BBC News


Page last updated at 13:11 GMT, Friday, 12 December 2008

Would you buy a number 13 house?

Number 13
The curse of number 13
The housing market has slowed but if you're trying to sell a home which is Number 13, then superstition makes it even harder to shift, says Chris Bowlby.

There are many things that might sway our decision about where to live, some more trivial than others.

But surely the house number cannot be that important?

And yet in our age of sophisticated property research, and careful financial calculation, houses are rejected by many potential buyers simply because they are numbered 13.

The problem is apparently so great that some local authorities in the UK are banning the use of number 13 in all new property developments - while others are determined to hold out against this official blessing for ancient superstition.

In the picturesque Worcestershire town of Bewdley, local estate agent Linda Hayden says there are two house that have proved especially hard to shift, even allowing for the current property downturn. One has been on the market for about a year and she believes the fact that it is a number 13 is the reason why.

More or Less is on BBC Radio 4 on Friday 12 December at 1330 GMT
Or catch up later on BBC iPlayer

"How bizarre," she says with a shake of the head. "We are a society that can justify most things in life, and yet we're still frightened by superstition that living in number 13 is not where we'd like to be".

Such has been the local aversion to "unlucky" houses that the district council, Wyre Forest, has in recent years banned the use of number 13 in all new developments. Local councillor Stephen Clee resolutely defends the policy.

"We have to listen to what the people say," he says. "The local community were saying to us, 'we don't like living at number 13, so can we do something about it?'"

There should be no sanction given to the avoidance of any numbers, for example 13
West Norfolk council's policy

Wyre Forest is not alone in this - 13 is not used for new houses in authorities ranging from Herefordshire to Lewes in Sussex. West Wiltshire has also introduced a ban, blaming it on advice from the Royal Mail - a charge an indignantly rational Royal Mail spokesman has denied.

Others are holding out against the onward march of officially-approved superstition.

West Norfolk council's policy on street numbering states baldly that "there should be no sanction given to the avoidance of any numbers, for example 13".

Minister of superstition

And in Edinburgh, the city council upholds the strictest traditions of Scottish enlightenment by stating severely: "In all instances the number 13 is never omitted."

Number 13 house
It looks like a nice house. It's number 13. That a problem?

So if you want to avoid living at number 13, it all depends on where you are lucky - or unlucky - enough to live. Alternatively, if you opt deliberately to buy a number 13 in some parts of the country, you might get a bargain.

And other countries are just as superstitious. In Japan, hotels, hospitals and apartment blocks often skip the unlucky number four. And in the US, skyscrapers often omit a 13th floor.

It would all puzzle the Victorians, whose 1840s legislation on street numbering, designed to bring order to chaotic urban sprawl, still sets the broad outlines for policy today - though local authorities like to assert their autonomy.

Perhaps a new national policy is needed, maybe a minister for the regulation of superstition, with an office close to the centre of government power?

He or she could be based in a new building in Downing Street, which has house numbers 9 to 12 but curiously, nothing to follow.


Is Bewdley the village with the messiest numbering

Print Sponsor

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific