31st October 2023
The clocks have gone back, the nights are dark and chilly, and the countdown to Christmas has begun.
Traditionally autumn is one of the busiest times for the British property market, with buyers and sellers keen to act before the year draws to a close creating a seasonal bounce effect…
But 2023 has not been a traditional kind of year and many buyers are showing a distinct preference for hibernation over action. Prices are fairly static. Rightmove’s latest research showed that, across London, average asking prices increased 2.1 per cent in October, but remain 1.2 per cent lower than in October 2022. But according to property analyst Landmark the number of homes currently sold subject to contract is almost 50 per cent down compared to the same period in 2019, itself a slow year thanks to Brexit.
What that leaves us with is a slowly-moving property market for buyers to navigate, where the number of deals being done is low, and one in which active house hunters are finding themselves facing refreshingly little competition for the best properties on offer:
London’s key draw for international buyers right now is its sense of safety. Politically, economically, and legally the British capital has long held a reputation as one of the most secure parts of the world in which to invest and live.
“ I am seeing a lot of interest from investors who are circling,” said Camilla Dell, managing partner of Black Brick.
“Middle Eastern clients feel that now is a good time to be buying, that there will be a window over the next 12 months where there are properties which have had price reductions of many millions of pounds.”
These buyers are not necessarily looking for homes to live in. They are looking for solid residential investments like build to rent properties, student digs, serviced apartments, and hotels. “I am seeing some enquiries coming from institutional-sized clients, looking for opportunities,” said Dell.
Al Rayan Bank, one of Britain’s largest Islamic banks, concurs. A report published by the bank found that London is the “primary focus” for its investors, thanks to surging rental prices, a shortage of stock, and London’s reputation for reliability.
Some buyers are, of course, looking for property. In some cases, said Dell, these are people who have been kicking around the idea of a London home for years but who realise that the weak pound, price falls, and widespread discounting means that there has rarely been a better opportunity.
American buyers also remain active.
Naturally the weakness of Sterling is one reason for this, but so too is their anxiety over next year’s presidential election; 2024 will be the first time that a UK General and US Presidential election have coincided for almost 30 years. “There is a build-up of uncertainty on both sides of the pond,” said Dell.
With Labour still firmly ahead in the polls, the party has pledged to reform Stamp Duty, adding an extra 2% surcharge on overseas buyers, who must already pay a £61,250 levy on a property worth £1,000,000, rising to £611,260 on a £5,000,000 property.
The Conservatives, meanwhile, appear to be considering moving in the opposite direction. It has been widely reported that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is looking at altering Stamp Duty thresholds to bring down bills and drum up voter support.
Black Brick’s view is that high Stamp Duty acts as an artificial handicap on the housing market. “I maintain that the fact that transactions have dropped off a cliff this year is because it is so expensive to move,” said Dell. “The cost is extortionate for most normal people and a real drag on transaction volumes.”
“When you get into the £20m-plus part of the market it has less of an impact. These are very discretionary buyers, and if they like something enough they will buy it and pay the tax. But there are so few of those kind of transactions. What keeps the market, and the whole property industry, going is volume, and that is suffering at the moment.”
In a situation of high buying costs coupled with high interest rates, Black Brick is finding its services increasingly in demand. “For us as a business the volume of clients has gone up not down,” said Dell. “In markets like this the importance of having someone to advise and guide you is more important than ever because the cost of getting it wrong is massive.”
Housing campaigners have long urged the Government to step in and unravel the way service charges are calculated in the UK, to protect owners of leasehold flats from being abused and overcharged.
And examples of bad practice can be found at all echelons of the housing market.
“A client who we have acted for twice called me with a query about his service charge which seemed very high,” said Caspar Harvard-Walls, a partner at Black Brick. “We put him in contact with an insurance specialist, and it turned out that the leaseholders were being overcharged by £100,000 per year.
“Some of the service charges in London are absolutely bonkers. This week I was going to preview a flat until the agent told me not to bother. It was a two bedroom, £5,000,000 flat, in a building with a porter and parking space. Yet the service charge was £75,000 per annum. Even for the very wealthy, that is completely ridiculous.”
Harvard-Walls routinely advises his clients not only to find out how much the service charge on a property they are considering is per year, but how many nights per year they are likely to stay there. “When you look at it like that in some cases it is working out at £1,000-a-night,” he said. “A lot of clients say they want serviced buildings, but they don’t think about exactly how much it is going to cost them and what they will get for their money.”
With their beautiful symmetry and generously sized spaces, Georgian property has long been considered the most popular period property.
And new research by estate agent Yopa has found that, across the UK, homes built between the early 1700’s and the 1830’s commands a sale price premium of around a third.
Part of the reason for this price performance is scale. Georgian homes tend to be larger than Victorian or Edwardian property (and certainly bigger than most newly built homes), and square footage and price are inexorably linked.
Many of Black Brick’s clients come to us dreaming of a beautiful period property. “London’s historic homes are one of the reasons why people come to the city,” said Harvard-Walls.
“An awful lot of clients want to live in a “proper” London building.”
But the decision on whether to buy a period, and particularly a listed, building needs to be taken carefully and with practicalities in mind.
Looking after a landmark home is not cheap. Any repairs need to be carried out using traditional building methods and materials, and this means that running costs will be higher than for less rarefied homes. The Listed Property Owners’ Club, which represents more than 500,000 owners, claims that nine out of ten of its members have postponed or cancelled work due to financial constraints. It would like the Government to offer VAT relief to help owners care for their properties as building costs increase.
