February 2022

London swings back to life

Despite the political turmoil of the past few weeks, not to mention the ongoing pandemic, the property market is continuing to show huge resilience at the start of 2022 – the year, incidentally, in which Black Brick celebrates its 15th anniversary.

Prices are shooting up in some parts of London, particularly for homes which suit the “race for space” bill. Trophy home sales are on the up, and confident vendors are realising that they are firmly in the property driving seat as the spring market commences.


Northern stars

The latest UK House Price Index makes fascinating reading. The official Government data is the most reliable indicator of the direction in which the housing market is travelling, and in London’s affluent, leafy northern suburbs that direction is upward.

Sale prices in Camden shot up 17.9 per cent in the year to November and are now tantalisingly close to hitting the £1m mark at an average price of £961,390. Sale prices in neighbouring Islington rose by 15.3 per cent, to an average of £771,374.

We know of course that one driver between these stellar performances is size: buyers have been buying larger homes during the pandemic.

But Camilla Dell, managing partner of Black Brick, has noticed that buyers who love London are making the choice to move out of Zone 1 to find family houses in vibrant and convenient neighbourhoods.

“Although we have been talking about people leaving London, I do think there are a lot of people who don’t want to leave, at all,” she said. “What they want is more space. They are not going to spend £20m on a townhouse in Mayfair, but they will spend £3m to £4m on a lovely house in West Hampstead or Highbury. I also think that parts of Camden, for example, went into the pandemic relatively undervalued at less than £1,000 per sq ft.

These buyers, points out Caspar HarvardWalls, partner at Black Brick, generally work for a living. “They work in offices, and they want to live in areas which are really connected to the City even if they are on some kind of hybrid working pattern.”


A dearth of desirable digs

Underpinning price growth in London is the fact that demand for homes hugely exceeds available supply. According to recent research by estate agents Chestertons the number of prospective buyers rose 20 per cent over the usually slow Christmas period (and with South Kensington, Islington, Barnes, Battersea and Kew particularly in demand).

Meanwhile the number of available homes on the market shrunk by 10 per cent.

As a result, said the firm, sellers are becoming increasingly unwilling to think about cutting prices or doing deals – it recorded a resounding 54 per cent fall in sellers willing to reduce their asking prices.

Property shortages are acute in many of London’s most desirable locations.

In the NW1 postcode, which covers Camden Town, Primrose Hill, and Regent’s Park, anybody after a four-plus bedroom house (whether detached, semi-detached, or terraced) is going to be looking for a needle in a haystack.

There are currently a grand total of 36 properties which are on sale, and not yet under offer. Yet research by Black Brick suggests that the streets of NW1 actually contain well over 1,000 such homes.

The situation is even more acute in Little Venice, where just four houses with five or more bedrooms are on sale (and not under offer). This is a tiny fraction of the 140 homes of this type which actually exist there.

In Holland Park 17 family houses are on the market, out of a total of 455.

“No wonder buyers are not having much joy, particularly if they are buying houses,” said Dell. “This is why you can’t ignore the off-market market.

“We have invested in technology which means we can study those 140 houses in Little Venice, for example, looking at factors like when they last sold and how much for, before making direct contact with their owners by letter.

“I would estimate we would get a ten per cent hit rate of people who were at least intrigued about what their home might be worth and willing to have a conversation about selling.”


Glittering prizes

Whilst some buyers are dreaming of a charming family house in Primrose Hill or Barnes, there are always going to be some for whom only a trophy home on a trophy street will be enough.

According to estate agent Savills London’s £5m-plus market has been flying during the pandemic, enjoying its strongest year since the market was last on fire, in 2013.

It found that 522 super prime £5m-plus homes were sold during 2021, of which 163 were sold in the last three months of the year, with a collective value of an enormous £2bn.

While, predictably, some of these high rollers are from overseas, travel restrictions means that many are domestic. “They are younger than we have ever seen them before, a lot of them are working in tech, venture capital, or private equity,” said Dell.

Harvard-Walls points out that the low cost of borrowing means that a power couple both earning six figures are in a position to borrow substantial sums to invest in a home. “They can borrow a couple of million for £30,000 per year,” he pointed out. “It is incredibly affordable for those people.

“There are a lot of people who have stood on the sidelines for the past few years, with Brexit, the fear of a Labour Government, and then Covid-19. That means there is a lot of pent up demand out there.”


What buyers want?

As buyers start looking forward to a post-pandemic world, the desire for plenty of space to live and work looks like it is here to stay.

Although houses can still be sold on the strength of a really super kitchens or a luxurious principal bedroom, Harvard-Walls said that buyers have lost their taste for open plan living. “Having a massive communal space is no longer as popular,” he said. “People now need separate rooms to work in, to entertain, for homework.”

Another change has been in buyers’ attitudes towards location; they want to live close to lovely cafes, good shops, parks, and restaurants. “I think people are really interested in what is going on when they step out of their front doors,” said Harvard-Walls. “In the past they just wanted to know how close they were to the tube because all they did was work. Now they are making much more human, emotional decisions about lifestyle.”


Best of the Best

The “professional, energetic, and tenacious” Camilla Dell was named one of London’s top ten buying agents in the 2022 edition of Spears 500, the definitive guide to the top private client advisers, wealth managers, and lawyers for high net worth clients.

With 20 years’ experience navigating London’s property market she has built up a firm which has acquired more than £1bn-worth of property for private clients.

Two of her colleagues were also honoured by Spears. Caspar Harvard-Walls for his reputation for “going the extra mile” for clients, and the “straight talking” Tom Kain, a senior buying consultant at Black Brick, who is praised for his “enviable track record of sourcing unique opportunities, including off-market purchases, and negotiating significant discounts on behalf of his clients”.


Acquisition of the month: Hamilton Park West, Highbury, N5 – £3,450,000

Families adore north London for its character, leafy streets, great lifestyle, top-notch schools, and beautiful period houses.

Our clients wanted a substantial family house in or around Islington, a challenge since many people who move to the area stay on indefinitely and houses change hands very infrequently.

Because of this they realised they would need some professional help to sourcing the ideal forever home.

After an extensive search we struck gold with a stunning six bedroom Regency house with a 65ft garden.

Despite stiff competition for this type of home we managed to agree a deal for the property at below the asking price, to the joy of our clients who admitted they had felt overwhelmed when going it alone. “They saved us a ton of time, money and we learned so much under their guidance,” they said.


Managed sale of the month: Holland Park, W11 – £3,300,000

A client asked if we could discreetly manage the sale of their central London apartment – they wanted the property sold without any online marketing.

This was a tricky assignment as demand for flats has not been strong during the pandemic, with most domestic buyers looking at family houses. Ongoing travel restrictions, meanwhile, mean that overseas buyers are not as active as in normal years.

We utilised our network of estate agent contacts to make sure the right buyers would find out about the apartment. And, after viewings, a UK based buyer made an offer.

The apartment achieved a price equating to £1,754 per sq ft, the highest price for a flat of this kind in the W11 postcode in the past two years.

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We’re ready when you are

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