Bringing West Hampstead insight to national property statistics

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Every week newspaper headlines vary between ‘house prices rise’ or ‘house prices fall’ – but which headline is accurate?

We thought we’d delve behind the headlines for this month’s West Hampstead Life column; we’ll be sharing some interesting stats and sprinkling them with some local insight to bring them to life.

First-time buyers
Nationally, the number of first-time buyers is down compared to 20 years ago, and according to the English Housing Survey, the average age of first-time buyers now stands at 33 years old. However, although there is no question that the average age of first-time buyers has steadily increased over the years with a direct correlation to property price inflation, the reality is more nuanced. That’s because the age at which someone buys for the first time is dependent on their personal circumstances.

For example, we receive many enquiries from first-time buyers who are getting considerable support from their parents. In these instances, parents either have cash or equity they can release from the family home, therefore bridging the affordability gap for their children who only need to take out a mortgage for an amount that’s affordable to them.

First-time buyers in this scenario typically live at home and are in the early stages of their first job after completing a degree. This gives an average first-time buyer age of around mid- to late-20s, a stark contrast to the majority of first-time buyers whose parents can’t raise such a large amount of ‘spare’ cash – and therefore spend years saving for a deposit whilst renting. For this self-sufficient majority, the average age is early- to mid-30s.

Private rented sector
Nationally, 4.5 million households rent in the private sector, and that figure is likely to grow (with many developers now choosing to build specifically to rent rather than sell). On average the weekly rent in London is £309, but in West Hampstead it’s around the £430 mark. Despite it costing more than average to live in West Hampstead, we’ve found that local tenants pay less in rent as a percentage of their income, compared to the wider London market.

In general, the number of families living in the private rented sector has grown significantly over the last decade. Although we haven’t seen this too much in West Hampstead, there has been an increase in young families with children under four renting in the area.

According to the English Housing Survey, 88% of Londoners are ‘satisfied’ with their neighbourhood. We’re sure most West Hampstead Life readers are more than ‘satisfied’ with their neighbourhood and reckon we’d score higher than average!

What’s interesting is that the London data shows a slight discrepancy in levels of happiness between those that rent and those that own their own home – but in our experience, this isn’t the case for West Hampstead. We’ve found that renters rarely leave the area and do so only if they want a complete change in lifestyle.

Local update
Stats aside, it’s been a slow start to the year. However, the change in the weather has helped both the sales and lettings markets; throughout March we’ve been contacted by vendors seeking pricing advice as well as tenants looking to move and settle before summer begins.

On the sales side, there’s a healthy demand from buyers looking for a first or a better home in and around West Hampstead. What’s noticeable though is how discerning buyers are being, and they’re certainly less prepared to compromise than they’ve been in the past.

On the lettings side, we’ve noticed a lot of applicants moving from Hampstead and Belsize Park to West Hampstead. These tenants tend to be professional couples looking for extra value for money who now perceive West Hampstead at nearly the same level as Hampstead and Belsize Park. Naturally, we agree, and there’s no doubt that the significant improvements to transport infrastructure and amenities along West End Lane have helped shine a light on the area.

To get accurate market advice for your property, please do get in touch to arrange your personal market appraisal or pop in to see us at our West End Lane Office, on the edge of West Hampstead Square.

Jonny Miller and Matthew Spencer

T: 020 7481 2907
JOHNS&CO, Unit 7, Hardy Building, West End Lane, London, NW6 2BR

West Hampstead property price rises set to outpace London average

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It can be easy to generalise when talking about the London property market. However, London has often been described as a collection of villages, each with its own unique style, atmosphere and charms. For this reason, when discussing the London property market, it’s important not to look at the capital as the sum of its parts but to understand that each borough is its own entity.

Such distinct differences result in significant variations in the growth rate of property prices between boroughs and the dynamic nature of this vibrant capital means that growth can be sustained but it can equally take place in short focused bursts. For instance, between 2009 and 2015, property values in Kensington and Chelsea increased by 65%, whilst growth in boroughs on London’s periphery was up to three times lower. Then from 2014 to 2017, growth in the exclusive Royal Borough all but stopped, whereas property in the outer London boroughs experienced a 46% increase in value.

A recent study by CBRE has shown that in 2017, Camden experienced by far the highest increase in property values of all London boroughs with a 13.4% growth in prices. The research argues that this trend is set to continue over the next five years, likely due to new developments in the borough and improvements to transport infrastructure and local amenities such as those occurring all along West End Lane.

With prices likely to continue to grow in the borough, the importance of getting an accurate market appraisal was highlighted recently when we ran a ‘guess the house price’ competition. Recent visitors to our West Hampstead estate agency had the opportunity to guess the price of a property in NW6 as part of a prize draw. Entrants had internal and external images to look at as well as a short description of the property to help with their guesses. Over the course of the day it became apparent that competition entries varied wildly, with people significantly under or overvaluing the property.

This emphasises the importance of using a knowledgeable agent to advise and guide you on the best price to market your property. Accurately priced properties are able to sell because they are appealing to both seller and buyer and it takes a highly experienced agent to understand where that balance sits for each property.

To get accurate market advice for your property, please do get in touch to arrange a free appraisal or pop in to see us at our West End Lane Office, on the edge of West Hampstead Square.

T: 020 7481 2907
JOHNS&CO, Unit 7, Hardy Building, West End Lane, London, NW6 2BR

P.S. I’m thrilled to announce that next month’s Property News will be co-written by my new colleague Matthew Spencer, who has recently joined us as Lettings Manager. If you’d like to get in touch with him before then please email or call 020 7481 2907.

Positive sentiment in West Hampstead property market for 2018

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As we move into 2018, there are signs that the property market in West Hampstead is improving. Despite what others may say, there is evidence of a market out there for those looking to sell their home. With changes to stamp duty in the autumn statement and the hesitation caused by Brexit beginning to settle, there is an increased optimism surrounding the property market as we begin the new year.

The high level of activity we’ve been experiencing in north-west London is a reflection of the upturn in confidence buyers have in the market. A recent poll conducted by The Times discovered that 41% of the British public believe that house prices will rise in 2018, with only 14% believing that they might fall. The Guardian has also reported that industry professionals are predicting a rise in house prices of up to 3% this year.

Our ability to tap into this positive market sentiment and rise above the obstacles other agents may be struggling with is proven by our recent successful sale of a one-bedroom apartment that achieved a record price for its address. This property had been on the market for a while with the owner coming under pressure to reduce the price. We also agreed the sale of another apartment in the centre of West Hampstead on the December 22nd, our last working day of 2017!

The success we’ve had in selling such properties comes from having the positivity and confidence brought about by our phenomenal success in handling the sale, rental and management of apartments at West Hampstead Square. With offices across London and in Asia we have a database of thousands of buyers, both in the UK and overseas. This means we aren’t reliant purely on the confidence of local buyers, and as such are able to avoid being mired in the more static local market. Our achievements are even more impressive considering we’ve accomplished them before officially launching our West Hampstead office, with marketing not yet in full swing.

If you are thinking of selling or renting your property in 2018, or have been on the market for a while and are frustrated by lack of progress or constant negativity, then please get in touch with us for a free initial consultation.

We look forward to hearing from you.

T: 020 7481 2907
JOHNS&CO, Unit 7, Hardy Building, West End Lane, London, NW6 2BR

P.S. We also want to say a big thank you to everyone who donated to our Christmas Foodbank collection. Across our offices we collected more than a thousand items of food and toiletries, and we hope to improve on that in 2018.

A new perspective on West Hampstead’s property market

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The new year will see the official opening of Johns&Co’s estate agency office at West Hampstead Square, bringing with it a fresh, new outlook on the property market in West Hampstead and surrounding areas.

If the name sounds familiar to you, it might be because we’re the preferred partner of West Hampstead Square developer Ballymore and have already been based on site, working alongside Ballymore arranging the sales and subsequent rental and management of the five blocks of 144 apartments.

The West Hampstead Square scheme has now been sold, let and managed, and whilst we are marketing thousands of new homes from Nine Elms to Canary Wharf, we still have a significant database of buyers and investors looking for property in this part of London. Having so successfully achieved our original objective at West Hampstead Square, we decided to extend our expertise to homeowners in the area, so they too can take advantage of the appetite for homes we have been experiencing since we first came to West End Lane.

As a seasoned Sales Manager from the local area I’ve joined Johns&Co to help meld their international expertise to the needs of homeowners and landlords in the local market. I began my career in this area aged 19 as an office junior, took charge of my own branch for the first time at 21 and have honed my particular brand of highly personal estate agency service over subsequent years. I have successfully run businesses for some of London’s largest companies, including Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward and Hamptons International. During 35 years in the property industry I have become highly experienced in the fields of property development and new homes which led me to become a sales manager for a major regional developer for a number of years, before returning to my first love of estate agency.

I missed the relationships with people that I enjoyed so much in estate agency. I typically assist a client for months, from providing initial advice on accurate pricing and marketing, to then helping them achieve their life goals by either selling or renting their property. I get to know my clients very well and the quality of this relationship is what makes all the difference to a successful outcome. It’s not uncommon for my clients to become friends – I have friends who were first of all clients 20 years ago. I’ve even helped some of their children with the difficult task of getting onto the property ladder, renting at first and then buying their first home, and always being on hand to provide guidance and assistance every step of the way. There is one family friend who I recently helped to buy two properties, one for their daughter and family and the other for their sons.

I’m often asked to share my in-depth knowledge of all things property and recently ran a free property workshop at the request of local community centre JW3 on Finchley Road, where I provided guidance and answered the questions of local people who were looking for expert advice on how best to sell and buy in the current climate.

While preparations are well underway for the official opening at the start of January, I’m already busy talking to local people about their proposed sale or purchase in the new year. So if you’re thinking of moving or would like to benefit from my local experience and the international reach of the team at JOHNS&CO, then call and arrange to see me on 020 7481 2907 or email me at .

Similarly, if you are looking to rent your property to prospective tenants, our Lettings Manager Jordan Charles-Jones is also on hand to assist you with all aspects of Lettings and Management from the heart of West Hampstead. Jordan can be reached on 020 7481 2907 or on email to .

We look forward to meeting you.

How rich must you be to afford “affordable” housing?

After many people – including West Hampstead Life – made a fuss about the lack of affordable housing provision in the Liddell Road scheme, Camden promised that the 156 West End Lane scheme would meet the 50% affordable housing quota by floorspace.

The development, which was given the go-ahead by the planning committee on Thursday, ended up with 79 affordable flats, or 49.8% of floorspace. Except, you could argue it’s not even that.

Take a deep breath as we dive into the murky waters of what is and isn’t affordable housing – and quite how much money you need to get some for yourself.

First, the good news.

Of those 79 affordable flats, 44 are “affordable rented” (and equate to 30% of total floorspace). According to the planning officer’s report, the rents have been set at Camden’s target social rented rate. In 2014/15, the average cost of Camden council’s housing rent was £475 per month. To give you an idea of how that relates to the local private rental market, one-bed flats in the area on Rightmove start from about £1,250 per month.

You can therefore argue that these rented properties are indeed affordable.

Now the bad news.

The remaining 35 units (20% of total floorspace) are ‘shared ownership’ properties. This still nominally falls under so-called “intermediate” affordable housing. Intermediate includes both affordable rented and shared-ownership but excludes social housing (aka “council houses”), which is a separate category. There is no social housing planned for 156 West End Lane.

How affordable is shared ownership? We looked at the nearby Central development on Iverson Road where a one-bed shared-ownership flat is being marketed.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of shared ownership – as at least a couple of councillors on Thursday night were clearly not – then here’s the primer:

Shared ownership means you take a stake (often 25%) in the property and any mortgage you need is based on that value. You then pay rent on the remaining share (say, 75%) to the housing association that manages the property. There are also service charges. Over time, most people try to increase their stake. The scheme is supposed to be a way to get ownership with much lower financial requirements. Typically a deposit of only 5% is required.

Let’s go back to this Iverson Road property to see what it would cost.

The full market price of the flat is £550,000. A 25% share is £137,500. There’s a required 5% deposit of £6,875.

An "affordable" shared ownership flat on Iverson Road.

An “affordable” shared ownership flat on Iverson Road.

Critically, the details specify a minimum household income of £65,000. Shared ownership schemes in London are available to anyone with a household income below £90,000. For this one, you must also be a Camden resident and almost certainly a first-time buyer (the rules here are not black & white).

The median gross income in Camden is £39,610 (higher than the London average of £33,203) [Source].

Therefore, a Camden couple who both earned the average income would have a combined gross income of £79,220, and would be eligible to buy this property. Note that the average London-wide income would only just make them eligible.

They have got their deposit together and need to borrow £130,625. Shared ownership mortgages are a specific product. We have used the Leeds Building Society shared ownership mortgages to calculate the costs.

