Snoopers are finding there's plenty of fun to be had using new websites to find out how much friends and family really paid for their property.
By Jonathan Duffy
BBC News Magazine
It's the online equivalent of curtain twitching. With just a few clicks anyone can now find out how much their neighbours paid for their homes.
A flush of new websites - some free, some not - has sprung up on the back of the Land Registry's decision to bulk-sell house price data.
Armed with just a postcode, you can instantly quench your curiosity about what has to be one of the biggest talking points of our time.
- Did that house down the road fetch the asking price?
- Did the couple three doors along really make such a killing when they sold their flat four months ago?
- And how much would your place fetch if you stuck a "for sale" sign in the front garden today?
But why stop at your neighbourhood? With sites such as OurProperty.co.uk and MyHousePrice.com, you can also snoop on your friends.
And, as the newspapers have been quick to realise, celebrities are not immune. So we learn that Madonna paid £5.77m for her central London pad; comedian David Baddiel shelled out £2.7m for a four-storey house in April last year and actress Amanda Holden forked out £440,000 for a flat in north London.
House prices have been a national obsession ever since the 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher made home ownership a cornerstone of government policy.
Until now, the only obstacle has been the traditional British reserve when talking about money.
Ben Brandt of the property weblog TheRatAndMouse.co.uk thinks the sites are cleverly marketed, pitching themselves as an aid for sellers and buyers but actually appealing to the nosey instinct in all of us.
HOUSE PRICE WEBSITES
The Land Registry has started to sell house price data to commercial clients
Its records start in April 2000
It costs £13,500 to buy the existing data
And £2,750 to subscribe to annual updates
"It feels a little bit like spying and, if you do the maths knowing how much someone paid for a house can give you a rough approximation of the salary they're taking home," says Mr Brandt.
But dinner party chit chat aside, these sites could add a dose of level-headedness, helping call the bluff of estate agents who often over-reach themselves when setting an asking price.
"The information empowers both sides - buyer and seller - because now they know what's a realistic price to pay for a property based on others in the same street."
Interest has certainly been high. OurProperty.co.uk, has clocked up 150,000 visitors in the fortnight since it launched, mostly through word of mouth.
"You only need to look at all the property programmes on TV to know that it's a national obsession. People are nosey," says Caroline Ely, who works for the site. Even estate agents are logging on to the site, she says.
However useful these sites are, and given the ease with which they can be set up (see box, above) there are bound to be more newcomers, Ben Brandt believes their biggest contribution will be cultural.
"It's a bit unnerving knowing this information is all freely available. Anyone who has lied about what they paid will be caught out immediately.
"What concerns me is that there's a board game in there somewhere. I don't know what it is yet, and I just hope someone else doesn't get there before me."