The anniversary next Tuesday of Lehman Brothers' collapse and the reissue of the Beatles' albums may be putting the nation in the mood for reminiscence. However, amid the harking back to how the demise of this US bank caused the already slowing UK property market to grind to a halt, there is an equal amount of talk about the difference a year makes. Such is the turnaround in mood that - extraordinary as it may seem - concern even began to be voiced this week about the potential for another boom in prices.
Current conditions in the market - heating up in some spots, but still tepid or chilly in others - may be a disappointment for those who long to get back to where we once belonged: the early months of 2007, before the words credit crunch became common parlance. But if you are sensible enough not to yearn for the days of dangerously spiralling house prices, you will take heart from the increasing signs of stabilisation.
A third of estate agents were thrown out of work in the months that followed Lehman's demise and the ensuing financial crisis, a rather greater rate of attrition than among investment bankers. Some estate agencies that have survived, albeit in a slimmed-down state, are now hiring - and not always with ease. Douglas & Gordon, a London estate agency, says that "it is battling to recruit top staff".
Some estate agencies are considering the purchase of smaller firms, before the pick-up in transactions makes these businesses expensive to acquire. News of unemployment among estate agents may have been a cue for "every cloud has a silver lining" jokes. But, since wider economic revival depends on the health of the housing market, the improved outlook for estate agents is something that this trade's critics will have to take on the chin.
Closed-down estate agency offices became one emblem of the post-Lehman era. Another was the glut of unwanted, recently-built city-centre flats. This oversupply is fast disappearing in many locations, as we report on pages 7-9, and there is even talk of a future shortage of new homes, unless banks make money available to more developers. As a result, some commentators are muttering about the potential for another price spike.
Such concerns may be somewhat premature, given that at least two million households remain in negative equity - or with equity of less than 10 per cent - and are thus unable to move up the housing ladder.
Nevertheless, speculation about the potential for a future market surge could be welcome in one quarter. New homes on low-density elegant developments are selling well. Poky flats in dodgy inner-city areas have been less popular. Housebuilders may now see a chance to get rid of these teeny-tiny homes to buyers hoping for sizeable gains. Such purchases could be a big mistake, unless the discounts available are whopping.
Road to ruin "I've put down 10 per cent and I'm going to flip the place for a profit." Say this sort of thing out loud on the bus and you can expect a property editor to tune into your chat. It was summer 2007 and we were on the No 9 bus, proceeding down Piccadilly. I wondered if the young man proclaiming his off-plan purchase of a flat was aware of his contractual obligations. Subsequently, however, they have become all too clear. Jeremy Raj of Wedlake Bell, the solicitors, says recent court judgments have confirmed that those who buy off-plan must complete on the transaction - although many think only their deposits will be forfeit.
Many off-plan buyers are backing out of deals because the values of the properties in which they had invested have slumped. Others, many of them first-time buyers, still want to move in but cannot obtain mortgages. All face potential bankruptcy. New Homes Week begins tomorrow. What better moment for the banks and builders to devise an arrangement (part buy, part rent, perhaps?) that would help those who saw off-plan as a route not to profit but to a home of their own.
Do not let a bucolic riverside setting deceive you. The buyer of the following property would not be doing too much relaxing, although guests could sit and enjoy the view. A Michelin-star restaurant demands constant commitment. That is why the current owners of Mr Underhill's in Ludlow, Shropshire, have decided to retire after 12 years running the establishment, which also has rooms. The property is for sale through Strutt & Parker for £1.1 million.
Published in The Times, 11 September 2009