At current rates, a 3-yr fixed over a 25-year period, reverting to the standard-variable rate after 3 years and with no fees, works out at an overall rate of 5.3%. According to the Moneysavingexpert site, this leads to an average monthly payment of £787.

But remember, that’s just on the 25% you own. Our average Camden couple have then got to pay rent on the remaining 75% and Origin tells us that this is £688/month, plus a £150 monthly service charge.

Total monthly payment: £1,625.

That’s a high monthly payment for a quarter of a flat. There are standard 25-year mortgages available at the moment with representative APRs of 1.5% (they require 20% deposits). Take one of those and you could borrow £400,000 and end up with the same monthly payment of ~£1,600. The cheapest 1-bed flat (not studio) in the area is on for £279,950, but if you wanted that nice Iverson Road flat at market value you’d still need to find a £150,000 deposit on top of your £400k mortgage. The system works therefore at one level – it makes property affordable for people who otherwise couldn’t possibly afford it.

Nevertheless, to get that “affordable” flat in Iverson Road under the shared-ownership scheme, you still need to have a household income equal to two median Camden incomes, and pay out £1,625 a month. For 25% of it. And if you’re wondering, a joint income of £65,000 (assuming you both earned £32,500 each and had no dependents) would place your household in the top 11% of household incomes in the country according to the IFS. Our average Camden couple would be in the top 7%.

The red bar on the right shows your household income relative

The red bar on the right shows a gross household income of £65,000 (net £50,000) relative to national household incomes (based on two adults each earning £32,500).

Is there a solution?
Camden seems to already recognise that affordable renting is far more affordable than shared ownership. According to the 156 report, in April 2016, the council’s cabinet stated that it would “seek to secure affordable intermediate housing… by encouraging all developers and housing associations to provide intermediate rent rather than shared ownership units as the intermediate housing element of their affordable housing contribution to developments’ [our emphasis].

This development was a test of this new strategy but clearly it’s not working.

Indeed, the report for 156 West End Lane suggests that our calculations above could wildly underestimate what a shared ownership flat might cost: “[The] increase in property values has meant that it is no longer possible to deliver shared ownership at a price that is affordable to the council’s target income groups earning £30,000 to £40,000 per year.”

Back to 156 West End Lane. On the basis of what is called “affordable housing”, yes, Camden has delivered 50%. In terms of what a reasonable person might consider to be affordable – perhaps not.

We welcome comments from council officers, or housing associations to correct any assumptions we’ve made here.

Property News: Impact of abolishing tenants’ fees

David MatthewsTenants will be delighted at the announcement last week that administrative fees to tenants are to be banned, effective immediately. Whether costs to landlord might increase as a result is yet to be seen. Our view is that anything that can be done to improve transparency in our business has got to be positive. Flushing out the less scrupulous of our industry is what all good agents want to see happen. For tenants worried that this policy will result in an increase in rents, fear not, we can’t see this happening. We think that the industry is going to innovate around this to the benefit of tenants and landlords.

We are looking forward with anticipation to the completion of Heritage Lane (a.k.a. West Hampstead Square). We are reliably informed that the first two blocks will complete in late January and have been approached by landlords looking to let flats in these blocks. Having had a number of tours of the scheme, we love the specification, especially the unusual choice of brass fixtures and fittings as opposed to the normal chrome. A heritage finish for Heritage Lane, so to speak.

We are also agents on the commercial units at Heritage Lane and have seen huge demand from local businesses and healthcare practitioners for space. To compliment west Hampstead’s new M&S, due to open early next year, we are excited to add more to West End Lane’s growing commercial offerings. We recently secured Gails and soon look forward to announcing another ‘tasty’ addition to the high street….

David Matthews
Dutch & Dutch
174 West End Lane
West Hampstead
020 7794 0075

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Frustrated buyers face more delays at Ballymore

West Hampstead Square still isn’t finished. As you will have noticed.

Progress is being made as recent tweets show but it’s well overdue, and while it’s annoying for locals as the roads clog up with lorries delivering materials, for those who’ve bought apartments (some of whom are existing West Hampstead residents), the delays are going from frustrating to potentially financially damaging.

West Hampstead Square - when will it be finished?

West Hampstead Square – when will it be finished?

The original completion date was June 2015. But, in June this year, with development already a year behind, Ballymore ditched the original construction company, O’Hare McGovern, and took over itself. After taking stock of the situation, it predicted completion by the end of this year. However, since then the company has ‘encountered further obstacles’, according to a letter sent to anxious buyers, which have now set the completion date back another three months. The latest is that no-one will move in until the start of next year and some flats won’t be ready until March. Anger is starting to bubble up.

“Ballymore has taken me and other buyers for granted,” says one local buyer who wants to remain anonymous. “The delay is frustrating, but what’s unacceptable is the manner with which they have drip-fed delays this year, rather than giving a realistic estimate from the start.”

Another buyer felt “it has been very poorly dealt with and has been very stressful” but now he just “wants to get it done to stop spending unnecessary money”.

The problem buyers face is that as soon as the actual completion date is announced, they have just 10 days to provide the balance of the money. Anyone tempted by a premature completion date announcement might find themselves having given notice or sold their existing property only to end up being told to hold on – again.

One buyer, for example, was initially told he could move in by June, but was then told that completion was expected in September, then October, then late October, then early November, then late November. By the end of October it was going to be completing in early December, but just a few days later that was pushed back to the end of January.

Aside from the practicalities of knowing when to move out, these flats were sold pre-Brexit and the uncertainty in the run-up to that vote and in the aftermath has dampened the property market somewhat. Private buyers are probably OK, according to Jon Hughes at local estate agent Benham & Reeves. Overall, the market has softened though underlying prices remain stable, but transaction volume is down.

Buy-to-let investors, who will surely make up a significant percentage of West Hampstead Square owners, will find things a little more difficult. Before construction started, the predicted rental price for a two-bed at West Hampstead Square was £650-£700 per week according to one local agent. In today’s market, he suggested sub-£600 seems more realistic. In addition, mortgage criteria have tightened (though rates are still low) and there is additional 3% stamp duty to pay on second homes.

Any off-plan purchase comes with an element of risk – economic circumstances and personal finances can change unexpectedly over the course of 12 to 18 months – but when a build is running more than 18 months late that risk is exacerbated. We know of some buyers who are have had issues with the sale of their previous properties, others who have sold to release the funds and now need to ask landlords to extend their leases. For anyone not in the super-rich or professional property investor category, these delays are both expensive and upsetting.

It is not just residents who have been affected. Businesses had been hoping to move in before the bouyant Christmas trading period. The latest news is that they will be able to start their shop fit-outs in December, but they won’t be able to open until January at the earliest. Apparently, Marks & Spencer may not open until February.

It seems that buyers have no legal recourse to compensation for the delays despite being strung along for months and possibly well over a year. In fact, in the small print of the contract, Ballymore can complete as late as 2018! All in all it is stressful situation for the buyers, several of whom have expressed their frustration to WHL. If you have experienced these problems or others, drop us a line. We asked Ballymore for a comment, but no-one has returned our calls.

Brexit tests the nerves of West Hampstead property market

David MatthewsIt won’t be a surprise that it’s been a testing couple of weeks for London property. Tenants, buyers and indeed sellers have gone “a little quiet” to quote an understated fellow West Hampstead estate agent.

The post-referendum market feels very unnerved by the decision to leave the EU. Commercial property funds have been closing their doors, house builders’ shares have seen big falls and locally there are examples of buyers pulling out of purchases or re-negotiating the price.

This is of course all a fairly predictable outcome given the result of the referendum. After all the prime minster predicted house price drops of up to 20%, which was never going to instil confidence in a market already starting to feel a change in the wind. As it happens, we haven’t seen anything like 20% falls and most buyers are proceeding with fairly modest single figure percentage discounts at most.

The outcome of the referendum has been the catalyst, crystallising changes in the market that were already taking root. Stamp duty increases and the removal of mortgage interest relief were already putting downward pressure on prices, which of course was the intention of these policies in the first place. So no bad thing there, at least for the first-time buyers who are the intended beneficiaries.

However, Brexit uncertainty has potentially so many more wide-reaching consequences. How it will affect the property market in London is unknown. Only when the exit route is laid out and we have some idea what an independent UK will look like, will we be able to predict the impact on demand, supply, house prices, rents, housing policy and so on. Until then there will be a lot of questions on people’s minds: Is now the time to move? I was thinking of upgrading, is now the time to get a bigger mortgage? Is now the time to sell my investment flat? Are prices going to fall further?

What is certain is that it is uncertainty causing the problems. The route to EU exit is pretty unclear and there is no one at the helm. In time this will change, a new prime minister, and perhaps a new government, will take control, the fog will gradually clear and the market will find its feet.

The good news is that many young people still place huge importance on buying their first home. This week, we agreed the sale of a one-bedroom flat in NW6, at the asking price, to a first-time buyer who is very excited at the prospect of owning her first home–a desire too strong to be eroded by current economic and political uncertainty.

David Matthews
Dutch & Dutch
174 West End Lane
West Hampstead
020 7794 0075

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Property News: Prices up but supply still stifled


Two months on from my last article, and it is very interesting to see where the property market now finds itself. Although confidence has very much returned in the knowledge we have a Conservative government, the initial knee-jerk reaction to the election result hasn’t necessarily followed through and although the market has improved since early May, it hasn’t developed in the manner that many people were anticipating.

Prices are most definitely on the rise: one national newspaper reported that asking prices were up as much as much as 17% in London following the election. This is certainly supported by some the offers that we have been receiving recently, which have broken records for the area. West Hampstead in particular is benefiting from its neighbouring areas becoming too expensive, which is inflating the volume of applicants considering the area and therefore pushing up the prices. Family houses are particularly well received in terms of the value for money on offer compared to what is being sold on the other side of the Finchley Road.

One factor that hasn’t changed dramatically over the past couple of months is the level of available property to buy. I regularly speak to potential purchasers frustrated with the lack of homes for sale. The Bank of England reported for the month of May that one in three mortgage applications were for re-mortgaging.

What are the consequences of these figures? The surge in house prices over the last few years has given many the opportunity to buy their next home without having to sell their current home, which is having an impact on instruction levels. This has a knock-on effect on those potential vendors who do need to sell to move as they simply aren’t seeing enough property come onto the market to give them the confidence to make their own home available. The lack of stock in some instances is proving a stumbling block for agreeing sales and is delaying a number of transactions from exchanging contracts. One of the national agents reported this May that they were 17.7% down on exchanges compared with May 2014.

It is widely expected that the autumn will be the strongest period of the year. The initial euphoria of the election result has cooled slightly and it is clear that the market is still finding itself. Once that has happened, I’m very much expecting that we will see a fair balance of supply and demand as well as realistic price growth.

Matthew Sheldon
Benham & Reeves
West Hampstead
020 7644 9314
Follow @BenhamReeves

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Property News: Tenants on the move

Now the dust has settled I finally feel like we can share some of our feelings about how the General Election affected the lettings market this year. Although it certainly hasn’t shaken up the market, we have noticed a couple of significant shifts in the months immediately post the 2015 General Election.

The first point of note is that following the General Election we have experienced more tenants serving notice to terminate their contracts than is usual for this time of year. After speaking to these tenants the consensus is clear; tenants were nervous about what the outcome of the General Election might mean for them and waited for the results before searching for a property for sale.

We’ve found that tenants who previously rented at the higher end of the local market are doing all they can to get onto the mortgage ladder as interest rates continue to remain historically low since the General Election. There’s a clear mortgage battle in play between the market lenders too and some tenants in the area are using this opportunity to benefit from competitive rates for first time buyers with a small deposit or low loan-to-value.

I’ve mentioned in previous articles that over the last few years tenants are staying in the same rental property for longer as the private rented sector becomes the norm for many Londoners. Due to this it’s always really interesting to speak to tenants when they serve notice to understand where they are going next. Since the General Election the majority of tenants who have served notice on their West Hampstead rental property have done so because they’re searching for or found a property in the local area. With property prices at an all-time high in London, this strongly suggests that tenants like to trial an area before committing to an expensive purchase.

Although more tenants are moving on than usual for this time of year, demand still significantly outstrips supply. As usual this comes with a caveat; applicants are very sensitive to the quality of the product and even in a buoyant market properties that do not suit the taste of the searching demographic will sit empty. Considered capital investment is imperative when attracting tenants, with a further benefit being a direct correlation between a well maintained property and length of tenancy. At Paramount we’ve found that well finished and fully managed rental properties boast average tenancy lengths of 36 months.

We’ve also seen a small rise in the number of landlords who have decided to sell their buy-to-let investments this year. Landlords who have owned their rental properties for 10+ years with low gearing are leading this trend, and some have decided to look for new buy-to-let opportunities in different areas that offer more value to tenants to ensure they continue to attract young professionals.

