Going green: how a historic communal garden can add more than 40% to the value of your property

Going green: how a historic communal garden can add more than 40% to the value of your property

By Graham Norwood

London’s garden squares are legendary. 

No other city in the world has quite so many — and they never cease to astonish tourists, particularly Americans, who go all wobbly at the knees if they ever get to visit them.

English Heritage says there are 600 garden squares in the capital, mostly in Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster, though there are others in less affluent areas such as Lambeth and Hackney. 

Green space: Sussex Square is part of the Kemp Town Enclosures in Brighton

 

But beautiful communal gardens exist all around the country — and they come into their own at this time of year.

Many of the best-known gardens (and not only those in London) are surrounded by period buildings, typically Georgian and Victorian properties built when relatively low-density housing and leafy open spaces were part and parcel of urban living.

Buildings were often constructed in crescents, terraces and squares, but inevitably not every home could have a southerly aspect — so a communal area gave residents a chance to enjoy the sun. 

In Bristol, for example, Georgian terraces at Clifton Village have communal gardens located in between them and it’s the same in Edinburgh, where several garden squares and communal gardens are privately run, and securely gated.

Keys can be bought by residents for about £100 a year.

In Brighton, the Kemp Town Enclosures provide six acres of landscaped gardens with an extra perk — a private tunnel under the main road leading straight on to the beach. 

Sussex Square forms part of the Enclosures, where a three-bedroom flat is listed at £595,000 with Winkworth.

‘Most of the grand houses around it are now converted into apartments and they sell for at least 15 per cent more than other similar properties nearby,’ according to Alexandra Hearn, from estate agency Mishon Mackay.

It’s a similar story in Cambridge, though many of its green spaces are owned by the university, with passes available for local residents to buy.

Terrace life: You have a private terrace and courtyard garden as well as access to communal gardens with this four-bedroom flat in Clifton Village
 

‘The city’s densely packed in the centre, so developments with a private communal green space are rare,’ says Oliver Rivers, in the local branch of agency Strutt & Parker. 

‘Buyers see them as a huge benefit.’

In Bath, there are several communal gardens like the one in St James’s Square, close to the famous Royal Crescent.

‘While five-storey Georgian townhouses have their own city gardens, there’s no doubt the central garden square is a particular draw to buyers,’ says David Mackenzie, of Carter Jonas.

Then there are London’s communal gardens with addresses such as Eaton Square, Chester Square, Cadogan Square and Belgrave Square — all among the most sought after and expensive addresses in the capital.

One reason why so many communal gardens still exist here, despite the pressure to build, is that more than 400 are protected in the London Squares Preservation Act of 1931, which prevented the capital going the same way as other town and city centres when planners championed tower blocks in the Sixties.

Coastal abode: This five-bedroom Regency house comes with three self-contained apartments. All have sea views and access to private gardens

 

Now some modern house builders are trying to create 21st-century versions.

The results are mixed. Some high-end developments, such as Wycombe Square in London’s Holland Park and the new Chelsea Barracks scheme, have spacious communal gardens.

Other new developments are less tempting — for example, Debbie Foenander from the Mullucks Wells estate agency in the Home Counties knows of one commuter town where modern flats directly open on to communal gardens.

‘There would be nothing to stop another owner putting their deckchair immediately outside your door,’ she cautions.

Unsurprisingly, modern homes with communal gardens tend not to have the kudos of traditional homes.

‘New developments can never really replace the prestigious garden squares, which will always command a premium for their exclusivity,’ says Camilla Dell, of Black Brick.

However, even period properties with communal gardens can have their downsides.

First, the service charge to maintain the gardens is typically in the control of the freeholder or the firm responsible for the open space, so could, in theory, rise considerably.

Second, there can be strict rules over usage — many do not allow barbecues, for example, or have to be closed relatively early even on summer evenings.

A few forbid alcohol, while most are overlooked. 

Some are let out for private parties, too, which can be irritating.

Such quibbles have done nothing to deter our enthusiasm. 

Even in today’s sticky housing market, local agents insist sales of homes with communal gardens are strong.

Get a grip on prices: Fewer housing indices will make for more realistic valuations – at last

By Graham Norwood

A Government shake-up of house price indices may make it easier for buyers and sellers to read the market and know what their house is worth.

