THERE'S a new obsession threatening to take over our airwaves: property porn and we can't get enough.
Switch on free-to-air or pay television and you’ll find countless shows about real estate (not forgetting websites, sections in print media and apps). It doesn’t even matter if the program is set overseas, we’re eager to consume content centred on people’s efforts to build, secure, fix, invest in or off-load their homes.
From Escape to the Country to reruns of Hot Property; from Relocation, Relocation Australia to Selling Houses Australia and the British originals; from Grand Designs to Property Ladder, The Block and Restoration Home, we love to watch all things domicile.
Featuring good-looking, articulate and friendly hosts, images of either perfect buildings or those on the brink of collapse, the tortured expressions of prospective buyers, anxious vendors and ignorant renovators who don’t know a budget from a budgie as well as the many faces of agents, these shows rely on our complicated and highly emotional comprehensions of "home" to work.
Close-ups of buyers’ and owners’ tears and frowns and scenes that capture explosive tempers and despair are property porn’s money shots.
Building up to a climax, the shows seduce us into becoming voyeurs of something that’s usually a private affair.
We’re given glimpses of paint that doesn’t quite match, chipped tiles, leaking taps, roofs on the verge of collapse, rotting timbers, mould-stained walls, unhinged doors and, to top it off, wild bushes for gardens. Alternately, we’re invited to gaze upon homes of such sparkling perfection they’re beyond our wildest dreams.
We’re invited to project ourselves in and out of those four walls and let our imaginations run wild.
They promise a satisfaction of Eden-like proportions.
I tell you, these shows are addictive. And there’s a good reason for that.
In Australia particularly, we’ve been fed the notion that home is where the heart and everything else lives. Owning a quarter of an acre is what everyone should aspire to, only that’s becoming increasingly difficult as the average housing block shrinks.
Regardless, this is simply a metaphor for being able to call a piece of Australia, some bricks, mortar, weatherboard, glass, steel, concrete and solar panels, your own.
It’s an idea that buys into our sense of self and national identity as well.
Buying a home (or equivalent) is not only a financial investment, it’s an emotional and even patriotic one that has a great deal of psychological baggage attached.
Real estate agents become more like matchmakers than brokers.
Property porn relies on all this to be effective, to suck us in and take us on a "journey" with the person, couple or family who are buying. It reduces decision-making and stress to a superficial narrative with a "they-all-lived-happily-ever-after" ending.
In watching others risk the buying, selling or renovating and surrendering to their passions for a piece of real estate action, like pornography, we experience the highs and lows vicariously but without the attendant risks.
This has never been more evident than throughout the current property downturn.
These shows are rating very well as, from the safety of our homes (rented or otherwise), we can watch others take the risky plunge.
That’s because, while property is hot in television land, in real life, it’s a different story, one where the finale is not so certain.
According to Australian Property Monitors senior economist Dr Andrew Wilson, the latest data shows Brisbane is becoming established as the cheapest capital city.
While median house prices have dropped (especially in Paddington, where prices fell 31.9 per cent), sales are up by 13 per cent in Brisbane and 11 per cent on the Gold Coast.
Last quarter, Gladstone saw a growth of 50 per cent.
We keep hearing "it’s a buyer’s market" and, apparently, some people are "buying" this. But more are not.
When you have agents talking up what’s clearly going down and vendors refusing to meet the market, while buyers keep their wallets shut, nothing moves not unless, like Goldilocks, we meet in the middle.
Until that occurs, we have property porn.
At least there, our lust for real estate can be temporarily and safely sated.
Dr Karen Brooks is an associate professor of media studies at Southern Cross University.