Those looking to rent in West Hampstead will be pleased to know that we have plenty of properties coming onto the market this month. This is a great time to search for something new as the market will only get busier with applicants as the summer season progresses.

Spencer Lawrence
Lettings Director
Paramount Properties
150 West End Lane
West Hampstead
020 7644 2314

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Property News: The impact of the election on house prices


The waiting is finally over. After months of predictions and speculation, we now know that the country will be led by a Conservative government. So where does this leave the property market? Generally speaking, house prices increase more under a Tory government. In fact, according to the Nationwide house price index, since 1970, they have risen at an average of 19 percent per year compared to 10 percent a year under Labour administrations.

It is widely expected that this trend will continue. The threat of a ‘Mansion Tax’ has now been quashed and this will prevent any potential rigidity that there would been in pricing at around the £2 million mark. Owners of properties in this price bracket now have a degree of flexibility around the asking price they can set and this will allow the market to dictate what each property is actually worth. The Mansion Tax would have devalued those homes worth more than £2 million and that could well have had ramifications for prices further down the market.

Buyer confidence will certainly return. I have been dealing with a few situations where prior to the election we had received offers that weren’t acceptable to our clients. The potential buyers came back to us and said that they would consider increasing their offer once they knew outcome of the election. Within hours of the results, they increased their offers. We also had new instructions and only a day later, one of those new properties received an asking price offer.

Another real problem over the past few months has been the lack of supply, in particular between £1.5 and £3 million. There have been very few family homes for buyers to choose from and that should now change for obvious reasons. However, demand will increase too and it will be interesting to see where the market goes from here.

Are we going to see another housing bubble? It is a distinct possibility, particularly in the short term as I feel that the election result provides a real shot in the arm for the market. In the long term, however, it is imperative that the market reaches more of an equilibrium. According to Nationwide, house prices are now 9 percent below their peak, suggesting positive price growth for at least five years. In order to create stability over the longer term and to encourage a more gradual rise in house prices, it is crucial that more land is released for house building. The Conservatives plan to deliver 200,000 new homes, which they are prioritising for first time buyers. This will certainly come as welcome news to the house building industry and will go some way towards aiding a more sustainable property market in the long run.

There is certainly an element that the market will still need to find its natural level, but the outlook is certainly positive. An increased level of supply, with the potential for a measured house price growth over the coming years makes this a really good time for buyers and sellers alike.

Matthew Sheldon
Benham & Reeves
West Hampstead
020 7644 9314
Follow @BenhamReeves

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Property News: Rental market buoyant in run up to election

With the General Election looming we’ve been looking back at the last five years in terms of the local property market. Since the last election we’ve seen the introduction of the Help to Buy scheme and a reform of stamp duty, with the latter saving the average first time buyer in West Hampstead thousands of pounds.

Labour is pledging 200,000 new homes a year by 2020 in its manifesto (vs. the Liberal Democrats’ 300,000), in order to create much needed new homes. Labour also wants to address letting agents’ fees to tenants and change legislation in favour of three-year tenancies. Meanwhile the Conservatives want to extend Right-to-Buy to tenants in Housing Association properties and double the number of first-time buyers in comparison to the last five years.

We took a closer look at some of our own statistics to see how things have changed since the last election. We’ll be publishing content regularly on the Paramount blog in the lead up to the election, but one thing we’ve identified so far is that in Q1 2015 there has been a 22% decrease in 18-24 year olds showing interest in properties to rent and buy in West Hampstead compared to the same period in 2010, with a 20% increase in 25-34 year olds looking in the area. I doubt this will come as a surprise to many, with London in general often out of reach for buyers and tenants alike.

Politics aside, as we head into the second quarter of 2015 the lettings market is buoyant. Enquiries have increased month on month since the start of the year, which is usual for the lettings market. The market historically picks up considerably after the Easter bank holiday weekend and this year was no different, with a lot of applicants looking to find new suitable homes over the last week and a half. We expect garden flats to be extremely popular over the next few weeks now that the daffodils have appeared and the daylight hours have got longer.

There continues to be a fair amount of properties for tenants to choose from, although good quality, competitively priced one and two bedroom properties are letting in record time. It’s a notable change since March – just one month ago tenants were taking longer to commit to properties, and landlords were finding the market quite competitive.

Despite the ever fluctuating nature of supply and demand locally, rents have increased by approximately 3% compared to this time last year. In some instances rents have increased by much higher than this, but that’s occurring more in Queens Park than in West Hampstead.

Although demand for properties is high, landlords need to continue investing in the properties. Quality of stock is very important and tenants expect a quality finished product to move into. Landlords that deliver this will find excellent tenants who want to treat the property like a home in a very short space of time.

Spencer Lawrence
Lettings Director
Paramount Properties
150 West End Lane
West Hampstead
020 7644 2314

request a lettings valuation

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West End Lane could soon be clear of agents’ boards

Last February, we reported on local resident Alan Grogan’s campaign to rid West End Lane of the large number of estate agents’ boards that were attached to many properties along the road. Many agents responded swiftly to our article and, within a couple of weeks, had voluntarily removed their boards from buildings. However, quite a few of the signs still remain up more than a year later.

This week, just as Foxtons added to the glut of estate agents on West End Lane, Alan got the news he’d been hoping for. Camden Council has submitted the Regulation 7 Application to ban all estate agents’ boards for the stretch of West End Lane between the tube station north to David’s Deli. This means that barring any major objections, the proposal should pass in the next few months.

Alan said that he is hoping the ban will come into effect “in time for the summer and we’ll have a very, very nice looking high street”.

Two of the signs still on West End Lane that would have to come down if Camden’s proposal is passed




Property News: Pre-election uncertainty holding high-end market back


New year, new face. I am the new manager of Benham & Reeves’ West Hampstead office. I have arrived from our Hampstead Office, having previously worked for a large international company as well another local independent company.

It has been an interesting start to the year. Available properties are relatively thin on the ground and one would be forgiven for thinking that this would mean be a lot of competition on each available instruction, as the number of buyers certainly exceeds the level of supply. However, so far that hasn’t appeared to have been the case and we are in a very price sensitive market. If the asking price of the property is correct and seen as reasonable then we are seeing a strong number of viewings, followed by relatively quick interest, leading to an agreed sale. Those properties that are deemed expensive are sitting on the market with too few viewings and then end up having to be reduced. The upshot can actually be that they sell for less than they are worth as the aggressively high initial asking price creates a negative sentiment around the property the longer that it remains on the market.

These market conditions are in keeping with recent reports about mortgage lending. According to the council of Mortgage Lenders, lending in January was down 14% from December and 11% from January last year. Buyers have to feel tempted to come and have a look at properties in order to act, and some of the unrealistic prices that are being asked are leading to a reduction in the lending figures as well as sales figures, which were down by 6% according to the HMRC compared to January 2014.

Of course, for those properties that have something a little bit extra special, it’s still realistic to achieve a premium figure. We were recently instructed on a property at a prime South Hampstead address – an absolutely stunning flat. The marketing figure was correct, it attracted a decent level of viewings, and is now under offer at what will be a record pound per square foot price for its road, should contracts be exchanged.

If we look at the market for properties above the £2 million mark, then we certainly see the effects of the upcoming election. The uncertainty surrounding the threat of a “Mansion Tax”, is causing people to think twice about moving before May. Anyone who owns a home worth more than £1.5 million is starting to feel a little bit unsure about the potential repercussions should we see a Labour or Labour-led government, and this is certainly causing buyers and sellers in this price range to hold fire. That explains both the distinct lack of available property above £2 million, but also between £1.5 and £2 million. The amendments to the stamp duty thresholds have also had an impact in this sector. A number of transactions were either renegotiated or, in some cases, fell through, as buyers were hit with a much greater tax bill than they were expecting when a sale was originally agreed.

Having said all of that, if the asking price is realistic, there is still interest in this area of the market. We were instructed to sell a house on Goldhurst Terrace, at £3.75 million, and simply due to the lack of stock available at this price, there were four buyers interested in the house and it is now under offer. I have been suggesting to some potential vendors over the past couple of months that it may be a good time to think about selling as while most people are unsure about moving given the uncertainty, there’s less competition from other sellers, and there are buyers out there. After the election, we could see a lot more coming onto the market.

What is a certainty, is that I am very much looking forward to there being clarity and to what will hopefully be a very stable market. People were of the opinion that the early months of last year were good for estate agents, but those of us in the business knew all too well what was to follow. It appears that the market is more realistic now and there has undoubtedly been a correction in the prices. Once the uncertainty is cleared up, I am confident that we will see a much healthier balance within the market.

Matthew Sheldon
Benham & Reeves
West Hampstead
020 7644 9314
Follow @BenhamReeves

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Property News: West Hampstead tenants’ extra expectations

I’m worried that I’ve started to sound like a broken record. Every two months I write about the rental market for West Hampstead Life, and every two months I say the same thing: demand for rental property in West Hampstead is sky high.

I promise you that this isn’t laziness on my part. Demand for rental properties in West Hampstead continues to grow, especially for one and two bed flats. These flats are regularly on the market for just a matter of days before contracts are signed and a move-in date is set.

Although demand has been continuously high for many years, not everything remains the same though. One thing we have noticed over the past year is that our applicants now have an excellent knowledge of the local rental market. They do their research, they understand how the market operates and aspirational levels are rising too. They’re familiar with the property specifications found in new build developments and they expect this standard of presentation from all rental properties. We regularly feed this information back to our landlords and encourage them to treat their rental property as a business, by injecting regular investment into the property by way of new carpet or a new kitchen if needed.

Demand might be strong but applicants won’t accept a property if it doesn’t match their expectations. In order to let property as quickly as possible so we can avoid void periods, we advise landlords to present the flat to the best of their ability. Presentation is key when attracting tenants, and that includes communal areas as well as the property itself. The entrance of a residential building is equally important, and landlords who own flats in a period conversion should consider joining forces with other owners to smarten up communal areas if necessary.

Feedback from tenants in 2015 highlights that proximity to an underground station is high on most of their wish lists. Properties further than 10 minutes from the tube are slower to let and applicants would rather compromise on square footage if the location is good. It’s always been about an applicant’s lifestyle choices, and proximity to excellent transport links is more important than ever.

As I mentioned earlier, applicants have a better knowledge of the local property market than ever. The internet is key for sharing information and it’s great to see more and more people aware of what is happening in the local market. Perhaps because of this applicants are very sensitive to price, and they are prepared to negotiate to reach an agreement that is acceptable to them. Landlords who are also prepared to negotiate a bit will find their property lets more quickly.

In order to provide the very best service to applicants, tenants and landlords we’ve needed to expand our business. I’m thrilled to welcome two new Lettings Negotiators to the Paramount team, and I look forward to sharing their experience of working in West Hampstead with you over the coming months.

Spencer Lawrence
Lettings Director
Paramount Properties
150 West End Lane
West Hampstead
020 7644 2314

request a lettings valuation

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Property News: Protect those pipes this winter

December is notoriously quiet in the property industry and, once again, the local lettings market has seen reduced stock levels during the latter part of November and the month of December.

One of the reasons we are quiet on the lettings front is because of our seasonal lock-outs. For many years our tenancy agreements have included a lock-out period precluding landlords and tenants from serving notice during this timeframe. This protects landlords from void periods or being forced to accept reduced rates, both possible consequences when marketing a rental property at this time of year. Equally there is a lack of availability for tenants and the quality of the product tends not to be as good.

At Paramount we use this opportunity to gain new business by taking the time to nurture our existing database. This year the winter months have also allowed us to get our lettings team out and about visiting tenants, to make sure they are happy and settled before the festive period. Consequently we have been made aware of a few lingering maintenance issues that we can now fix quickly to ensure product control.

We have also been providing guidance to our tenants about keeping their property safe and warm over the winter months, which is good advice for all:

Going away this winter?

  • Leave your heating on for at least an hour a day while you are away to stop the pipes freezing
  • Leave your heating on all day and night at your usual temperature setting in severe weather conditions
  • Ask a friend or neighbour to check in at your property whilst you are away so any emergencies, like burst pipes, are detected as quickly as possible
  • Secure ladders and any garden furniture to prevent any damage if there are high winds

Keep your home warm

  • 16°C is the ideal minimum temperature and your main living room should be between 18-21°C
  • Draw your curtains at dusk to help keep the heat generated inside your rooms
  • Use thermal curtain lining on the inside of your curtains
  • Keep radiators free of obstructions to allow heat to pass around the room
  • Prevent cold air moving around the house by closing internal doors

Reduce energy costs

  • Turn off radiators in rooms you don’t use often
  • Use energy efficient light bulbs when possible
  • Wash clothes at 30 degrees and air dry them when possible

For low income and vulnerable households there is support available through the Warm Home Discount, which can provide a discount on your energy bill of £140 in 2014/15. Phone your energy suppliers to see if you are eligible. Another easy way to get your energy bills down is to switch to the lowest possible tariff. To do this contact your energy supplier and competitors and ask to be put on the best tariff.