Buyers often use indices to judge how much a home will cost them in a particular area and how much the price may change in the future. Sellers use them to judge whether their homes are worth more or less than when they bought them.

The problem is that the six highest profile indices often produce conflicting figures. For example one index released last week says a home costs an average of £232,241 while another, produced a few days earlier, puts it at just £167,425.

Two of the six indices are from the Government – the Land Registry and the Department of Communities and Local Government – plus two from lenders Halifax and Nationwide, and the others from data companies Hometrack and Rightmove.

Even the two Government indices vary. The new DCLG one says a typical home is £210,775 which is up 9.9 per cent over the past 12 months. The Land Registry index says a typical home costs £166,072 and is 8.4 per cent higher than a year ago.

There are several reasons for this bewildering picture.

Firstly, the indices are measured at different stages of the housing cycle. Some look at asking prices when the seller instructs an estate agent; others look at prices actually paid for homes by the purchasers, which may be 10 to 20 per cent lower.

Secondly, the indices have different sources. Hometrack’s data comes from estate agents, whereas Halifax’s statistics are based on the mortgages it gives to buyers.

Some indices include all homes whereas others exclude unusual properties.

Thirdly some indices apply to the UK while others apply to just England and Wales.

‘The general public put great store by indices but they often do more harm than good,’ says Melanie Bien, a director of broker Private Finance. ‘Panic can be generated by a single monthly fall in prices, even though another index may record a rise at the same time.’

There are at least 15 other more specialist house price indices covering niche sectors.

Top-end estate agents produce data about ‘prime’ London homes based on a tiny number of properties. Other firms simply add up the different indices and issue a rough ‘poll of polls’ – these gain widespread publicity but are regarded as very inaccurate because they ignore the differences in each individual index.

Many of these indices are then released by public relations spin doctors. The result? Buyers and sellers are confused.

‘Some big estate agencies produce figures and forecasts but these need to be read with a pinch of salt as they’re focused on what’s happening in their own front offices rather than the entire market,’ says Camilla Dell, a London buying agent.

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There’s still time to be in your new home by Christmas, just follow our ten golden rules

By Graham Norwood

Most people want the dust to have settled on their new home by Christmas. And this year there’s even more incentive to complete a move before December 25.

The Government’s move to scrap the 1per cent stamp duty on homes between £125,000 and £175,000, introduced to boost the market last September, ends on New Year’s Eve.

With average house moves taking 12 weeks and with only six weeks to go before Christmas, time is of the essence. If you want to avoid stamp duty, or are buying in a higher price range and wish to complete in time for the turkey, what should you do now?

EXPERTS SAY THERE ARE TEN GOLDEN RULES:

1. INSTRUCT MULTIPLE AGENTS TO SELL

‘Don’t be tempted by a cheap fee from one agent,’ says Ed Mead, of London agency Douglas & Gordon. ‘What’s the point of saving £2,000 if the property isn’t selling?

Pay a multi-agency fee to have two or three agents competing. They’ll be more urgent.’

2. PRICE REALISTICALLY

‘A too-ambitious asking price will put buyers off,’ says Camilla Dell, of Black Brick buying advisers. ‘Put it on at a competitive price. You may get buyers competing.’

3. ORGANISE THE PAPERWORK

‘Get your Home Information Pack (HIP) ordered several weeks before you want to launch. It’s now a legal requirement,’ says John Keeble, of John D Wood estate agency.

A HIP consists of a questionnaire about fixtures and fittings being left behind, plus an Energy Performance Certificate based on an inspection b energy efficiency experts, as well as title deeds and search information from the council and utilities.

4. APPOINT A SOLICITOR QUICKLY

‘This is essential; a slow solicitor will frustrate the buyer and seller,’ says Jo Eccles, of relocation firm Sourcing Property. ‘This could cost you your purchaser or new home, so don’t scrimp on legal fees.’

5. MAKE OVER YOUR HOME

London house doctor firm The Final Touch gives the example of a flat valued at £450,000 that had no buyer. It recently sold for £512,000 after being spruced up at a cost of £2,500

The House Hunter

CAMILLA DELL NARROWLY FAILED TO MAKE THE APPRENTICE, NOW SHE’S A HIGH-FLYING PROPERTY MATCHMAKER

Millions of us are glued each week to The Apprentice to see who will incur the wrath of Sir Alan.

