Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The Search for a Margin: Mission Impossible?

Bargain Terrace, Opportunity Avenue and Doer-Upper Gardens. As far as I can see, these are the lost streets of London.

We have money sitting unprofitably in bank accounts. There are people who would happily help finance the right project.

We have trusted project managers, builders and all the other people required to turn a renovation round efficiently.

What we don't have are the opportunities.

Prime Central London and its bordering boroughs seem bereft of value.

Doer-uppers are going to best and final bids and achieving done-up prices. There's simply no margin for the likes of me.

It's a worry for me, of course. But it's also a potential disaster for the whole market.

If someone pays the done-up price for a doer-upper, they are basically assuming that property values will continue to climb.

They are gambling that the money they invest on top of an already excessive purchase price will soon be recouped by ever spiralling values.

I wouldn't be so sure.

The market up to £2m seems hugely over-heated. UK incomes simply aren't growing quickly enough to support today's prices let alone further big rises. And although the supply of cash-rich foreigners may still be strong, many prefer new-builds to tarted up old-stock.

Lets take Fulham as a near-Prime example of where prices are out of sync with reality*.

This area's role historically has been as feeder to Prime Central or to family-oriented areas such as Wandsworth's Nappy Valley. Young, aspirant, newly qualified professionals would buy their first homes in Fulham, or house share with friends from Uni. Now it's rapidly becoming as expensive as the better parts of Notting Hill. Horrible little houses needing renovation are going for the best part of £2m in roads most of us wouldn't have been seen dead in a few years ago. And a house in a perfectly unexceptional road near Stamford Bridge is on the market at an astonishing £3.5m.

I just don't see where the money will come from to justify further hefty rises. How many young people can afford £2m for a house?

Then there's Battersea, an area that might define the term 'mixed'. Close by the faux-smart Prince of Wales Drive, for example, there are housing estates that taxi drivers refuse to enter and police only venture into mob-handed. Yet the so-called middle-classes are pouring cash into the area like it's the new Belgravia, and overseas buyers are snapping up off-plan flats in that desert of any area around the Power Station. Yuk!

Others talk of Vauxhall as a sort of nascent Notting Hill. Have they ever been to Vauxhall, I wonder? Somehow I doubt it.

Even in areas such as Streatham and Brixton friends tell me the market is just as frenzied, with very ordinary flats attracting multiple bids over the asking price. (And those are asking prices that would have seemed absurd only a year or so ago.)

In Clapham extremely dull areas such as Abbeville Road have become hotspots just because (it seems to me) they've opened an over-priced, trendy new butcher on the street. I'd rather shoot myself than live in the anonymous streets around this area's 200 yard long oasis of uppish-market shops and restaurants.

More importantly, I just cannot see who will have the income to justify mortgages of over £1m to buy into the area. Especially once interest rates start climbing again.

Putney perhaps offers a few opportunities but the downsides include Nick Clegg as a resident and the appalling "poundlandesque' high street.

The house I sold on East Putney's Upper Richmond Road a few years ago has just gone back on the market at almost double our sale price, and six or seven times the price I originally paid. (And, by the way, it looks worse now than when I moved out!)

Wandsworth is basically already done-up and yet prices still keep going up. There's hardly a side-return, damp basement or mansard extension left to develop in the whole area. And if I see another set of Elephant's Breath painted plantation shutters I'll throw a brick through the window.

Back north of the river, West Kensington (or Baron's Court to the rest of us) seems to have discarded its itinerant residents as more and more people realise how close it is to Kensington proper. I paid under £20k for my first flat at Queen's Club Gardens. I'd need £500k+ for the same tiny top floor bolt hole now....and it still has no lift.

Now, I'm not the sort of publicity-seeking property commentator who drops the word 'bubble' at the first sign of a few homes being sold but even I think things are getting out of hand.

I've lived in London for 40 years, and owned a variety of properties across numerous parts of SW London. But I now feel priced out of the market both as a small-time developer and, more importantly, as a resident.

I reckon I'd need to be earning (at the age of 35) at least £300k a year to live the way I did in the 1980s, and afford the property we bought back then. (Especially if interest rates today were as high as they were then.)

About the only place I can afford to buy now is Pauper Place. Wherever that is.

* Fulham asking prices are apparently up 18% year on year. And you still think I'm being OTT?

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