It always surprises me how many tenants have never had any kind of contents insurance. There seems to be a strong misconception that while living in a rented property, a landlords building insurance will cover a tenant’s possessions. Unfortunately this is not the case. Should your house or flat be burgled or flooded, your landlords insurance will only cover the building and their furniture and fixtures.

Unfortunately we witnessed an instance like this earlier in the year, when a basement flat had been flooded in the freak rain we had in September. While the landlord was able to claim on their own buildings insurance for repairs to the flat, the tenants’ possessions, including a computer and phone, had been so damaged they were unable to be repaired.

It might not sparkle, but if you buy yourself one Christmas gift this year invest in tenants’ contents insurance. It may be your best investment of the year.

Spencer Lawrence
Lettings Director
Paramount Properties
150 West End Lane
West Hampstead
020 7644 2314

request a lettings valuation

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Property News: What will drive the housing market in 2015?

At this time over the last couple of years I have had a go at predicting what’s in store for the local sales market in the next 12 months. On both occasions, with a bit of good fortune and hopefully not too much smugness, I have got it mostly right; so here are my thoughts on this year and predictions for 2015.

Like any great football match, this year has been a tale of two halves. Although I forecast the majority of the growth in prices would come in the first half of the year I did not envisage the slow-down in demand from August onwards. The spectre of an interest rate rise was always on the horizon, which at some point would have slowed the market, but it was the MMR changes to mortgage borrowing requirements and the surprise resurrection of the Mansion Tax that really put the brakes on.

The change in mortgage criteria has meant that lenders are now lending 3 to 4 times salary as opposed to 5 or 6. It also means that all outgoing expenses, including school fees, dry cleaning etc.. are now considered when assessing someone’s ability to repay their mortgage. We have also seen the end to interest-only mortgages. This has all taken the froth off prices by simply reducing the amount buyers are able to offer.

The Mansion Tax proposal by the Labour party has created an uncertainty about future affordability too. The London market needs sales of £2 million-plus properties to keep the wheels turning and the temporary withdrawal of some of these buyers has affected demand across all price ranges.
So, the factors in the mix for 2015 are interest rates, the election, the economy and, as ever, supply and demand.

Financial markets are now predicting small interest rate rises for the middle of 2015 and that they will then rise gradually to 3% over the next few years. Although the UK economy is growing there is still some cautious sentiment amongst investors and businesses about the sustainability of this due to the weakened European economies. However, UK employment is on the up and the outlook seems set to fair. Recent low inflation of 1.2% means that interest rate rises are more likely to be after the general election.

Yes, the election. It seems to be the subject on most buyers’ and sellers’ minds at the moment and I suspect a lot of people are waiting for the outcome before making a decision about their property-owning future. I have just sensed recently that a consensus is growing that Labour will not get in this time around.

The low supply of new and existing property in London is well documented and West Hampstead is no different in this regard. Even though there has been a fall in demand, we have not witnessed a huge influx of property on the market, meaning that although price growth has stopped, achieved prices are not yet falling back from those set earlier in the year. If a property comes to the market at a realistic price there will be a healthy demand for it.

Property industry heavyweights Savills and Knight Frank are predicting growth between -0.5% and 3.5% for London in 2015. I believe that by the time of the election a backlog of demand will have built up and we could potentially see a strong market for London and West Hampstead for the rest of the year assuming the Conservatives are elected. Given that interest rate rises are likely to be minimal and that there are some excellent fixed mortgage deals available, together with confidence in the wider economy and continuing poor supply, I can still see enough room in the market for further increases of up to 5% across 2015 in our area, although this will all come after May.

As the next Property News will be in January, may I take this opportunity of wishing you all a happy Christmas and New Year and thank you for taking an interest in my articles to-date.

Darryl Jenkins
Associate Director
Benham & Reeves
West Hampstead
020 7644 9300
Follow @BenhamReeves

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Property of the Month: November

This month’s property from Benham & Reeves is a 5-bedroom house in need of work on Pandora Road.

Pandora Road, West Hampstead, NW6
Guide price £2,000,000
Joint agent

Pandora Road_external front

Pandora Road_reception

Pandora Road_room

Pandora Road_garden

A fantastic opportunity to create a wonderful family home from this 5-bedroom Victorian house in need of complete refurbishment. Pandora Road is a sought after, quiet road within easy walking distance of the excellent transport links, cafés, restaurants and shops of West End Lane.

5 bedrooms * 2 bathrooms (1 en suite) * 2 reception rooms * kitchen * cellar * front & rear gardens* residents parking zone

West Hampstead Sales Office | 020 7644 9300
106 West End Lane London NW6 2LS | Email:

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Property News: Rental oversupply on the horizon?

In our last property news article we asked “what influences you when choosing lettings agents”? The results were clear; reputation and recommendations are what matters to you the most.

Reputation and recommendations accounted for half of the answers submitted, whilst membership of a professional scheme (eg ARLA, London Rental Standard) came in at third place. It’s easy to cast aspersions based on the results, but it does strongly suggest to me that potential tenants are often overwhelmed (or should that be underwhelmed?) by high street lettings agencies and turn to friends, family and social media to seek out an agent they can start to trust.

There seems to a consensus that the higher the rent the better the lettings agent will be. This saddens me as there should be no correlation between product price and service in the lettings industry; every potential tenant regardless of budget or location is entitled to a professional, transparent service when renting a home. It’s easy to compete with other agents when they don’t even offer a basic professional service, but I’d much rather there was a minimum standard all had to adhere to in the industry. If this was the case all good lettings agencies would push themselves further, seeking to go above and beyond in order to offer the best possible customer experience.

July to September are traditionally the busiest months in the lettings calendar with new stock coming onto the market from July. This cyclical calendar caters to students and new graduates who typically search for properties ahead of courses and graduate schemes starting in September. This year international students drove the demand, mostly due to the area’s proximity to several excellent universities and business schools. Now we are in October stock is starting to dry up and we don’t have enough properties to cater for the demand.

This month it has been really interesting to see where new business has come from. We’ve seen a significant shift in landlord demographic, with 50% of new instructions coming from first time landlords. These new landlords have often been seconded overseas and are looking to rent their own homes out in order to maintain an investment in London.

Last Property News we used HomeLet rental index data to show that average rental values in North West London were £1,739pcm. One month later and the rental index shows average rents increased to £1,750pcm. This is now similar to the average rents in South West London of £1,785pcm, and 19.5% above the average rental price for Greater London which stands at £1,464pcm.

Although rents are currently strong in West Hampstead, a potential risk to the local rental market is the level of new stock being brought to the market by developers and overseas investors. Until a few years ago West Hampstead was relatively untapped for investments, but now the area has been found by those attracted to strong capital growth rather than rental yield.

The brand new developments being constructed on West End Lane, Maygrove Road and Iverson Road will see rental supply increase dramatically in 2015 and 2016. At this point we expect rents to come under pressure with a potential dampening effect on rental growth across a wider area, despite a broader and deeper pool of tenants.

Demand will continue to be strong and I’m confident that the best of West Hampstead is yet to come. We’ve always had excellent independent shops and the arrival of a greengrocer’s earlier this year and the promise of a butcher in the near future ensures the high street is catering to local’s daily needs.

On the topic of food, we’re lucky to have a great view of the new daily food market from our office and encourage you try it out if you’re yet to do so! We’ve noticed increased footfall between 4pm-8pm and we hope it continues to do well. Friendly vendors, excellent food and communal seating areas all add to the village feel; it might be a cliché but West Hampstead feels more like a community than ever.

Spencer Lawrence
Lettings Director
Paramount Properties
150 West End Lane
West Hampstead
020 7644 2314

request a lettings valuation

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Property News: September

I heard the news like everyone else last week that Foxtons had applied for planning permission for change of use of the old Post Office. Not surprisingly, my immediate thoughts were also like most residents – not ANOTHER estate agent! I then read, more recently, that there had been 20 complaints registered with Camden planning against the opening on the basis of too many estate agents in the high street (staggeringly, there are 29) and that the area does not need ‘the kind of business’ that Foxtons are.

But, can Foxtons really be blamed for all these estate agents? And what can be so bad about a company that is listed on the stock exchange and has made its original owner somewhere in the region of £925m (Sunday Times Rich List) based on the principle of making more money for home owners? It occurred to me that the issues communities like West Hampstead and other high streets face are much greater than stopping the opening of another estate agent will solve.

Firstly, the reason there are so many estate agents on London’s high streets is simple – easy money. When I say easy, I mean that there are very few barriers to entry. Anybody can either start their own agency or start work immediately without any formal qualifications or membership of a governing body. On top of this, most small to medium agencies provide no initial or on-going training meaning that your property could be sold or let by someone who has very little experience or knowledge of the conveyancing and letting process (even in the bigger brands). Since the 1960s house prices have climbed inexorably skyward significantly outstripping real earnings along the way. As estate agents are paid on a percentage of the sale or lettings figure this has meant that the lure of large fees with no barriers to entry has attracted so many agents to our high streets.

Although these large numbers have created some downward pressure on fees, they still remain largely the same as they have for many years, that is between 1% and 2% for sales and 9% to 10% of the first years rent for rentals, meaning that a 3 bedroom maisonette in West Hampstead of say, £750,000 (average for the area) or £600 per week will command fees of £7,500 to £15,000 for sales or between £2,800 and £3,120 for lettings. As of today’s date there were 648 properties listed for sale on Zoopla and 1145 for rent in NW6 so it’s easy to understand the attraction of claiming a piece of this potentially rewarding market without too much up-front investment.

There is an Ombudsman scheme for sales agents but membership of this is not compulsory and the punitive powers are very limited. A better scheme exists for lettings agents called ARLA, which provides guidelines and ethics requiring qualifications to be a member of, but again, is not compulsory.

I would like to see the introduction of a licence system similar to that operated in the US. This requires completion of nearly 100 hours of study of the sales and lettings process along with conveyancing law and ethical conduct guidelines in order to gain a licence to operate. Complaints would be dealt with by the overseeing body which has the power to revoke any licence. I believe this would go a long way to reducing the number of agents on the high street and also provide the consumer with some much needed comfort that the process was being handled by a qualified agent with an independent and impartial point of contact for redress if things do go wrong.

Secondly, the problems of the high street have been well documented recently, especially in the Portas Review conducted for the coalition government. The changes in the way we shop by either going on-line or to out of town shopping areas where access and parking are easy, has meant that fewer businesses are attracted to high street premises, especially when their rivals are not present. High rents, rates and generally outdated buildings requiring expensive repairing lease obligations in high streets where there is only passing footfall on the way to transport links (especially in West Hampstead) and nowhere to park, make these very unattractive to most retailers. Resulting in a high street typical of West Hampstead, with coffee shops, estate agents, charity shops, betting shops and fast food restaurants where convenience and turnover is key, not dwell times or pleasant shopping experiences.

The juxtaposition of this situation is that the coalition government is focussed on a planning policy of ‘Town centre first’ planning as outlined in the NPPF (National Planning Policy Framework). Developers are forced towards town centres by planning policies which involve passing centric and impact tests for any developments which are outside of the town centre. This is making it even harder to redevelop existing sites, which in some cases are empty shops, as developers are reluctant to invest in these sites as things stand.

Isn’t it time to accept that town centres in the traditional mould are no longer viable? Many of those who protest that the protection of our ‘village feel’ is paramount are perhaps missing the point. With residents who are only in transition through the high street shouldn’t we be developing new mixed use sites that incorporate leisure facilities with retail outlets making the town centre a more pleasant destination of choice which would more accurately reflect a village feel? The success of the O2 centre and JW3 go some way to demonstrating the popularity of this mix. The West Hampstead Square development also offers a mix of leisure facilities close to transport which has been incredibly popular and now sold out. Until the focus of change for our high streets is different premises like the Post Office will only be attractive to those businesses that can be profitable in the existing high street. Initiatives to regenerate the high street as a retail destination have so far stalled. In West Hampstead the Farmers market and food stalls although popular, demonstrate the transitory nature of passing trade rather than a shopping destination.

Perhaps the biggest conundrum of Foxtons is that most people I speak to seem to agree that buying, renting or selling through them is a pressured and uncomfortable experience. Phrases like ‘not the type of business West Hampstead needs’ are bandied about, but the reality is that when it comes down to it, people choose to use them. It’s not a ‘Marmite’ company, where you either love them or hate them, but a company which most seem to hate but secretly use. Like a dirty little secret, or an R Whites Lemonade drinker, for those of you who remember. It’s a simple model; win instructions with the promise of higher prices and then generate large numbers of viewings. In other words, more cash for you. The model works because it has enough success to justify its promise to other sellers or renters.