The other big issue is if a property is listed – or even just in a conservation area – it may not be possible to modernise. Harvard-Walls said a particular issue is open plan space, which buyers tend to want. However if a home has plenty of original features – elaborate cornicing, fireplaces, panelling, and staircases – it may not be feasible to open out the space without impacting on them. “They are not really conducive to modern living,” he said.
In other cases the interiors have been altered many times in the past, and planning permission may therefore be granted for changes to the layout.
“Professional advice from a planning consultant is the key here, before you buy,” said Harvard-Walls.
North Mayfair has traditionally been the ugly duckling of Mayfair, with the smart money piling into Mayfair Village, around Mount Street, and Grosvenor Square instead.
The north of the neighbourhood has long been blighted by proximity to the dismal Oxford Street, with prices significantly lower.
Now, however, the tide is beginning to turn.
The arrival of the Elizabeth Line at Bond Street Station is a major selling point, with trains to Heathrow Airport’s terminal 4 taking an impressive 37 minutes.
The station has an entrance directly onto the once forlorn Hanover Square, which is quietly becoming a destination. There will be, for the first time, an open air ice skating rink on the square this year, and several new office and apartment buildings have opened on Crossrail’s coat tails.
The square itself has been relandscaped, and its environment has been improved greatly now that buses no longer use it as a turning circle.
Canadian restaurateur Joey Ghazal has opened a new restaurant, The Maine, in offices formerly occupied by estate agent Knight Frank, and a caviar bar is due to open nearby soon.
Then there is the Mandarin Oriental Mayfair hotel, which opens in the square later this year, with two restaurants run by Michelin-star chef Akira Black and a rooftop cocktail bar.
“The improvements which have happened on and around the square are extraordinary, it is really looking very good,” said Harvard-Walls. “The Mandarin Oriental will have a massive impact on the area, which has historically been a lot cheaper than the rest of Mayfair.”
Camilla Dell was honoured to be asked to guest author The Sunday Times’ weekly House Guest column, sharing her insight on how to beat out a cash buyer. As interest rates have soared an increasing number of buyers with the resources at their disposal have become cash buyers, accounting for 71 per cent of prime central London sales this year according to data from estate agent Savills.
Traditionally vendors see buyers with cash as a safer – and faster – bet than those reliant on mortgage lending, but Dell was able to offer guidance for borrowers wanting to level the playing field.
Many of our clients own global property portfolios, but buying overseas in unfamiliar markets requires expertise, guidance, and trusted partners. That’s why we’ve made it our mission to partner with top buying agents in key locations.
Each month we will be bringing you an “in focus” look at one of the new markets that we now cover, from Berlin to Miami, Dubai to Sydney. This month we take a look at the ultimate winter trophy property, an Alpine ski chalet.
It is the time of year when ski fanatics start excitedly counting down the days until Europe’s great ski resorts open their slopes once more.
And, since the start of the pandemic, demand for a second home in the Alps from buyers based all over Europe has reached new peaks.
The appeal of fresh air, exercise, and the chance to spend time in one of the most beautiful environments in the world coupled with greater freedom from the office means that increasing numbers of skiers, snowboarders, and lovers of après ski, are considering buying themselves a permanent base.
During the very height of the pandemic buyers focussed heavily on Switzerland’s ultra-expensive – and slightly stuffy – blue chip ski villages like St Moritz and Klosters.
Research by Knight Frank found that prices in these resorts shot up by 16.5 and 14.4 per cent in 2021 alone.
Last year price growth in Switzerland’s resorts dropped back to around five per cent and buyer demand shifted towards France’s fun, and comparatively affordable, Haute-Savoie resorts. In places like Megève and Morzine Roddy Aris of Knight Frank said prices increased by around ten per cent last year.
Buyers headed to Haute-Savoie not only because they can get more chalet for their Euro but because of the region’s outstanding transport links and year-round activities from music festivals to mountain biking which increasingly attract owners to summer in the mountains. The high altitudes of Mont Blanc are another incentive, thanks to global warming.
If you are interested in how Black Brick can help you find your perfect ski chalet, please contact Camilla.firstname.lastname@example.org
Our European clients wanted a base in central London and had some very specific requirements. They wanted period charm, lateral space, three bedrooms, two reception rooms, and to be in a building with a porter and a lift.
They had already spent several months attempting to buy before deciding that professional support was required to help them navigate the capital’s housing market and ensure they did not overpay for their British bolt hole.
We found them the perfect apartment in a red brick mansion building, with views across Kensington Palace Gardens.
The fact that the property needed refurbishing did not deter them since they were keen to put their own stamp on the place. And Black Brick was able to introduce them to builders and designers who gave them a clear idea of the costs and timeframes that would be involved, giving them the confidence to go ahead.
Our American client wanted a pied-a-terre in central London. Although their search area was wide, they wanted a turnkey property, with great natural light and open views, and with a good range of cafes and shops on the doorstep.
We decided up and coming Bankside, home to the Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe theatre, and with London Bridge Station just up the road, would be a great fit.
The neighbourhood is becoming an increasingly interesting investment story with major new developments like Bankside Yards, which will feature residences and a hotel by Mandarin Oriental.
After several months of researching options, we earmarked and negotiated the purchase of a brand-new three bedroom apartment in Triptych Bankside, a £400m, award-winning development designed by architects Squire & Partners. We were able to select the best unit at our client’s budget and negotiate favourable terms.
We would be delighted to hear from you to discuss your own property requirements. For a non-obligatory consultation, please contact us.