For Camilla Dell, who runs London’s largest independent property-finding agency, Black Brick Property Solutions, watching the show is a reminder of why she started her own business.

Her company, which has a turnover of £2 million, was Camilla’s brainchild, and it was her involvement with former Amstrad boss Sir Alan Sugar’s reality TV show which inspired her to set it up.

In 2004, when she was a 26-year-old working for hard-selling estate agent Foxtons, she auditioned to appear on the second series.

After four years of working through the property boom years in the ‘highly charged environment’ of that agency, the ambitious negotiator was ready for a new challenge.

After excelling at the ‘shattering yet exhilarating’ three-week selection process, she made it into the last 50 candidates of 75,000 applicants and was put on standby to be one of the female contestants.

‘As it was, I never got the phone call to appear on the show, but the experience gave me the impetus to think about how much more I could do with my life,’ Camilla says.

Her flirtation with The Apprentice also increased her worth in her colleagues’ eyes and, within a month, she had been promoted.

‘Jon Hunt (the then-boss of Foxtons) loved the programme, so whenever I came onto the sales floor he would single me out,’ says Dell.

Hunt had set up the Foxtons empire in a former Italian restaurant in Notting Hill, West London, in 1981.

He sold its 40 branches for £370million at the peak of the property market in 2007.

‘He was an entrepreneurial figure who captured my imagination,’ says Dell.

But after another year at Foxtons, Camilla was head-hunted by rival estate agency Knight Frank.

Working for its property-finding division, sourcing homes for high-net-worth individuals, she soon realised it was her personal qualities customers were responding to, rather than what the company was offering.

Camilla says: ‘I decided there was room for an independent property finding consultancy in London, and set up my business with a partner in January 2007.’

From the loft of her home in North London, she turned round £1 million in the first year, a figure she doubled in 2008.

Property-finding agents typically charge customers – who, in Black Brick’s case, are looking for a family home or an investment property in London and the South- East – a £2,000 to £3,000 retainer fee, then a 2 to 3 per cent ‘success’ fee if a deal is brokered.

They have grown in popularity because they are not beholden to any agency, and so are truly acting for the buyer.

Earlier this year, Camilla moved to an office in Bruton Place, Mayfair, Central London, and has a staff of six, five of whom are women.

So do women make better property-finding agents? ‘Yes, they are much better at empathising with both sides in a situation, whether buyer and seller at the negotiating table, or husband and wife deciding on the ideal home,’ she says.

‘Buying a home is an emotional transaction.’

The other qualities Camilla thinks are essential in a buying consultant are patience, good contacts, market knowledge, a head for numbers, attention to detail and tenacity.

They are just the sort of qualities that would no doubt have impressed Sir Alan had she made it onto The Apprentice.

Camilla’s verdict on the London market

  • Prices are down 20-30 per cent from the peak of the market, which was March 2008 in London.
  • But has it reached the bottom? Not necessarily, though the past two months have seen a big increase in activity – and the reappearance of gazumping.
  • Who’s buying? Foreign buyers for whom the weak pound is attractive; plus buy-to-letters: yields of 4 per cent a year make buying a property to rent out more profitable than putting your money in a bank.
  • Properties selling best are those in prime areas – Kensington, Chelsea, Mayfair, Notting Hill, St John’s Wood – especially those located near to the parks.
  • Those that aren’t selling are those stuck at last year’s prices. Be realistic: pricing is key!

… And prospects elsewhere?

  • Green shoots? Hometrack’s latest Monthly National Housing Survey, reports a 19 per cent increase in the number of sales agreed in March – up from MINUS5 per cent in January. The biggest regional increase was in East Anglia, followed by the South-East.
  • How do you ascertain if property is valued accurately? James Greenwood, of Stacks, the nationwide property-finding agency, suggests subtracting 35 per cent from a comparable property’s value in 2007. ‘There’s a lot of game-playing going on, so abandon your innate Britishness and bargain like you are shopping in a Turkish bazaar,’ he says.
  • But where are the hotspots? email4property.co.uk – the UK’s largest network of local estate agent websites – reports most interest being shown in Nottingham, followed by Liverpool, Bristol, Cardiff and Birmingham. Affordability is key in these areas. In Nottingham, the average price is £91,336.