Arguably, Foxtons have made a large contribution to the London price boom over the last 20 years which has benefited many owners and Landlords in the process. Whether this is good or bad is another discussion. Of course, if you would like to achieve the same results with a more accessible and personal service please feel free to get in contact.

The other potentially good news for all naysayers is that industry experts predict the death of the high street agent in the next 20 years with agents moving to the on-line model. I’m not sure what high streets will be looking like then though?

Naturally, I am not looking forward to their arrival, but if we want to reclaim the high street we need to rethink our strategy for the future.

Darryl Jenkins
Associate Director
Benham & Reeves
West Hampstead
020 7644 9300
Follow @BenhamReeves

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Property News: Rental round-up

In January we conducted our first tenant survey, and discovered that 66% of tenants would prefer to rent through a letting agent than through a landlord directly. We thought it would be interesting to know what factors influence applicants when choosing agents to register with, so please select as many options from the poll that are applicable and we’ll let you know the results next month.

Rental stock
Earlier this year we discussed how West Hampstead rents were suppressed due to reduced budgets and rising stock levels, as well as the surge in the residential sales market. Now in August we’ve seen the usual summer swelling of the applicant pool, which coupled with the current attractive rent levels has led to unprecedented demand for local stock.

Although demand is strong, we don’t expect a surge in rent prices anytime soon; rent rises will continue to be relatively modest as we progress towards autumn. This is because despite demand being strong, the market is still price and especially product sensitive.

On the mortgage front we’ve spoken to our landlords recently and discovered many are looking to change products. There’s a desire to move from current buy-to-let SVR’s to five-year fixed buy-to-let products, predominantly because rates are attractive and they want to lock rates in while they can in case interest rates increase.

One reader asked what the impact of a sudden boom of new flats in the area would be on rental prices/yields. As it stands I don’t expect there to be much of an impact as demand for property in the area is so strong. Yields are cyclical and even if they were to drop it wouldn’t disrupt the market. Buy-to-let in London is currently a self-regulating investment; when capital appreciation stagnates yields increase, and vice versa. Yield is a long-term investment vehicle and the only thing that will impact it is the price of purchase.

The HomeLet Property Rental Index highlights that average rental values in London were 9.4% higher in July 2014 when compared to last year, when average rents were £1,295pcm. Their North West London figures show that average rents in July 2014 are £1,739pcm, a rise of 11.3% on the average rent of £1,562pcm from July 2013.

Housing bubble
On a final note, John Mennis recently asked on Twitter what a “bubble” was. We did a little research and we can trace the first use of the word “bubble” in a market contenxt to the early 18th century, when it was used to describe what happens when ‘the price of assets temporarily rise above true values, only to burst and cause a sudden decline’. Before “bubble” became part of the discourse, “mania” was used to describe the same economic effect.

You’re not alone with your criticism of the word John; Peter Garder describes the word “bubble” as a ‘fuzzy word filled with import but lacking a solid definition’ in his book Famous First Bubbles: The Fundamentals of Early Manias. And that’s your history lesson over for the month!

Spencer Lawrence
Lettings Director
Paramount Properties
150 West End Lane
West Hampstead
020 7644 2314

request a lettings valuation

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West Hampstead’s housing bubble: Deflating not bursting

If the bubble were a balloon then it hasn’t so much burst as been untied and blown around the room deflating and losing all forward momentum and energy over the last few weeks.

All of the industry heavy-weights and recent press coverage are reporting falls in asking prices and buyer demand across London; West Hampstead is no different. Rightmove has reported asking prices in London now at a virtual standstill for June and July, although it says prices are up 14% year on year. Sequence reports a month on month fall in June of 14% for new applicants whilst a Hometrack survey of Estate Agents in July tells us that house price growth in London has slowed ‘dramatically’ and is the weakest in 18 months with agents finding it “hard to push prices in the face of weakened demand”.

The Hometrack findings seem alarmist and in my opinion, simply mark the end to ‘open day frenzy’, ghost gazumping (being forced to raise your offer due to the increasing market alone) and ‘sealed bids’, which is no bad thing. It feels like the market has stopped off at the service station whilst affordability and common sense catch up.

There is no doubt however that demand has fallen significantly over the last 2 months and the question most buyers and sellers are now asking themselves is whether this is a seasonal blip or a longer term trend. The reasons for the slowdown in demand have been well documented and speculated about over the last few months; stricter lending affordability stress testing for mortgage applications introduced from the MMR, the spectre and inevitability of rising interest rates, the strong pound making London property less attractive to overseas buyers, next years’ election getting closer, press speculation over the ‘London bubble’ and strategic rhetoric from Mark Carney. All of these factors have combined to alter buyer sentiment to a ‘wait and see’ view rather than the bun fight that epitomised recent months.

There is, however, one overriding factor driving the London market and that is the supply of property and land compared to the increasing population and long-term demand, which must mean that prices will continue to rise over the long term although hopefully in a more controlled and steady way. We are anticipating a quiet summer with little or no growth in asking prices followed by a return to a more normal market in September.

In an earlier Property News this year I wondered what tools Mr Carney had available to him other than interest rates to control the UK housing market. We now have our answer and they have been very effective and imaginative tools. If we have successfully avoided the ‘boom and bust’ of previous attempts it looks like the UK housing market could be in very good hands. All we need now is to sort out the planning system.

On a separate note, I noticed that soon after the last Property News ‘Build high or fiddle while Rome burns’ Camden Council has announced plans for a 14-storey tower block at the Liddell Road site. I was surprised at the amount of objection to this proposal. A much needed development that provides a school and one- and two-bed flats close to transport links at no cost to the taxpayer seems like a good idea for West Hampstead. Surely, it is only with the increase in supply of new homes that we can hope to make London affordable for future generations of key workers? Light industrial sites close to railways make ideal sites to build high with the least impact on surrounding conservation areas or green belt land further out.

Darryl Jenkins
Associate Director
Benham & Reeves
West Hampstead
020 7644 9300
Follow @BenhamReeves

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How affordable is “affordable housing”?

Providing affordable housing is becoming a hot topic in West Hampstead. This article first appeared as part of a longer piece on 156 West End Lane, but we thought it would be helpful to split it out. Exact definitions of affordable housing are more or less impossible – they simply don’t exist, that’s not how affordable housing works for obvious reasons (lots of people working in London could afford property elsewhere, for example). What follows is an attempt to clarify the term in the context of London and Camden and there’s some links to further reading.

What’s “affordable”?

Affordable housing should:

  • meet the needs of households whose needs are not met by the market and who are eligible for affordable housing, and
  • be provided at a cost they can afford, taking into account local household incomes and market housing costs, and
  • be affordable to future households unless arrangements are in place for subsidies to be recycled into alternative affordable housing provision.

Three types of affordable housing

Social rented housing is primarily housing managed by local councils and housing associations. The cost of social rented housing is controlled by a national rent regime. Other affordable housing providers may manage social rented housing under the same rental arrangements. This is what most people think of as “council housing”.

Intermediate affordable housing costs more than social housing but less than equivalent market housing. Camden controls the cost of intermediate affordable housing taking into account market costs and the eligible income groups. The Mayor’s February 2011 review indicated that eligible households were those with incomes of less than £64,000 per year (gross). The draft replacement London Plan indicates that he intends to raise the eligible income to £74,000 per year for intermediate affordable homes with 2-bedrooms or more.

How does income covert into housing costs? At the moment, in London, intermediate affordable housing should cost no more than 3.5x the household income threshold to buy and no more than 40% of net household income including rent and service charges.

Most intermediate affordable housing in Camden has been provided by housing associations. Intermediate affordable housing can include a range of tenures such as: rented housing, shared-ownership housing (where occupiers buy a share and rent the remainder) and low cost homes for sale.

Affordable rented housing means rents up to 80% of market levels, although the individual housing associations that manage this sort of affordable housing set their levels. Clearly, 80% of market levels is still far too high for many people. The Valuation Office’s October 2013 data put the average monthly rent of a 3-bed house in Camden at £2,976, 80% of which would be £2,380 – well beyond the reach of many.

Affordable rent was introduced as the grant available for affordable housing development for 2011-15 was halved from its previous level. It allows social housing providers charge up to 80% of market levels, and use the increased rental income to support additional borrowing to compensate for reduced grant.

Housing associations operating in areas with high land and market rental values such as West Hampstead will often have to manage affordable housing developed as part of private developments rather than developing their own – as is happening at West Hampstead Square, for example.

The associations have to cover their costs, so in expensive areas, they may be forced to charge the maximum 80% level, even though that is still a high absolute amount.

What does it mean on the ground?

Camden has changed its affordable housing quota recently. It used to be 50% of floorspace in any development of more than 10 units had to be “affordable housing”. It’s now moved to a sliding scale so 50% of any development of more than 50 units must be affordable, 40% of developments of more than 40 units, and so on.

In terms of the split between the various types of affordable housing, this has changed to 60% social rented and 40% intermediate housing, down from 70/30. This is, says Camden, because it believes that just over half of Camden residents in need of affordable housing could afford intermediate housing.

Further reading

No-one would pretend this was a simple topic to understand, and with national, city and borough policies to take into account, it’s impossible to say “affordable housing = x thousand pounds”.

If you want to delve into more detail, then I suggest
Camden Housing Strategy 2011-16 , which is the most accessible document and sets out more of the context.
Camden’s Planning Guidance goes into more detail
The 2011 London Plan on housing explains the Mayor’s position
Camden Core Strategy CS6 (Housing) is the official policy document

Property News: Rental Standard gives tenants confidence

Boris Johnson has recently launched London’s first rental standard, a ‘city-wide badge of accreditation’, to help Londoners rent with confidence and ensure landlords are complying with the law.

We’ve known for a long time that tenants in London want to rent property through an accredited Lettings agency (in our 2014 tenant survey 80% of respondents said they would rent only through an accredited agency) but with several industry bodies in operation there’s a need for a unified body.

The London Rental Standard will automatically allow members of the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA), National Approved Lettings Scheme (NALS), Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and UK Association of Letting Agents (UKALA) to receive their badge. By bringing together several landlord accreditation schemes, one badge will be awarded to all letting agents and landlords who meet the London Rental Standards, making it easier for tenants to identify transparent agents.

We often hear that London is a market in itself and this is true for lettings as well as sales. Currently more than 25% of London’s households live in rented properties, and that’s expected to increase to 40% over the next ten years. With that in mind, anything that makes renting in the capital safer has to be a step in the right direction.

By signing up to the London Rental Standard, lettings agents and landlords will agree to meet some ‘significant core commitments’, including transparent fees, better property conditions, better communication between landlords and tenants, improved response times for repairs and maintenance, and protected deposits.

In numbers
40% – expected London households living in rented homes by the mid-2020s
85% – landlords unaware of the core legislation that protects renters
61% – landlords with no professional management training
100,000 – target of London Rental Standard accredited letting agents and landlord by 2016

I think the London Rental Standard can only be seen as a real positive, and it’s a step towards regulating the entire lettings market. However there are a few unanswered questions that I’d like to see addressed, including what will happen to agencies that don’t comply. I’m also conscious that the London Rental Standard needs to raise awareness by continually pushing it in the press, so more consumers are aware of what they are doing.

Paramount is celebrating 25 years in West Hampstead this week, so I’ve been thinking a lot about the state of the lettings market when I joined the company in 1998. Back then there were no deposit schemes or EPCs, and rules and regulations weren’t the same as they are now. Lettings has come a long way and smartened its act up, and perhaps in a few years time a London Rental Standard accreditation will be as mandatory as a Gas Safety Certificate.

Spencer Lawrence
Lettings Director
Paramount Properties
150 West End Lane
West Hampstead
020 7644 2314

request a lettings valuation

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Build high or fiddle while Rome burns?

In my last Property News article I extolled the virtues of a rising London property market and the benefits to the economy of foreign investment via the ‘multiplier effect’. Some of you may be surprised to learn that I’m not a capitalist at heart, but I suppose I was just getting fed up with all of the constant talk of housing bubbles and ‘where will it all end?’. It was more a case of: there’s very little any of us can to do change it, so it may be better to embrace the positive aspects of it. But is that true and what might be the long term consequences?

Clearly, opinion will be divided based on whether you are a property owner or not. But don’t we all have a responsibility to future generations to consider the very serious situation that London and the UK finds itself in? The harsh reality is that we are not building enough homes to satisfy the ever increasing population. A mixture of red tape planning bureaucracy and policy, NIMBYism and economic conditions mean that we have very little hope of making this any better without serious reform and a change of policy and attitude.

