May 2022

The Joys of Spring

The air is rich with the sweet scent of wisteria blooming around doorways and in gardens across London. And in Chelsea the finishing touches are being made to the highlight of the annual horticultural calendar.

The capital’s property market is also blossoming, with prices and rents growing strongly across the capital, and exponentially in some key hotspots.

The only dark cloud on the horizon is the ongoing lack of stock which has been clipping eager buyers’ wings for almost two years now and which is showing little sign of easing.


Blooming Marvellous

At this time of year there’s something particularly special about Chelsea, particularly this year as its iconic flower show has returned to its traditional spring timing following the pandemic.

Shops, pubs, and restaurants are all decked out with floral installations, and some 160,000 green fingered types will be making a pilgrimage to the Royal Hospital Chelsea to enjoy the very latest in garden design.

Like much of central London SW3 has had a tricky couple of years – average prices have dipped from around £2.4m in December 2019 to just over £2m at the start of the year according to property portal Rightmove. Over the past decade prices have grown 19 per cent according to house price analysts LonRes, a solid but not shining performance thanks to a combination of Brexit, Stamp Duty increases and Covid-19.

But something appears to be stirring on Sloane Square. Some well-directed investment by the Cadogan Estate has transformed Pavilion Road into a chic new shopping space, while new arrivals on and around King’s Road include the stylish The Ivy Asia, homewares stores like Soho.Home.Studio, and plenty of hip new fashion brands in evidence.

“Chelsea is an area we now get asked to search in more than we did pre-pandemic,” said Camilla Dell, managing partner of Black Brick.

“There has been a bit of a shift from people wanting a townhouse in Belgravia or Mayfair.

“Both suffer a bit from a reputation that a lot of owners are from overseas and nobody actually lives there.

“Chelsea is a much more residential area, and one which has got much, much nicer over the last few years, with immediate access to lovely coffee shops and restaurants.

“The pandemic has definitely made people value having a great quality high street close to their front door.”


A Record High

House prices across the capital have hit a record £534,977 according to the latest figures by mortgage lender Halifax, up some £40,000 during the pandemic.

Sales prices are also increasing in Prime Central London. In the year to March they increased by 2.1 per cent.

This may not sound particularly impressive but is the strongest annual rate of growth since May 2015 according to estate agent Knight Frank – although there is still a way to go until values recover from the impact of Brexit. Average prices in PCL are currently 16 per cent lower than they were at the start of 2016.

The trouble with this kind of over-arching data is that it masks a multitude of variety within a city as large and diverse as London.

“St John’s Wood has been red hot for the last couple of years, and there is a real lack of supply of family houses,” said Dell.

“When a good house does come up it sells immediately, and records are being set. I would say that prices have gone up by at least ten per cent in the last 12 months.”

In central London key locations like Notting Hill and Marylebone are seeing similar levels of price growth for family houses.

Meanwhile in South West London the key hotspots have been Richmond, Barnes and Wimbledon. Areas that have always been popular with families and are seeing enormous demand with stock levels at historic lows.

The ongoing gulf between demand (strong) and stock levels (waning) in PCL has caused Knight Frank to review its price growth forecasts for the next few years.

It believes prices will grow 3.5 per cent during 2022, even without the widely-predicted influx of overseas buyers who have failed, so far, to materialise. Growth will increase by another six per cent next year, as international buyers finally return, and prices will have grown by just over 22 per cent by 2025.


Where is the Spring Bounce?

Traditionally, at this time of year, a flood of new homes come onto the market. This year they have signally failed to materialise, leaving many buyers in despair at ever finding a new home.

Tom Bill, head of UK residential research at Knight Frank, believes that what we are seeing is a collective case of the jitters, a “whiff of uncertainty” as the war in Ukraine continues and the cost of living crisis bites.

Dell agrees that vendors are sitting on their hands. “But I am not seeing a slowdown in enquiries from buyers,” she said. “Normally you would expect to see a flood of new stock coming on to the market in spring, and we are not seeing that this year.”

Beyond global political and economic problems, she blames the logjam on high buying costs.

“Some of that clogging up of the market has to be due to Stamp Duty,” she said. “The rates are extortionate now. There are a lot of people who are doing the maths and realising that they are better off staying where they are than moving our downsizing.”

