Before I visit a UK region or a foreign country, nothing annoys me more than a telephone call from a press officer or letting agent who, having read Property Week’s forthcoming features list, asks: ‘You know you have this feature coming up about Swindon/Cardiff/Stoke-on-Trent: are you actually going there?’
‘Of course,’ I answer brightly, stifling the urge to ask: ‘Is everything I write so flat that it reads like something plagiarised from the internet or the local newspapers?’
There is never any substitute for being there.
I won’t accept retail agents’ reassurance that a shopping centre is trading fabulously, until I have visited it myself to make sure that it is not a case of shuttered units, three charity shops and a kiosk selling dried flowers.
In Moscow, there is definitely no substitute for being there.
No one is certain what is going on.
You ask about a building site where work has stopped, and a knowledgeable office agent will say that maybe the contractors really are waiting for the cladding to arrive, or equally the developer may have run out of money.
It is safer to write nothing.
When I say on site, I mean that workers revved up their drilling and digging equipment at 6am and reluctantly turned off the last switch at 10 pm.
The squeak squeak squeak to warn of an on-coming truck and the thud thud thud of driving down piles was continuous.
If I had been in Moscow for any reason other than to look at property development, I might have asked the Holiday Inn manager for a quieter room.
Instead I was mesmerised.
In the space of a week, I witnessed the beginning of a steel superstructure.
It was a piece of good luck, because my requests to visit building sites were refused.
In fact, walking off piste is a risk in Moscow.
Having paid by 300 roubles to visit the walled enclave of the Kremlin, guards blew whistles at me whenever I strayed from the pedestrian crossings in to the empty car-free grounds.
Outside the walls, I observed a mounted policeman and a mounted policewoman on ceremonial duty.
The horses stood to attention while their riders flirted.
He smoked a cigar.
She smoked a cigarette. If they can smoke on duty, why can’t a tourist wander freely?
There is no substitute for being there – even if it doesn’t give you any answers.
Read Christine's full blog at christineeade.propertyweek.com