Crashing the housing market

The web offers a wealth of detail about the property downturn

Like many upwardly mobile Londoners under 30 - and, indeed, like quite a few under 40 - I don't own a house. Although I occasionally kid myself that not owning a house is quite chic and Parisian, it's not really a lifestyle choice. Unless, of course, you call living in England a lifestyle choice.

I don't own a house because I can't afford one. Which is why I'm finding this whole credit crunch thing slightly thrilling. Unlike my several smug friends whose parents stumped up a deposit for their first flat some years ago, I am not filled with dread at the prospect of a correction in the UK's bulbous housing market. Perhaps there's something I'm not quite getting about macroeconomics and global downturns. No matter. If it means I might be able to afford four walls and a roof, then, in the words of the New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, let's party like it's 1929.

Oddly, the mainstream media don't seem to share my high spirits. Indeed, it's hard to get anyone on TV or in newspapers to discuss a potential house-price crash in any voice above a whisper, lest they be accused, like the Today programme was a few months ago, of talking it up. But if the mainstream media won't help, well, that's what we invented the internet for, right? Upwardly mobile people under 30 are a pretty dominant force online. So it shouldn't be surprising that the story about house prices is told slightly differently on the web.

Speculation about a potential house-price collapse has been going on at since late 2003. Putting aside the fact that its protagonists might have missed a good five years of solid growth, this means they've also had a good spell of time to put together a detailed selection of data sets on house-price trends. But if graphs ain't your thing, watch their Flash movie Vocation, Vocation, Vocation, featuring a mock-up of Kirstie Allsopp eating her hat, a reference to a comment she made in 2004 about what she'd do if house prices were to dip permanently. For her part, the Channel 4 presenter (and lately Tory adviser) has accused the site of the equivalent of insider trading.

For those taking advantage of the upcoming slump, the web provides some ways to help. The opposite of the property ladder,, lists houses whose asking prices have fallen since going on the market. Or it did until summer 2007, when the listings portals from which it was scraping its data cried copyright infringement and demanded that it remove vital information.

This essentially protectionist move was soon thwarted by the launch of - a toolbar that lets you know if a property you're looking at online has reduced in price since you last checked it out. It's not as all-encompassing as, but it will suffice. At least until estate agents realise that letting people know when something is a good deal or not will actually help them sell houses.

Becky Hogge is a writer and technologist. She was formerly the technology director of award-winning current affairs website, and Executive Director of the Open Rights Group, a grassroots digital civil liberties organisation.