During the pandemic what London buyers wanted were houses, with room to work from home and back gardens to relax in. Today that balance has shifted, and buyers have fallen back in love with the lateral space and convenience offered by an apartment.
But in London especially, buying a flat is in many ways a more complex operation than house hunting, and these are the key considerations you need to factor-in when searching out the perfect prime London apartment.
From a practical point of view this is by far the most important question you need to ask. Leasehold, a system unfamiliar to many overseas buyers, means that you are not purchasing a property outright. You are buying the right to use it for a fixed period, which will be set out in its lease. Homes with long leases –80 years-plus is recommended – are preferable. But don’t rule out homes on shorter leases. Although you may not be eligible for a mortgage for cash buyers they can offer amazing value to reflect the work needed to renew the lease. Black Brick recently advised a client who paid £1.35m – more than 20 per cent below asking price – on a flat in Kensington Court Mansions with a lease of only 11 years.
Owners can insist their freeholder extend the lease – for a fee – after two years of ownership. The cost depends on the value of the property and the length of the lease– the shorter the lease and the more valuable the property the more expensive it will be. For more information on leasehold properties see Black Brick’s comprehensive leasehold guide here.
Freehold apartments are rarer in central London, and are usually found in flats within period conversions. Buying a “share of lease” means you are likely to become director of a company set up to run the building and will have to agree with your neighbours on issues like maintenance work.
If you buy a leasehold flat you will usually have to pay an annual Ground Rent to the freeholder of the building. This may be a peppercorn amount, or it may be several thousand pounds. Some leases allow for rapid increases in Ground Rent over time. Be sure your solicitor checks and briefs you fully on future costs. Most apartment buildings, particularly in larger developments, also levy an annual Service Charge, which is often calculated per square foot of the property. This covers building maintenance, cleaning, and management of communal facilities – and the more amenities the higher the cost. Again, make sure you are comfortable with the costs before committing.
Since One Hyde Park brought the concept of highly serviced apartment living to London amenity has become a hugely important selling point in the capital’s apartment market. Most buyers now feel that a concierge is a basic necessity, a gym is desirable, and, now that so many people work from home at least part of the time, developers are increasingly adding well designed co-workspaces. At the top end of the market you can enjoy chauffeur services, room service, and up the minute spa facilities – but you will have to pay premium prices (and high service charges) for the privilege.
Another key amenity is parking. Some London developments are car-free, and residents are even barred from applying for permits to park on-street. Others have underground garages and valet services. Make sure to ask this question early on, to rule out homes which won’t suit you.
Not all apartment buildings in London are pet friendly, so if you have a dog or cat in tow you are going to have to make sure you will be allowed to keep them. A recent Black Brick client was looking for a garden square apartment in central London for him and his pet dog. We found a wonderful property on Cadogan Square, Knightsbridge, where pets were welcome. Adding to the appeal, the property was freehold, and we helped him secure it for £4.55m during a competitive bidding process.
If you are interested in a brand new apartment you will have a choice of units. Many buyers prefer to be on the upper levels where they can enjoy city views, although ground floor flats, with their ease of access and proximity to the front desk and concierge, are often popular with older buyers. Wise buyers avoid homes too close to lifts – although they might seem convenient there may be issues with noise once the building is occupied. Selecting the best home within a development requires skill and experience, particularly when buying off plan, and professional help is recommended. Black Brick recently advised a couple on the purchase of a two bedroom apartment in Soho and helped them select the pick of the boutique development – a corner unit on an upper floor with great light and great views.
If you like the location of a property but are turned off by its décor do consider what it would take to remake it to your own personal taste before rejecting it. Renovation projects may sound off putting but Black Brick can introduce you to a curated team of contractors, architects, and interior designers who can help you remodel a property. Cosmetic problems have solutions, and a flat may not take forever to make good in the same way a top to toe revamp of a large house might. Concentrate instead on the layout, and whether it will work for your lifestyle, the ceiling heights, and the quality of light in the property.
Another pandemic priority which is still very much with us is a desire to be in nature. Modern flats must, by law, incorporate a balcony although they can be too small to accommodate anything more than a bistro table and a couple of chairs. If you like to dine and entertain al fresco, and want to indulge in some container gardening, then a home with a roof terrace (or even a garden flat) might be a better choice. To try and square this circle some developers are installing elaborate beautiful communal gardens for residents to share. These are certainly an asset but consider how often you would actually make the trip downstairs to use them.
Not all house builders are equal.
When you are buying a home, particularly if you are buying off plan, you need to do your due diligence on the people behind the scheme. Do they have a reputation for well designed, well built, and well managed homes, or have there been hiccups elsewhere you should know about?
Black Brick has spent decades examining the work of London’s builders, mainstream and boutique, and can let you know if you are in safe hands. If you’d like to speak to us about managing, sourcing or even selling your London apartment, get in touch with one of our property experts here.
We would be delighted to hear from you to discuss your own property requirements. For a non-obligatory consultation, please contact us.