The Barker review highlighted the severity of the situation back in 2004, and the Department for Communities and Local Government now estimates that we need to build 232,000 new homes in the UK every year between now and 2033. At the moment, only 120,000 homes are being built each year. The Greater London Authority’s 2012 Round Projections of population growth for London shows an increase of 2 million residents between now and 2034. This doesn’t account for the changing way in which we now live; more single person dwellings or for our longer life expectancy.

The numbers don’t add up and it really cannot be any surprise that we have double digit growth in the London property market. What is more concerning is that we don’t seem to have any policies that are directly addressing this problem.

The last Labour government’s response to the Barker report was to introduce a regional level of planning under which each region had to file its own plan outlining policy for development within its region. By the time the coalition government came to power, very few of these regional plans had been filed and approved and the new government decided that these only created more red tape and that the answer to our planning problems was to decentralise planning policy by empowering local communities and increasing permitted development rights.

The grand plan is to let local residents decide on what’s best for the area and to free up buildings and sites for development by removing red tape. The regional tiers were promptly abolished and the Localism Act became law in 2011.

Nick Clegg declared that the Localism Act was “a move from big government to Big Society”. He went on to say “It marks the beginning of a power shift away from central government to the people, families and communities of Britain”. Great sound bites at a time when trust in government was at such a low point.

The Localism Act allows for the creation of Neighbourhood Development Forums (NDFs) which can formulate a Neighbourhood Development Plan (NDPs) outlining policy for the designated area and identifying sites for development. The potential problem with such plans is that they must be approved by the local authority and also comply with the local authority’s planning policy and the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). In London, they also have to comply with the London Plan.

It seems to me that actually nothing is being decentralised, as all plans have to comply with central policy to be approved. In fact, West Hampstead’s NDP, which was one of the first, is still awaiting final approval from Camden.

Another worrying aspect of these plans is that they cannot actually veto any planning decisions, but they do present another layer of statutory planning guidelines that developers must adhere to and that objectors can cite in any attempts to delay or block proposals.

There will also be a concern in some areas that NDFs may not be representative of the whole community, although local authorities do require evidence that significant efforts have been made to address this before granting approval.

Preservation of the look and feel of our area is also a concern for those living within it. The rows of Victorian terraced houses in West Hampstead and the red brick properties and mansion blocks of South Hampstead are prized and protected assets of our area. But how can we balance the preservation of such areas with the need for building more homes? The Camden plan for West Hampstead says it “expects development in the growth areas to be predominantly housing and seeks to encourage high density development”. By contrast, the local NDP states

Recent development in the past decade has raised a number of concerns, particularly as the population of the area grows, more new homes are built and the population density of the area increases. For many residents the height of new buildings is a key issue. In an area largely made up of houses and buildings between 2 and 5 storeys high, new developments of six storeys or higher are likely to cause strong objections.

Such opposing views must be commonplace across most of London and highlight the difficulty of building enough new homes to satisfy demand whilst preserving the local environment and feel of a community.

West Hampstead has six potential sites identified for redevelopment and arguments over the height and size are likely to be ongoing with planners and the NDF for some time.

It is surely inevitable that we will have to give up on these principles of preserving the height of buildings in London. Sci-fi movies show a vision of future cities with buildings reaching into the clouds with a mix of social and private housing. If we want to provide future generations with affordable housing in London whilst protecting our countryside should we not be considering constructing these buildings now? Such projects would also ease the burden on transport infrastructure and improve the quality of life of key workers forced to move increasingly further out due to increased property prices. Other cities in the world have already accepted the inevitability of this.

The key objective of the NPPF is to achieve sustainable development. Sustainability means building that would not be detrimental to future generations. Isn’t it time we developed our planning policies to cope with these future demands rather than fiddling while Rome burns?

Darryl Jenkins
Associate Director
Benham & Reeves
West Hampstead
020 7644 9300
Follow @BenhamReeves

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Authors recognised as Ballymore apartment blocks named

It’s been a long time coming, but Ballymore has finally announced the names of its tower blocks, following the competition West Hampstead Life ran back in August.

Only the first five blocks have been named so far and Ballymore hasn’t decided which name will go with which block. I’m told that the two rear blocks (which contain the affordable housing component of the development) will be named in line with the others though they’re still deciding on those names.

Ballymore has chosen authors with local connections as the theme, and the winner of the competition is Ed Fordham, who suggested three of the five names and was, coincidentally, also one of the original agitators for the names to be chosen in this way. All submissions were sent to Ballymore anonymously however.

The first five blocks will be called Hardy, Orwell, Beckford, Lessing and Milne.

All five authors lived at one time or another (and for varying lengths of time!) in West Hampstead.

Here come the boys... (Hardy, Orwell, Beckford, Milne)

Here come the boys… (Hardy, Orwell, Beckford, Milne)

And here’s the Nobel prize-winning Doris Lessing in 1975. Lessing died in November last year having lived in West Hampstead for some 25 years.

More than 50 people submitted offical suggestions for the seven blocks with varying degrees of seriousness. More people left comments on the original article (including one who got most of the names that won). I won’t list all the entries, but here are a selection of the thoughtful, amusing and cheeky.

Classical references were popular: Seven wonders of the world, seven against Thebes (niche), and the seven hills of Rome.

Ephesus Adrastus Aventine
Giza Amphiaraus Capitoline
Alexandria Capaneus Esquiline
Babylon Hippomedon Quirinal
Halicarnassus Parthenopeus Palatine
Rhodes Polynices Caelian
Olympus Tydeus Viminal

The developers had said that “Connections” was their keyword in marketing, and some played on the transport links both at home and abroad

Marylebone Marais Paris
St Pancras Vendome Toulouse
Fenchurch Concorde Lyon
Kings Cross Vosges Marseille
Euston Bastille Strasbourg
Paddington Madeleine Avignon
Waterloo Châtelet Grenoble

Famous people loomed large, many living, some dead. Lots of submissions covered broadly similar ground with Dusty Springfield, Gerry Anderson, Emma Thompson, and Dirk Bogarde all featuring prominently. Camila Batmanghelidjh always seemed like a stretch though.

No-one would be surprised that Ballymore didn’t choose trees varieties, the suggestion of a few people (well before the tree dispute earlier this year). However two more unusual “vegetation” suggestions came in the form of English grape varieties and… inevitably… cucumber varieties.

Bacchus Vectina
Huxelrebe Olympian
Ortega Fountain
Seyval Blanc Marketmore
Rondo Corinto
Reichensteiner Kekiri
Madeleine Angevine Wautoma

Some of the odder suggestions came from people who got hung up on there being 7 towers. The seven dwarves (“Hi, I live in Grumpy House”), the seven days of the week, and the seven colours of the rainbow were all suggested twice. We had the last seven monarchs (which gets confusing with two Georges and two Edwards), seven planets and seven (rather than 8) points of the compass.

My favourite “whacky” suggestion though was to name the tower blocks after the Secret Seven: Peter, Janet, Jack, Barbara, George, Pam and Colin. Genius.

There were surprisingly few, shall we say, “satirical” entries, though someone did suggest “Totally, Out, Of, Keeping, With, West, Hampstead”. I don’t think that made the shortlist.

Alongside the winner, a genuine special mention to Jamie Murray, who put some serious thought into it and chose names linked to William Beckford. Beckford, whose name will appear on one of the buildings, owned West End House, which stood on the site of the development. Here’s Jamie’s submission in full:

As the towers in the West Hampstead Square development are to be built on the site of the old West End House, surely their names should be selected to commemorate eccentric author William Beckford, “The Sultan of Lansdown Tower”, who grew up there? So “Lansdown” is one obvious suggestion, but what about “Fonthill”, after the abbey Beckford built himself in Wiltshire?

Vathek, the antihero of the gothic novel for which Beckford is best remembered, is probably a bit too gothic, but what about “Carathis”, surely the most memorable character in the book? She’s based on Beckford’s own mother, Maria, who ended her life at West End House. And how about “Istakar”, after the destination of Vathek’s quest? It’s an old name for Persepolis, and has a lovely ring to it.

We ought not to forget “Azemia”, the heroine of one of Beckford’s more satirical works. Finally, while northwest London is already graced with a Mozart estate, we really must remember Beckford’s music tutor somehow: so what about “Amadeus” or “Wolfgang”?

So my suggestions are: Lansdown, Fonthill, Carathis, Istakar, Azemia, Amadeus, Wolfgang.

But the winner is Ed Fordham whose full list was: “AA Milne, George Orwell, Gerry Anderson, Thomas Hardy, Dusty Springfield, Joe Orton, WH Ainsworth”. Well done Ed, a meal for two at The Wet Fish Café awaits.

Property News: Coping with longer tenancies

It’s been a busy first quarter for Paramount as we’ve made some major changes to how we manage properties. As the length of the average tenancy increases and the private rented sector becomes a long-term housing solution, we have to adapt to ensure procedures such as inventories continue to be fair.

In order to combat the lack of knowledge about a property that the shift towards longer tenancies presents, we need to take a proactive and preventative approach to property management. It’s the only way we can protect a landlord’s asset over a long tenancy. We now offer landlords a regular audit of their property during the course of any tenancy which will allow us to spot minor problems before they escalate, such as old water stains from previous leaks or deteriorating wooden windows, ensuring minor issues are identified and fixed long before they become an issue for tenants or landlords.

We will be enlisting an independent inventory company to provide this service at a cost to Paramount. Inventory clerks are trained, property-savvy professionals who are able to spot small issues before they become big problems. By using an independent, impartial and professional inventory company instead of our in-house management team, landlords will know that all listed works will be recommended. In keeping with our ethos, the inventory company we will be using are an independent family owned business who we have worked with for many years.

As tenancies get longer there is no doubt that letting agencies need to adapt it order to meet the challenges this change presents. It’s a topic we think a lot about and we will continue to find innovative ways to improve our service inline with these changes.

Agents Giving

We are thrilled to have been named Fundraising Champions for the second year running by ‘Agents Giving’, a charity that encourages and supports agents to raise funds for established and recognised charities in the UK.

We all become blinkered sometimes to what is going on outside of our own world. I believe that it is important to help people first hand in order to see what’s going on inside our local community as well as donating and fundraising for charities like Agents Giving. We’re proud to have been named Fundraising Champions for the second consecutive year, but the real reward is seeing first hand how charities like Ashford Place and Thames Reach improve the lives of others.

Talking of charity leads us nicely onto…

Brent Foodbank
Brent Foodbank, located between Kilburn and Willesden Green, urgently need supplies to donate to those in need in our community. Paramount is working with Brent Foodbank as a donation drop-off point; this means you can donate any non-perishable food items and toiletries six days a week at our office, 150 West End Lane, which we will then deliver to the centre.

Each week we’ll let you know on Twitter and Facebook what the Foodbank needs the most. This week toiletries are in high demand, so if you’re able to donate shower gel, toilet roll, soap, toothbrushes or shampoo please drop them into our office.

Spencer Lawrence
Lettings Director
Paramount Properties
150 West End Lane
West Hampstead
020 7644 2314

request a lettings valuation

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£645,000 profit on Stephen Fry’s former house

“I fell in love with this extraordinary house. It’s an ordinary terraced house, but an architect scooped out the inside and created all these different levels. There are two trees growing through the middle.”

That was Stephen Fry, in 2002, talking about his house on Sherriff Road in West Hampstead. It’s now on the market again, four years after Fry sold it, for just shy of £2.5 million.

Fry sold the house around the same time he split from his long-term partner Daniel Cohen. According to the Daily Mail, Cohen received all the proceeds from the sale.

The house sold for £1,850,000 back in 2010 and it’s back on the market with The Modern House at £2,495,000. It is a spectactular property – five bedrooms over three floors (although the floors are far from traditional in layout), and what the agents now selling it term “significant spatial drama”. That’ll be the tree in the middle.

The agents, who specalise in architecturally significant properties, explain more: “The house was redesigned in its entirety in the 1980s by the architect Brian Muller, who stripped it back to the structural fabric of brick, joists and lath, and planted a tree that grows through the middle of the space. Huge glazed up-and-over doors flood the interior with natural light and allow it to be opened up to the south-facing garden, providing a seamless transition between inside and out. Metal service ducts and boldly exposed pipework are a nod to the High Tech movement pioneered by architects such as Norman Foster and Richard Rogers.”

Assuming that the property goes for at least its asking price, it’s a 35% price rise in a little under four years, well ahead of the estimated 25% price rise for the street as a whole over that time.

Cheapest flat in West Hampstead is relatively the most expensive (but tiny)

A studio flat in Hillfield Road, West Hampstead has just gone on the market for £160,000 – a bargain if you want to live on one of the area’s most desirable roads.

As you’d expect, the downside to Foxtons’ low asking price for this room (+ shower room) is its tiny size – just 11 ft square (121 sq ft). How big is that? Well you couldn’t fit a full-size snooker table in there. It would be 8 inches too long.

