friday and the Mail on Sunday’s property section were relatively healthy. They each had several pages and several features weekly. They were then still getting reasonable advertising from developers in particular, and from the estate agents who used the titles to promote their properties, typically priced up to £500,000.
But in the past 12 months the advertising in that sector of the market has all but dried up, as the mortgage famine and wider uncertainty over the economy led the demographic that makes up typical readers of the Mail titles to sit on their hands rather than move house.
This decline follows similar contractions in the Express and Independent’s property sections, and the end of property coverage in the Observer and Guardian except on a news or personal finance basis.
This contrasts sharply with what is happening at the top end of the market. The Daily Telegraph, Financial Times and, to a lesser extent, The Times and Sunday Times property sections are usually fat, bulging with both editorial pieces and solid advertising. The same applies to the Evening Standard’s Homes & Property.
In other words, just like the housing market as a whole, a disproportionate amount of activity is going on in a heady world dominated by central London and above-£1m homes across the rest of the country. This is territory occupied by buying agents, overseas purchasers, the private client divisions of posh estate agencies, and purchases made through off-shore tax-effective vehicles.
Good luck to all of them for making a living, and for us journalists doing the same thing writing about this small sector of the market - luckily, the papers doing best now have cracking good journalism, in the main. But it’s all a far cry from tales of ordinary people struggling to get on the housing ladder. Property journalism probably needs to be just a little careful that in its rush to report fewer and fewer, wealthier and wealthier buyers and sellers and homes, it doesn’t end up so small it ceases to be relevant to a wider public.
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