Prices for the super-rich are still soaring upwards

By Liz Rowlinson

NEVER has there been so much speculation about the construction of a block of flats as that surrounding One Hyde Park, London’s most expensive apartment complex.

And as the block rises opposite Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge, it is impossible not to imagine what a flat costing £80 million to £100 million will look like.

What we do know is that the penthouses are designed by Richard Rogers and will come with top range security (panic rooms and bulletproof windows), high-class services (supplied by the Mandarin Oriental hotel) as well as a prime location.

It’s easy to wonder — in the week when Nationwide Building Society announced that house prices are falling at the fastest rate since the last recession — how the troubled market is affecting such a lavish project, especially when new-build flats have been the hardest hit.

Well, One Hyde Park — where 40 of the 80 units have been sold, with average prices of more than £20 million — presents itself as proof that the top of the market is still going strong.

The international moneyed oligarchy (a third of buyers come from Russia, a quarter from the Middle East) have raised London’s status as a capital of the super-rich, with the most billionaires in Europe.

Looking at the wider super-prime London market, latest figures released by Savills show that while properties in the £5million bracket have ‘flattened’, those worth £10million plus have actually increased by 1.2 per cent.

‘We’ve had 16 sales

in June alone from £5.3 million to £70 million,’ says Jonathan Hewlett, director of Savills, which is selling fourbed apartments at a prestigious new development, 21 Chesham Place in Belgravia, for £15.9 miliion to £40 million.

Other addresses attracting interest from the super-rich include The Knightsbridge (a luxury development near One Hyde Park) Lennox Gardens and Cadogan Square.

Last month, Palace Green, a fourstorey house in Kensington, sold for a world-record-breaking £117 million to steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal. Britain’s richest man — worth a reported £50 billion — is unlikely to be affected by interest rates on highstreet mortgages, neither will the 20 people looking for properties of between £20 million to £100 million on the books of Aylesford, the company who handled the Mittal sale. ‘The demographics of London haven’t changed in the past six months. There wasn’t a big exodus of non-doms, so there are still no sellers and too many buyers,’ says Aylesford’s chairman, Andrew Langton.

His comments are echoed by Camilla Dell of Black Brick, a property-finding agency whose average sale has shot up from £2 million to £6 million this year.

‘Prices are being driven up in the £10million-plus bracket because of the shortage but also because sellers at that level never need to sell if they don’t get the right price,’ she says.

Outside London, the market is equally active and — according to Mark Lawson of The Buying Solution, which sources estates for the super-rich — there can be a feeding frenzy for the right property.

‘A country estate — a good-looking Georgian country house, in plenty of countryside, near a nice village — is a stronger aspiration for the selfmade man than it was five years ago,’ he says.

Perfect for such a man might be an 11-bed ‘Palladian style’ mansion near Stratford upon Avon, on sale for almost £11million through Quintessentially Estates. This comes with 35 acres, four-car garage, ballroom and ‘Versace-inspired’ decor.

Spring into Action – Tips for Experienced Buyers

First, take advantage of today’s buyer’s market, which may allow you time to view and revisit all properties in your price range.

“There are more properties on sale today than this time last year. Therefore buyers can affortd to take longer and be more choosy, ” says Camilla Dell of Black Brick, a professional buying agency.

Second, do your research before making an offer. “Look at the purchase price and then divide this by the size of property to give a “price per square foot”. We look at how the price per square foot compares to similar properties sold in the past six months in that street or block’, says Ms Dell.

“This enables us to assess whether the property is being marketed at market value, bwlow market value or is grossly overpriced. The Land Registry (landreg.gov.uk) allows you to search for details of sales by postcode for a fee. It’s a small price to pay to avoid making a costly mistake and over-paying.’

Third, get your mortgage and a survey arranged, as some sellers will opt for the buyer who is ready to go.

Don’t be too influenced by the new Home Information Pack, which applies to every property on sale. It doesn’t contain the most important item the purchaser needs to make a good decision – the survey. You, the buyer, still need to commission that.