The master bedroom...

The master bedroom…

It may be the cheapest property in West Hampstead (according to Zoopla and Rightmove), but it also works out at possibly the most expensive per square foot, at £1,322.

This is more than 30% over what you would expect to pay for most larger studio and 1-bed flats, which at the moment usually work out at between £600-£900 per sq ft.

The cheapest studio in the yet-to-be-built apartments at West Hampstead Square, which set a new benchmark for flat prices in the area, came in at £908/sq ft with an asking price of £405,000. It is only just over 3.5 times the size of this property, so still hardly large.

However, if you’re shopping around with a budget of less than £200,000, you’ll know there’s not much else available. An ex-council studio flat in Brassey Road has just received an asking price offer of £175,000 after less than a week on the market, according to Peter Gobey at Greene & Co.


Open plan kitchen/living room

Will the – ahem – “bijoux” Hillfield Road apartment sell? Peter Gobey thinks so, “with the market as it is now, I’d expect it to sell as a pied-à-terre or a rental investment.”

Could this tiny living space be a solution for buyers priced out of West Hampstead’s “bonkers property market“? It may be more appealing to commute to London from Barcelona, or to invest your £160,000 budget in this rather nice 4-bedroom house – in Scotland.

Is the property market bonkers?

‘Bonkers’. I hear the word repeatedly whenever discussing the West Hampstead property sales market with buyers, sellers and fellow agents alike. Even people with no recent first-hand experience tell me it’s bonkers.

Newspapers and websites tell us how bonkers it is. A headline in The Sun on Friday reads ‘Property up 2% in a month!’ and goes on to say that this is ‘fuelling fears a property bubble is looming’. Hardly a day goes by without The Daily Express fixating on the impending doom across its front page.

But how bonkers is it? Is it really a bad thing for London and Londoners? A recent article in the Guardian got me thinking; it tells how a central London property investment company has recently set up a £100m fund (or ‘warchest’ if you’re reading The Sun) to buy 1 and 2 bedroom apartments in prime central locations. The company’s reasoning is that the property price inflation seen over the last 40 years is set to continue at 9–10% per annum for the next 30 years at least. They say they can see no reason for this to change and it’s difficult to argue that they’re wrong: a growing population, strict planning laws, conservation areas, limited space and foreign demand and investment are unlikely to change. Their prediction – and gamble – is that by 2050 a central London flat will cost £36m.

This seems unimaginable and enormously unfair for many people, but made me realise that this is one of the reasons London is such a great city. The London property market creates huge wealth and prosperity due to the ‘multiplier’ effect of capital injection into services, employment and investment.

Much is made of overseas investors buying properties in London and never living in them but, in my experience, these people employ local surveyors, solicitors and agents when buying and then embark on expensive refurbishment programmes which employ local contractors and firms, increasing the value of the property and in some cases, gentrifying poorer neighbourhoods, setting new benchmark values for other properties in the process.

The London construction industry alone counts for 10% of the UK’s GDP and employs nearly 2 million people. Office development in London is now at a 4-year high with 9.7 million sq ft under construction and notable recent landmark sales including Google’s purchase of its new headquarters at Kings Cross. The knock-on effect of such investment is huge.

This wealth generation also helps create demand and employment opportunities that attract people from all over the world to London, adding to the multi-cultural mix of Londoners that want to buy property whilst giving it such vibrancy and diversification. This is what we all love about London – would we really want West Hampstead and West End Lane to feel any different?

Homeowners in London also benefit from the consistent rise in prices by being able to unlock large amounts of tax free equity in their homes which they can reinvest into businesses or help future generations get on the housing ladder.

Of course, those yet to get on the housing ladder, or who need to move to a bigger property, are finding it increasingly hard to make London their home as house price rises outpace wage inflation. The risk is that while London might become more diverse in some ways, in others communities like West Hampstead could become more homogenous as only the relatively affluent can afford to buy here, while everyone else is forced out of the city and onto those crammed commuter trains that run through our Thameslink station every day.

So, yes, it does all seem a bit bonkers, and perhaps inequitable for those that don’t live in London or are priced out, but the ripple effect of investment and increasing prices is felt across the whole of the UK eventually. It also makes London an incredibly vibrant, eclectic and exciting city.

Darryl Jenkins
Associate Director
Benham & Reeves
West Hampstead
020 7644 9300
Follow @BenhamReeves

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Agents’ boards: Good start; could do better

A striking change... but Brian Lack still remains

A striking change… but Brian Lack still remains

If you’ve been out and about in West Hampstead lately, you might have noticed a few changes. You may also remember our article on Alan Grogan’s petition a few weeks ago to officially rid West End Lane of estate agents’ boards. At the moment, the rule is that boards should come down 14 days after a property is let or sold, though in practice this rarely happens.

As a result of West Hampstead Life contacting agents about the article, many voluntarily removed all their boards from the high street. Cedar, Paramount, Dutch & Dutch, Parkheath and Vita were the first to comply, although a few Cedar boards still remain, including one from a whole other era of branding.

It’s not clear who is responsible for signs such as the one above Mamacita, which has disintegrated and can’t be easily traced to any agent. Perhaps one of the other agents might take it upon itself to do the kind thing and remove this board as well.

No change here...

No change here…

The boards now most prominent on West End Lane are those of Greene & Co and Abacus, as well as a few from agents not based in West Hampstead.

Count the Abacus boards

Count the Abacus boards

James Altman, lettings manager at Abacus, today confirmed that he has ordered all Abacus boards to be removed from West End Lane. He expects this to be done by early next week.

Altman acknowledged that some of his boards had been up for some time (one has been in place so long it has its own anti-pigeon spikes). Abacus manages the buildings opposite its offices, and claims that the freeholders are fine with the boards being up, but says that the agency sees itself as part of the community and that if the community wants the signs down, then it is happy to comply.

Abacus Pigeon

David Pollock, managing director of Greene & Co, said that he “certainly won’t be objecting to the ruling” if it comes into effect, and would be happy to remove his boards from West End Lane if he was satisfied it would result in a “level playing field”.

It won’t be clear to everyone what a ‘level playing field’ means in this context. According to Greene’s website, it has no properties for sale or rent on this stretch of West End Lane at the moment yet there are boards up. Given the 14-day rule, one must assume that either these properties have just come off the market, or that a willingness to abide by the legislation works only when everyone follows suit.

However, surely it’s the company that keeps its boards up after others have removed theirs as a gesture of goodwill that is the one tilting this mysterious metaphorical playing field in its favour – especially if these boards also exceed the 14-day rule.

Indeed, Pollock admitted that he is “slightly cautious” about removing his boards, which he sees as a valuable marketing tool, while those of other agents are still up. Yet, most other agents have now removed their boards. Over to you Mr Pollock.

Spot the difference...

A few signs have come down – but too many remain

Meanwhile, Alan Grogan is pleased with how successful his campaign has been. His petition gathered the support of 181 local residents in just two weeks, and has been submitted to Camden’s planning department in support of the Regulation 7 application that would ban all boards from the street.

According to Alan, Camden has confirmed that no estate agents have formally objected to the proposed application. Planning officer John Sheehy will submit the request in the coming weeks, and expects a decision about two to three months after this. Hopefully by then, the agents will have all voluntarily removed their signs; nevertheless, regulation would ensure they don’t creep back – and alert agents from outside the area that West End Lane should be a board-free street.

The whole process seems rather tortuous, but it’s one that Alan – and Camden – expect to pay off. In the short term, however, it seems that most local agents agree that it’s in everyone’s interests to tidy up West End Lane.

Cedar Estates boards come down [video]

Cedar sign

True to its word, Cedar Estates – the agent with the most boards on West End Lane – has been removing them today. Four other estate agents as of writing (Paramount, Vita, Parkheath and Dutch & Dutch) have also pledged to remove their boards. If you want to ensure none of them creep back, and that other agents are forced to follow suit, sign the petition. Camden council needs your signatures in order to apply for the ban. Once West End Lane is resolved, we may be able to tackle other streets.

Boards coming down. Photo via @guglee_tweet

Boards coming down. Photo via @guglee_tweet

No more estate agents’ boards on West End Lane?

West Hampstead resident Alan Grogan is a big fan of West End Lane. The only thing he doesn’t like is the large number of estate agents’ boards that he feels are a blight on the otherwise attractive street.

In conjunction with Camden council, he’s launching a petition to ban all agents boards from the road. One of the biggest offenders, Cedar Estates, has already told West Hampstead Life that it will pre-emptively comply by the end of next week.

Estate agent boards west end lane

Estate agents have to remove boards no more than 14 days after the advertised property has been let or sold. In reality they are often left for months or even years. In fact, some have been there so long they are rotting away with just the frame left attached to the buildings.

Estate agent board frame only

Oliver Kent of Vita Properties, whose name you may not know but whose face you’ll certainly recognise, even said that “our policy is to leave them up as long as possible” for the visibility and marketing.

This property on West End Lane was let two months ago

This property on West End Lane was let two months ago

Not a sign of the times

Alan argues that as the vast majority of people now search for property online, and with Rightmove hitting the 50 million pageviews mark in a single day for the first time recently, there is no longer any need for them to be there at all.

Alan found that many locals agreed that West End Lane, and other roads in the area, should be board-free. He lodged a complaint with Camden Council, and asked them to put in place a “Regulation 7 Direction” for West End Lane. This would forbid estate agents from putting up any advertising boards.

He didn’t hear back from Camden at first, but in the meantime the council had conducted its own survey and reached the same conclusion. The environment team at Camden is therefore applying for a Regulation 7 order to cover West End Lane from the tube station up to David’s Deli and Feng Sushi.

David Matthews, from Dutch & Dutch, confirmed that he had received a letter from Camden explaining this. “Dutch & Dutch are fully behind the campaign”, he said. He also agreed it was “in everyone’s interest, including estate agents, to tidy up the area.”

Many different agents’ boards are in evidence on West End Lane, but one in particular seems very well represented.


Perhaps surprisingly, Darren Yanover, managing director of Cedar Estates, said that he also agrees with the ban on boards, saying it will make the high street “look more attractive”. He has pledged to pre-emptively remove all Cedar Estates boards from West End Lane next week. He said “We want to be the first agents to remove all boards and lead by example.”

Regulation 7 orders already exist for many other streets in the borough (see Camden’s full list here), but agents are not always aware of the restrictions. No signs are allowed in Broadhurst Gardens, for example, but a rather large V-shaped board appeared above No. 184 recently. David Iny, director at Grovelands Investments, confirmed that he did not know about the restrictions and would ensure the board was taken down. He was as good as his word, and the sign has now been removed.


Vita’s Oliver Kent admitted that from a business point of view, it would be “disappointing” if the ban came in, as it remains the “cheapest and most effective form of marketing”. However, he agreed that the street would benefit from being board-free and said that Vita would comply with the regulation were it to be brought in.

Although the agents we spoke to seem broadly in favour of the move and happy to comply, it does seem that regulatory compulsion is needed. Cedar’s Darren Yanover summed it up, saying that a blanket ban would “create a level playing field”, as it would apply equally to all agents.

Sign the petition

What happens now? Camden’s letter to Alan Grogan included the following:

“We have decided that we will apply to the Secretary of State [for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Owen Paterson] for further controls on the street which will allow us to make it board-free.

When we write to the Secretary of State we will need to explain why we are seeking to introduce these additional controls. We will refer to survey results, numbers of enforcement complaints received, impact on visual appearance etc.”

Therefore Alan is appealing for the support of the public to gather as many signatures as possible in support of the West End Lane board ban by February 18th. You can find, and sign, the petition here.

How Twitter saved Kirstie & Phil

Lots of you watched Location Location Location last night. But did you know that it was Twitter that saved the couple who wanted to move to West Hampstead?


In June 2013, Kirstie and Phil were in West Hampstead scouting for a 3-bed flat with a garden for Tam & Krish, a couple with a young daughter, who had very specific location requirements – even down to the exact streets they wanted: Hillfield and Mill Lane.

With a budget of £600,000 most locals could have told them that they were in cloud-cuckoo land. Kirstie agreed – around here, even six months ago, they’d almost certainly have needed an extra £100,000. This meant “compromise”, the watchword of Location ever since it began.

After Kirstie entertainingly accorded West Hampstead the status of a borough, the couple went on to describe West Hampstead as having a “really nice community feel”. Tom from The Kitchen Table was on camera to reinforce that idea.

West Hampstead: "With its village feel, independent shops and cafés, and green space"

West Hampstead: “With its village feel, independent shops and cafés, and green space”

Laura Locke from La Brocca sits outside the bar

Laura Locke from La Brocca sits outside the bar

Over a drink in The Alliance, the couple told Kirstie that they’d been looking for three years on-and-off. The first property they saw had a small kitchen tagged onto the living room and got an instant no. The problem then became the lack of supply.

