Two decades ago, I spent a couple of years writing dire warnings about planes falling out of the sky, the army keeping the peace on the streets and the lights going out across the world.
At midnight on New Year’s Eve 1999, nothing happened. The Millennium Bug was mainly hype and not much reality.
So you can understand to some extent why the ardent Brexiteers are ignoring the warnings of the severe economic downturn that Brexit, whether with or without a deal, will impose upon the UK.
But this is not like the Millennium Bug. This time around, many of those fears are already being realised. International car manufacturers are pulling out of the UK, aerospace businesses are shedding thousands of jobs and even the government is talking up food prices and predicting doom and gloom across the regions.
We are crawling painfully towards the end game of the most momentous political and economic decision in a generation, but getting the property industry to talk about Brexit has proven difficult. Perhaps that’s because they’re not quite sure where to start. Either that or they’re paralysed by fear.
Over the past month, I have asked the UK’s leading property groups for details of their Brexit preparations. Only 15 of the 61 responded. The biggest wall of silence came from housebuilders. Not one of the UK’s top 10 housing developers were willing to talk to me about Brexit. It’s not hard to see why.
Bank of England governor Mark Carney believes house prices could collapse by as much as 30% in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Figures also show that since the referendum, house price growth has slowed. Housebuilders are going to be hit hard by any kind of Brexit so they are right to be bricking it, if indeed they have any bricks left.
My suspicion is that while they may have all stockpiled a few materials, they have done very little else to tackle an issue that could define their fortunes for years to come.
Where are they going to get the skilled labourers from if their European workforce disappears, as it already is doing? Where will the homebuyers come from if jobs are lost and everyone is feeling poorer? Housebuilders do not know the answers to these questions. But I think I do.
What is likely to happen is they will build fewer homes, sell fewer of them and make less money. The knock-on effect of that is the housing crisis will go to whatever the next level up from ‘crisis’ is called.
The housebuilders were not the only property companies with little to say on Brexit. Many of the leading REITs, agency firms or funds also did not offer an opinion.
The eternal optimism of the property industry has, at times, been admirable. In the case of Brexit, it is blinkered.
Following another heavy government defeat on Theresa May’s deal, we are still in the dark over what, if any, Brexit we’re going to get. We also know little about how the property sector is preparing for it. Perhaps the industry is just hoping it’s another Millennium Bug. Perhaps the politicians are, too.