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A self-described “blokey, trad, logical geek” in his 20s, David Finlayson realised that the internet had brought opportunities and potential and, equally importantly, “all the obstacles he faced with his job”. Indeed, the creation of the internet “unzipped the door to a massive change in society”. Finlayson therefore decided to “pond’n for a year” and write about it.
One of the keys to Finlayson’s popular blog was real estate, the most popular and “craziest” area of the UK. Finlayson, who divides his time between London and Oxford, started in 2004 and completed the final instalment in 2007. “For a long time there wasn’t a lot of data about the student market,” he says. “I don’t think anyone knew what the real estate price/student price ratio was in the country.” From that, Finlayson decided to investigate, based on his own personal research and by digging through press releases and comparing “who said what, when, and on what pricing basket”. Finlayson was able to gauge student health insurance levels, their mental health condition rates, and how property prices actually worked with those data.
It’s rather at odds with a popular view of property as investing and Finlayson describes real estate as more about spending. “You could spend £12,000 on housing, but the house will last you a year – and two years with a bit of an outside feed and cooker in there,” he explains. Finlayson includes several handy charts that track property trends and prices, and delivers illuminating graphs. He explains, for example, how the student market differs to that of professionals’, and how this influences prices.
Finlayson cites Sarah Hawkins, who works in matchmaking for the BUILD “city finders”, as an example of someone who got married after she began working for them. They recommend potential clients for prospective marriage partners. Hawkins will also look at the academic performance of the new partner for this information. “I write everything on a napkin and then hand it to David and says: ‘This is your data’,” Hawkins explains. Hawkins has already had two marriages. “You’ll get a combination of right and wrong,” Finlayson says. However, he has a healthy respect for good judgment and believes that a person can fairly good price out their own finances and be happy. “It’s not like gambling and pushing every bit of money you have into the property.” He does note that average prices have risen slightly from £216,000 when the blog started to £229,000, but that it has been 30 years since the average was £30,000 – now students are able to live with relative affordability. “Our annual tax relief on stamp duty is £3,000 and £2,000, but students spend only £300, meaning their incomes don’t get distorted.” So, he reckons that any typical student student can “already count their money twice by buying property.”
Finlayson is not a fan of house hunts. “That’s a trade-off for insecurity,” he suggests. “I would prefer people to focus on looking for jobs and a job and a job, rather than trying to buy property because they feel insecure about other things. Apart from the temptation of owning property and enjoying that, the experience of sharing one’s income with your mates is far more fulfilling than finding yourself stuck in a house and looking for a place.”
The next stage for Finlayson is to publish a book of the blog. He will also get involved in discussions about web regulation – you can see his blog explaining some of the issues now debated at City Crap sites such as City Crap and Oxford Crap. Meanwhile, he and Hawkins are pleased with their wedding results and “we have been together long enough that we can afford to do that,” Hawkins says. “People can read everything we’re doing online and see how we do things. Hopefully, other people will follow suit.”