Signs that the crash is coming

UK housing market: Signs that the crash is coming - at - the best of the week's international financial media.

I bumped into my estate agent in the street on Saturday. The same one who promised me six weeks ago that he'd have an offer in on my flat by Christmas. I barely recognised him, which, I suppose, is hardly surprising, given I haven't seen him since I gave him the keys. "I've been soooo busy," he said. "What?" I said "Soooo busy showing other people's flats to your thousands of clients that you didn't have time to show them mine?" He thought that was terribly funny. So funny that a mere 20 minutes later he had conjured up a viewer and brought her round. Mrs Patel, he told me, already lives in my building and likes it so much she is looking to buy a second flat in it as an investment property.

This is one of the most unlikely things I have ever heard (and not just from an estate agent). No one is looking for an investment property in Paddington at the moment. Trying to sell them before they're repossessed is much more popular. No, my guess is that, assuming Mrs Patel actually exists (I was out during The First Viewing), she is desperate to sell her flat too and wanted to have a good nose around mine to help her figure out what kind of price she can get away with putting it on the market for.

My only consolation is that Mrs Patel will have learnt nothing of use - the price I have put the flat on the market at clearly has no information content unless someone is prepared to pay it, at which point it will tell us what the flat is worth'. In fact, she would have been better off ignoring me completely and logging on to my new favourite website,, instead. You log on, type in the area you are interested in and up comes a list of every house and flat, leasehold or freehold, newbuild or second hand, that has sold there in the last five years with - and this is the good bit - the price they traded at. It's absolutely fantastic. You can now find out what all your neighbours and friends paid for their houses, or, indeed, what they sold them for. I've spent hours on it. I now know the price history of every flat in my building and a great deal more about my richer friends than they'd like. I can't recommend it more highly. Hours of fun.

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There is, however, more to it than just fun. I've been looking at the number of transactions on various streets in 2004 versus 2003. The results back up what we really already know: transaction levels all over the country have collapsed (usually the first sign of a crash, see page 16), something that probably explains why the estate agent with the shop next to the one I'm using has just closed down. Though no doubt they would tell me it's because they are soooo busy they don't have time to run an agency.

Merryn Somerset Webb

Merryn Somerset Webb started her career in Tokyo at public broadcaster NHK before becoming a Japanese equity broker at what was then Warburgs. She went on to work at SBC and UBS without moving from her desk in Kamiyacho (it was the age of mergers).

After five years in Japan she returned to work in the UK at Paribas. This soon became BNP Paribas. Again, no desk move was required. On leaving the City, Merryn helped The Week magazine with its City pages before becoming the launch editor of MoneyWeek in 2000 and taking on columns first in the Sunday Times and then in 2009 in the Financial Times

Twenty years on, MoneyWeek is the best-selling financial magazine in the UK. Merryn was its Editor in Chief until 2022. She is now a senior columnist at Bloomberg and host of the Merryn Talks Money podcast -  but still writes for Moneyweek monthly. 

Merryn is also is a non executive director of two investment trusts – BlackRock Throgmorton, and the Murray Income Investment Trust.