Why a summer supply squeeze could be on the cards
The recovery of London’s prime property market is well underway: the December election has provided some political certainty; Brexit worries have abated (if not entirely disappeared); and, now that spring is almost here, three years of pent-up demand has been unleashed, to the delight of London’s estate agents.
These agents are reporting a rush of buyers looking to transact: in January, Knight Frank claimed its highest rate of buyer registration in 15 years. Chestertons reported new buyer numbers in January were up 38% year on year, while offers are up 28%.
Certainly, the headline data from LonRes tells a similarly upbeat story. The number of transactions in the 30 days to February 24th was up 11% compared with the same period in 2019. The number of properties under offer is 58% higher. And prices are firmer, with more than a quarter of properties sold for their asking price, compared to just 14% a year ago.
But there are worrying signals in the data, warns Black Brick Partner Caspar Harvard-Walls. “Even though the number of transactions and properties under offer has gone up, the number of properties for sale has only nudged 3% higher compared with this period last year,” he says. “So far, we’re not seeing a lot of new stock come to market – if this continues, we’re going to get short of stock very quickly, and see prices rise as a result.”
The uptick in transactions, Harvard-Walls says, is of properties “that have been hanging round since last year, and which are selling on 2019 prices. Some vendors will be enticed by agents to put their property on the market, but it won’t be at last year’s prices.”
There are two clear implications for buyers, says Camilla Dell, Managing Partner at Black Brick. First, it’s important, if possible, to identify motivated sellers – such as those resulting from divorce, death or a landlord exiting a buy-to-let investment, for example. The second is to ensure that buyers are at the top of estate agents’ lists when attractive property comes on the market.
“Estate agents are getting 50-60 requests to view properties that go on their websites,” she says. “They aren’t going to call 50 prospects. They will call the five to 10 people they really believe will buy the house: the question is, how do you make sure you’re one of them? The easiest way is to use a buying agent like Black Brick.”
Buyers face a fragmenting market
Buyers in prime central London face an additional challenge as the market begins to recover – fragmentation on the sell side. There is a trend towards leading salespeople leaving some of the dominant London estate agents and either going independent or joining umbrella brokerage operations, contributing to the proliferation of routes-to-market that we have seen in recent years.
“In the recent tough market, estate agents have been cutting their fees to win business and, in many cases, this has hit the income of some of their leading agents,” explains Dell. “We’re seeing a growing number deciding to go it alone, whether as sole agents or by joining brokerages that follow the US model, where the agents are self-employed but share some overheads.”
For the unrepresented buyer, this means that not only do they have to make themselves known to the traditional agents, register with the online portals such as Rightmove and Prime Location, sign up to the online specialists like Purple Bricks, but also to identify these independents and brokerage firms.
“These agents often go under the radar and specialise in unique or highly desirable properties,” says Harvard-Walls. “They may only sell a few properties each year – but one of those might be your dream home.”
In addition, a growing number of developers are taking their sales effort in house, further complicating the landscape. “This fragmentation of the sell side is a nightmare for buyers who don’t know the market,” says Dell. “Fortunately, we make it our business to know all the avenues that sellers might go down to sell their property – we cover the waterfront so our clients don’t have to.”
A Budget reminder
Westminster is abuzz with speculation about the contents of the first Budget from the Boris Johnson administration – and we warned in January of the likelihood that the Budget will introduce a 3% Stamp Duty surcharge for purchases of property by non-UK residents.
Since then, the Budget has been confirmed for March 11, despite the resignation of Chancellor Sajid Javid over an attempt by No. 10 to impose greater control.
There has been talk of the introduction of a wealth tax – a retrograde development that we believe would discourage overseas investment in prime central London – but we think such a move is unlikely.
Indeed, reports in late February suggested that the new chancellor, Rishi Sunak, will defer big decisions to the autumn, as the UK grapples with lower growth forecasts and the economic implications of the coronavirus.
For what it’s worth, given how little time remains between now and the Budget, we would recommend exchanging on any transactions before March 11 to ensure that any potentially negative surprises are avoided.
Trafalgar Square – the new super-prime hotspot?
In the popular imagination, Trafalgar Square is associated with Nelson’s column, pigeons, traffic and tourists. But it may soon also conjure images of some of London’s most desirable super-prime addresses.
Earlier this year, hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin bought 3 Carlton Gardens, just down the Mall from Trafalgar Square, for a reported £95 million – believed to be the most expensive property bought in London since the financial crisis. He becomes next door neighbour to the private bank Edmond de Rothschild, at number 4, and near neighbours to the Hinduja brothers, who own 13-16 Carlton House Terrace.
Trafalgar Square itself is to boast one of London’s most exclusive redevelopments, with the transformation of Admiralty Arch – the historic monument commanding the east end of the Mall – into a Waldorf Astoria hotel. In addition to the hotel, the developers have permission for up to four large residences, across 17,000 square feet. However, they could decide to build just one or two apartments, creating a unique super-prime opportunity.
The development is just the latest example of leading hotel developments including residential apartments that combine privacy with access to hotel services. These include the nearby Corinthia Residences, at 10 Whitehall Place, and now the conversion of the Old War Office, in Whitehall. That development – coincidently by the Hinduja Group – will see the Raffles hotel chain run a 125-room hotel and 85 private residences.
“There is certainly growing interest among developers and buyers in the area around Trafalgar Square,” notes Tom Kain, Property Consultant at Black Brick. “We’re also seeing the launch of destinations in the area that also attract the interest of the super-rich, such as the highly successful 67 Pall Mall private members club.
“We certainly think this is an area to watch,” he adds.
Black Brick in New York
Managing Partner Camilla Dell is visiting New York in March, meeting with private banks, law and accountancy firms, and existing and potential clients. Black Brick has seen strong growth in our US client base in recent years, as the strong dollar has made London property particularly attractive to North American buyers.
To arrange a meeting with Dell during her 9-11th March visit, please email Kate.Abbott@black-brick.com.
Managed sale of the month 1 – Church conversion, Kenmont Gardens, NW10 – £6,500,000
Black Brick has been appointed to manage the sale of a stunning 6,300 square foot church conversion in Kensal Green. The four-bed, four-bathroom property boasts extraordinarily high ceilings in all the entertaining areas, outside space, and bespoke fixtures and fittings.
To arrange a viewing please contact: Tom.Kain@black-brick.com or call 020 3141 9861.
Managed sale of the month 2 – Elgin Mansions, Elgin Avenue, W9 – £1,200,000
We are also delighted to offer a beautifully presented three-bedroom apartment in a red brick mansion block in the heart of Maida Vale. The 1,053 square foot second-floor apartment has a kitchen-diner, balcony and access to communal gardens. The apartment is leasehold with a share of the freehold.
Elgin Mansions is located close to the shops and cafes of Lauderdale Road, whilst the open spaces of Paddington Recreation Ground and the underground station at Maida Vale are both in close walking distance.
To arrange a viewing, please contact: Alex.Oliver@black-brick.com or call 020 3141 9861.