CAN a house really absorb the mood of the families that have lived there? And is that atmosphere - happy or malign - still sweating from the walls after the Pickfords van has left?

We're not talking the House on Haunted Hill, here. When crockery flies it's more likely a paltry fight than a poltergeist.

But ordinary people today seem more obsessed with their homes than at any time in history. Every week we are bombarded with property value surveys telling us that house prices have risen like a bun in a microwave. They can sink just as surely.

DIY is the nation's favourite pastime, even ranking above drinking, and women can now wield a power tool better than they can a food mixer.

Yet when you have added the conservatory, installed a gas-powered patio heater complete with its metal coolie hat, and laid neat, circular paving round your cherry tree, what have you got? Happiness?

My No 1 daughter has just bought her first home. For York it was a bargain, because it was a mortgage repossession.

Basically, it is a fairly modern semi in a quiet street, but it had deteriorated along with the once-happy family who had lived there before.

The front door had to be shouldered open, light fittings hung loose from the ceilings, missing kitchen tiles gaped like a rugby player's teeth, and other signs of neglect screamed of despair.

A chat with the nice old man next door revealed a common but sad tale of a loving family whose relationship descended into fights. She left with the child, husband stayed on.

He started jobs but never finished them. He neglected repairs - and mortgage repayments - and suddenly the house was for sale.

When we went in to clear up the place, the things left behind were heartbreaking - Christmas tree, toys, photographs, all reminders of a family that had disintegrated.

Forgive me, chaps, but I reckon every home needs a woman's touch. It can be decorated by the male but it must be under her supervision. Leave it to a man and he will create a place of sterile perfection - functional not lived in, immaculate but soulless.

If he has his way he will not have a washing up bowl in the sink, as if this makes more room for a giant-screen Sony. He'll have hi-tech everything, farting leather sofas and stark pictures. There'll be too much open space and every single item in the place must have a use.

He'll have bleach but no fragrance, colour but no warmth.

In fact a house occupied by a discerning male looks as if the interior designers of tomorrow have crept in while he was out at work.

Back to No 1 daughter's new home. The previous atmosphere has been exorcised, it is now redecorated and bustling with family life.

I can't stand the place, kids everywhere, computer games blasting out, tripping over Spiderman trikes; and then there are the constant demands to play football. It's far too noisy and frantic, but I miss it when I've left.

Back home we have the creaks and groans of a very old house that said welcome from the moment we viewed it (almost as welcoming as the village pub that is only 44 paces away).

Like you, we've had some fearsome arguments about colour schemes, carpets and curtains. In a dwelling with two females, I don't stand a chance. But I have to petulantly admit that when I've capitulated and carried out their wishes, their ideas do feel right.

But if you think "prison" every time you walk into your home, no amount of new wallpaper and flowers will make it right.

So does a house need to be loved to make it a happy home, does it appreciate the time, money and affection you lavish on it? Do you get your mood from the house or vice versa? Does it matter whether the place is a rundown tip as long as it echoes with love and laughter?

What do you think? Have you a home with a cantankerous character of its own, or which oozes its own happy atmosphere? Let me know on

Updated: 09:29 Tuesday, February 25, 2003