The vagaries of the UK’s buying system doesn’t help matters resulting in a scenario where some 23 per cent of agreed sales do not proceed to completion according to the latest data from customer intelligence analysts Twenty Ci.

Part of the reason for this is that the buying process is simply so slow that people have plenty of time to get cold feet.

“The whole legal process of buying a property takes so long. There seems to be no efficiency in the conveyancing process,” said Dell.


City Slickers Return to their Desks

The WFH trend was bad news for the shiny new tower blocks and trendy warehouse conversions within the Square Mile.

As the pandemic hit, the City became a ghost town.

Little wonder that prices collapsed. According to the UK House Price Index (HPI), the Government’s official property price monitor, more than £115,000 was shaved off average sale prices between June 2020 and June 2021, which fell to just over £750,000.

But as banks and law firms revert to business as usual – and central London becomes noticeably busier day-by-day – so the sun has started shining on the City once more. Annual house price growth according to the latest HPI stands at 15 per cent, year on year. Most of PCL.

Part of the reason for this leap is that in 2021 the UK was in lockdown and prices had hit rock bottom. But there is also a distinct shift in priorities at play.

“We have also seen an uptick in interest in east London postcodes, particularly from entrepreneurs and tech types,” said Dell. “There is definitely strong activity, which will be being driven by the return to normality and people going back to their offices.

“Plus, it is so much more affordable than Prime Central London for younger buyers.”

Joining start-up stars and young professionals, Dell believes, will be a number of buyers who fled London at the start of the pandemic and are coming to realise that life in the country isn’t as straightforward as they had assumed.

“Some buyers are bound to be people who moved out of London and are now realising that they need to be back in their offices at least a few days a week,” said Dell. “There are a lot of businesses which will not accept people working from home from the shires full time.

“I am sure that there are also a lot of returning renters thinking the same thing, which is why we are also seeing rents increase.”


An Investment Opportunity

That increase in rents, across London, is another motif of the recovering London market.

Annual rental growth in prime London reached 11.1% in the first quarter of this year according to estate agent Savills.

It is the first time the London rental market has seen double-digit annual rental growth in over a decade, as renters flood back.

One result of this – predicted by Black Brick back in March – is the return of buy to rent investors. New research by estate agent Hamptons found that almost one in ten sales in London were to investors in the first quarter of this year, up from just under eight per cent a year ago.

“For some time we have had no buy-to-let landlords on our books at all – the only people buying investment properties were more institutional type investors buying whole buildings or bulk buying flats in a particular development,” said Dell.

“Now the individual investor is making a little bit of a comeback.” Today’s buy-to-let investors are a different breed to the buyers who once saw a little investment flat as an easy long term investment, with generous tax loopholes available to mitigate mortgage costs.

“Today they are not pure buy-to-let investors, but more of a hybrid,” said Dell. “Most of our clients’ angle is that they want to buy a property, rent it out, but at some point come to the UK and live in it.”



Acquisition of the Month: Battersea Power Station, SW11 – £5,550,000.

Our client was living in a Nine Elms apartment and came to us to help find a house in south west London.

Her budget was circa £5m, and she was willing to take on a renovation project.

We showed her round some beautiful homes in Knightsbridge and Chelsea – and visiting these areas helped her realise that she would actually prefer to stay south of the river, and in an apartment rather than a house.

She was particularly interested in Battersea Power Station, which is in the final stages of a £9m regeneration. Now is an exciting time to move into Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s Grade II listed landmark. Its grand turbine halls will finally open to the public this summer, filled with around 100 new shops and restaurants plus a cinema, hotel, and events space seating up to 1,400 people.

Estate agent JLL believes that the excitement surrounding its reopening will help propel Battersea into a “roaring twenties” of price growth, with values rising around 25 per cent by 2025.

When completed there will be well over 4,000 new apartments on the Battersea site, including the landmark apartment blocks by Frank Gehry and Norman Foster, flanking the power station which will be finished this year.

But our client was interested in a real “best in class” and that meant one of the 250 flats in the power station building itself.

Through detailed analysis, we established that only six of these homes had views of the River Thames through every window. Four had been sold. On inspection we found that one of the remaining apartments was vastly superior: a stunning three bedroom duplex measuring 2,390 sq ft. We agreed the purchase at £5,550,000, a significant saving from the asking price.

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