According to Alexa, a leading analytics company, the most visited websites last year were those you would expect: Google, YouTube, Facebook, Amazon. (Alexa is owned by Amazon, by the way, which makes sense: Amazon owns everything). But I know I am part of a dedicated group of people who spend a significant amount of time on the internet, not watching behind-the-scenes clips of Broad City – although there is that – but browsing property websites. This is not because I am an investor (cue hysterical laughter), or that I am buying a house. This is pure escapism.
Sites such as Rightmove, Zoopla and Purple Bricks are my weakness; I’m afraid I have a passionate dislike of estate agents – because fool me once, shame on you; fool me 90 times and I will despise you for life – and a key bonus of escapist browsing is not having to deal with them. The properties I am looking at are £2m townhouses in London, or vast open-plan warehouses in Glasgow, or cute bungalows in Pembrokeshire. I can also pass hours on The Modern House and WowHaus, which both advertise places to stay. Recently, I have branched out into stalking lofts in New York and Berlin walk-ups on Google Street View.
My obsession predates the internet. Whenever I was in a doctor’s waiting room, I would dive into the dog-eared copies of Country Life, and even though I was 16 with less than £100 in an ISA, would take in the Knight Frank manor houses for sale (two tennis courts, stables, a lake). Despite my later realisation that agents are essentially awful, I wanted to be one as a kid. I even made promotional brochures for my nonexistent agency using perfunctory Microsoft software. I played The Sims life-simulation video game just to build the houses. I worked out a way to game it, so that I could add basements and double-height ceilings.
I have written before in this column about my passion for tiles, and these are a significant factor when it comes to the homes that make me swoon. But so are chunky beams, and stained-glass windows in church conversions. I refuse to be shamed for spotting online that one of the pastel-coloured houses on my dream street has come on to the market, and then altering my route to work to walk by it, like a pining lover.
Lustily daydreaming after design works as a pressure release, a plaster of aesthetics on the wound of news. I suppose one might argue that downloading PDFs of the properties – as if I were actually going to put in an offer on Toddington Manor before Damien Hirst bought it (shut up) – might be taking it too far. But you must excuse me: I have a video tour of a Barbican penthouse to enjoy.