Want to know how much next door paid for their house?
It's frightening, I turn on the computer, type in my postcode, and there it is: 82b Camberwell Road, £128,000. Now anyone with a computer and the strange desire to know can see how much my girlfriend and I paid for our two-bedroom flat in south London. I feel violated. Although, like all homeowners, of course, I still think I got a bargain.
The difference is that now, thanks to nethouseprices.com, a clever website that enables you to search Land Registry records for free, I can find out for sure. For example: how much did that shoebox we used to rent at number 191 go for? An outrageous £170,000! And how much did Paul pay for this place two years before we bought it from him? Oh, just £82,000. Didn't he do well? This is the site's respectable purpose: helping prospective buyers and sellers get a feel for the market in a particular area. But one can't help wondering how many of its 500,000 visitors a day are using it for the sneaky purpose of spying on their friends' finances.
Take our lovely downstairs neighbour, Cat, for instance. I could make unscrupulous use of the internet to discover how much she paid for her flat - £123,000! And she's only got one bedroom! I call her up immediately to see if she is as scandalised as I am that it was so easy for me to invade her privacy.
"Um, it depends what you're thinking of using the information for." How about bragging that we only paid five grand more for our flat even though we've got an extra bedroom? "Well you bought it at a different time, when the market was different." True enough, and ours was barely habitable. So she won't be starting any small revenge fires? "No. I suppose I'd prefer it if that information wasn't widely available, but since it is, it's not going to make a huge impact on my life." And will she now be looking up her friends to see how much their houses cost? "No. There's a line I wouldn't cross. I'm not particularly nosey, unlike my dad."
Conversations such as this one are going to become increasingly common now that nethouseprices.com is up and running. The site has only been going for a couple of months and has already had to upgrade its hardware to cope with the vast interest. I set out to find out how the rest of Camberwell Road feels about its house prices being published on the internet.
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