“Given that we knew you liked this street,” said Phil, strolling down Hillfield Road with Kirstie and the couple, “we leafleted the street. And it’s only via that that the owners of this flat responded and said they would sell the flat.”

Close Phil, but not quite what I was told. This property actually came to their attention because the owner saw me tweeting about the programme filming in the area. He contacted the production company and … to cut a tediously long story short … they bought the flat at £600,000.

Meanwhile, during filming, Kirstie was busy tweeting about the litter problem in the area.

During the screening last night, there were both the inevitable howls of outrage on Twitter from people at how little you can get in West Hampstead for £600,000, and even more predictably dull comments about how it was really Kilburn (yawn). If you want to watch on catch-up, here’s the link.


Property News: Camden rent rises trail London average

The rental market in January has been very mixed. There are lots of deals being done at the entry level, with cheaper flats being snapped up fast,but at the top end asking prices are being clipped.

Demand for properties has been strong in January but we are also seeing more properties coming onto the market, which might start to balance supply and demand. We know from experience that applicants will come if you have the right properties, and an increase in supply leads to a higher volume of applicant enquiries. We are getting plenty of enquiries from potential landlords and we’re valuing several new properties each day.

In an area like West Hampstead there are lots of excellent applicants out there but, as we started to see towards the end of 2013, tenants are looking for value for money. The rental demographic has shifted and high calibre applicants are looking to rent for the long term. Their wants and needs have changed and this leads into what we discussed in our last property news; that landlords need to invest in the product if they want to attract and maintain quality tenants.

Looking to the future

Encouraging landlords to invest in their product is a start, but in order for this to be a success for both tenants and landlords they need to fit the right demographic to the product. Last year we ran a series of polls through our West Hampstead Life articles, and your feedback prompted us to ask more questions in order to understand what people want when renting a property.

We’re currently running a short survey to understand what people want when they rent a property. If you are currently renting or are looking to rent in the future, please take three minutes to complete the survey. You’ll get the chance to leave your email address at the end to win £250 John Lewis vouchers, and we’ll share the data in our May Property News blog for West Hampstead Life.

Take the survey here.

Housing stock in London

This week on Twitter the issue of local housing stock was raised. In light of this I was interested to read a recent Centre for Cities outlook that looked at housing stock and prices together to provide a useful insight into a city’s housing market.

London features within the top 10 cities with the highest housing stock growth, coming in at 9th place. Additionally among the top-placed cities, only five (Swindon, Milton Keynes, Gloucester, London, Peterborough) have experienced housing supply growth in accordance to their population growth rate.

Average private rent levels in Camden

In December 2013, rent in London increased by 1.6% compared with the same month a year before, compared to an increase in the rest of England of 0.7%. Although the London property market flourishes in comparison to the rest of the UK, rents across London boroughs vary dramatically. I thought it would be interesting to break the average private rent levels down further and compare average private rent prices increases in Camden compared to London as a whole and the neighbouring boroughs of Brent and Islington.

private rents

Between 2012 and 2013 private rents in London increased by 13.04%. In comparison private rents in Camden over the same time period increased by 1.29%, far behind the London average.

Private rent increases in the neighbouring boroughs of Brent and Islington were higher than Camden over the same time period, seeing increases of 3.68% and 7.44% respectively.

Rents aren’t rising as fast as they once were because rental yields in London are almost insignificant compared to capital appreciation. Previously landlords wanted an investment vehicle that guaranteed them at least a 5% yield, but capital appreciation provides more value than any yield.

The importance of a good team

Towards the end of last year I started to think about what the New Year could throw at us, and I quickly found out. In December I underwent major back surgery following three very uncomfortable months. Thankfully I had time to prepare the lettings team to ensure everything ran smoothly in my absence, but in the first week of January our ever popular negotiator Dominic Moyes broke his ankle and is still unable to work. It’s been a big challenge not having him around but it’s shown me the importance of having a good team around you.

Having two senior members of staff recovering isn’t ideal for any business, but last year we worked hard to build an exceptional team and the internal restructure that took place meant the business was capable of dealing with this unfortunate ripple. Ten members of the lettings team are individually ARLA qualified and most have experience in different areas of the business. Having knowledgeable and experienced staff able to step up successfully into different roles has been fantastic to watch and I’m excited for the year ahead!

Don’t forget to enter our #WhampPlanet competition! Collect your free West Hampstead bag from Paramount, tweet a picture of it on your holidays to @west_hampstead and you could win vouchers and prizes from West End Lane Books. West Hampstead bags have already made an appearance in Antarctica, Argentina and New York – where will it end up next?!

Spencer Lawrence
Lettings Director
Paramount Properties
150 West End Lane
West Hampstead
020 7644 2314

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Property market outlook: 9-12% rise over 2014

Thank you to West Hampstead Life for highlighting my market predictions for 2013 in January of last year. Thankfully, according to Rightmove, I wasn’t too embarrassed and figures for West Hampstead showed a year-on-year increase in prices of 7.5% against my prediction of 5% to 10%.

However, I suspect that this figure is quite conservative and, in my opinion, we have actually seen asking price rises of closer to 15% for some locations within West and South Hampstead.

This year saw us break the £1,000 per sq ft barrier for flats in South Hampstead with the sale of a garden flat in Aberdare Gardens in April. This sale seems to have set the benchmark for prices in these roads and asking prices for such properties seem to have risen relentlessly since. In fact, it is now commonplace to see £1,000 per sq ft being asked for apartments with no outside space or off street parking.

West Hampstead has seen similar increases although haven’t yet reached the dizzy heights of South Hampstead. Victorian terraced houses in the Greek and African Roads (Agamemnon, Achilles, Sumatra etc.) can now expect to achieve £1.4 to £1.5m (more with a loft conversion).

Of particular note this year was a house on Narcissus Road that had been developed to include a basement and loft conversion totalling 2700 sq ft which sold for £2.25m – to my knowledge, the only house in one of these roads to sell in excess of £2m. (More on basement conversions in a later issue). Flats in these roads are also now fetching approximately £750 per square ft (depending on condition and location).

On the other side of Fortune Green are the relatively new developments of the flats in Alfred Court and mews houses of Rose Joan mews. In 2013, we sold a 2 bed flat in Alfred Court in excess of £800 per sq ft and 2 mews houses at close to £1,000 per sq ft each in rose Joan Mews. This proves that the demand for new build and ‘maintenance free’ properties still commands a premium, even a few years after the build. This is also supported by the success of the Ballymore development at West Hampstead Square which is achieving in excess of £800 per sq ft for flats with no parking.

In my view, an area of interest for 2014 is that bounded by Sheriff Road, Kilburn High Road and West End lane. Last year saw a developed Victorian house on Gladys Road sell for just over £1.9m and an upper maisonette in good condition for just over £800,000. These roads show signs of building and renovation activity and seem to be undergoing a change in feel and occupation. They are also centrally located and of attractive Victorian housing stock.

In 2013, we also saw the development of renegotiating agreed sales upwards within a relatively short time of agreeing the sale. This awkward and uncomfortable process is a result of slow conveyancing caused by pedantic lenders and unmotivated solicitors combined with the rising market and press hysteria about London prices.

Ignoring the ethical argument, it’s difficult to disagree with vendors who could quite easily have remarketed a couple of months later and made themselves significantly more money. Especially, as the properties they wanted to move to are increasing in value in the same way.

An example from 2013 probably best sums up the market. We sold a townhouse in Parsifal Road which completed in May, one month after the initial offer was accepted. Two weeks after collecting the keys, the new owner had a change in personal circumstances and asked us to remarket the property. After only a few days of viewings we had agreed a sale at a price 8% higher than that agreed five or six weeks earlier. You can now see why I think 7.5% for the year is a bit mean!

The elephant in the room for 2014 is interest rates. All the other factors in terms of supply, economic recovery and foreign investors remain the same and I am expecting a strong start to the year with prices continuing to rise in our area. Most pundits are predicting rises in interest rates in 2015 but some are saying it will be towards the end of this year.

Almost certainly, the London and UK housing market will maintain its recovery and prices will continue to rise. The Governor of the Bank of England says he has measures in place to control the housing market but it will be interesting to see if any of them can slow the market without resorting to the traditional vehicle of interest rate rises.

My view is that history teaches us everything and that economics are cyclical. At some point, without further intervention in terms of planning and development (also for a later article), the London market will need to pause for breath, but that won’t be in 2014. I expect to see rises in values of between 9% and 12% in our area, with most of that growth coming in the first half of the year.

I would welcome your opinions and reaction to this. Also, it goes without saying, but if you would like a current valuation of your property please get in touch.

Happy New year.

Darryl Jenkins
Associate Director
Benham & Reeves
West Hampstead
020 7644 9300
Follow @BenhamReeves

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Did our property pundit get it right?

The prediction by our property sales pundit Darryl Jenkins of local estate agent Benham & Reeves was that house prices should rise by 5-10% in West Hampstead this year.

He described this as being bullish. In fact he was bang on – according to Zoopla, property prices in the area have risen 7.5% this year.

Does that mean that The Standard was right, or behind the times, when it suggested that West Hampstead was “an area of hidden value waiting to be unlocked” in an article that pushed the £1.5 million penthouses in the Mill Apartments.

Rising property prices are good for homeowners but not good for those trying to get a foot on the property ladder. Demand far outstrips supply and the arrival of developments such as West Hampstead Square together with the long-standing attractions such as the transport links, is pushing prices out of the reach of many.

Even rents are becoming unaffordable – as local Sam Cookney discovered when he looked into the cost of renting in West Hampstead compared to renting in his beloved Barcelona AND commuting to London. His piece was widely picked up but also largely misunderstood.

Despite all this, north-west London was ranked Britain’s 7th unhappiest place to live.

Special agents: Licence to rent

Would you rent a property through an unlicensed agent?

Place your vote and we’ll update you on the results on Twitter next week.

Paramount is passionate about compulsory licensing for letting agents. Residential lettings is an unregulated industry and we believe that all agencies and lettings negotiators should become licensed members of a regulatory board in order to let property.

Licensing is imperative to giving consumers real confidence when dealing with agencies and individual staff members who are regulated by common codes of practice. Many agents invest significant time and money to ensure all these requirements are met but are still tarnished by unregulated agents who continue to stoke the public’s negative image of agency.

Becoming a licensed agency is good for generating new business too. More than two-thirds of landlords who use a lettings agency say they consider whether the agent is licensed or regulated when deciding which one to use*. Unfortunately this is not mirrored by tenants and we are committed to redressing this balance.

Industry bodies
An agency that has voluntarily joined the Association of Residential Lettings Agents (ARLA) or National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA) shows that it is happy to adhere to the highest standards and meet these external organisations’ customer service standard. For instance, all ARLA members are required to work within a robust code of practice, which covers the key stages in letting and managing a property. Regulated agents have to meet a standard of compliance that includes having Professional Indemnity Insurance, mandatory participation in a Client Money Protection Scheme and a structure for dealing with complaints and disciplinary procedures.

One of the only issues with choosing an ARLA or NAEA agency is that the industry bodies only require an office to employ one member of staff, in any office, with a suitable industry qualification. At Paramount we believe that all members of staff, especially negotiators, should study to become a member, as this ensures all staff have to undertake regular training and keep up to date with changes in legislation.

At Paramount, all staff members must be members of the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) or the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA). If we recruit any new members of staff that don’t belong to one of these bodies, we require them to start their training within a month of joining us.

It’s not just our sales and lettings negotiators that take the exams though. Other members of staff, including administrators and accounts, are encouraged to join too. This is a huge benefit for our customers who meet property experts the moment they walk through the office door. All customers are made aware that everyone they deal with in the office is qualified. They understand that they can tap into our knowledge bank regardless of who they are speaking to – they don’t have to wait to speak to a director to receive expert advice.

Internal confidence
The benefits of a licensed agency are felt internally as well as externally. We invest heavily in our staff and finance their initial and ongoing ARLA and NAEA training. Being a member of NAEA is important to us as a company and as individuals. It’s essential that we keep up to date with any changes in legislation and our customers appreciate us passing our knowledge onto them.

I recently asked colleagues what belonging to an organisation like ARLA or NAEA meant to them. They believe it portrays credibility to the public and suggest it shows that you are serious about your career. It would be great to hear your thoughts on the matter – does an agents membership of a regulatory organisation carry weight with you?

In the meantime, don’t forget to enter our #whampplanet competition. Learn how to enter here.

Spencer Lawrence
Lettings Director
Paramount Properties
150 West End Lane
West Hampstead
020 7644 2314


*Association of Residential Lettings Agents Residential Landlord Survey 2013

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Property News: Could sale prices cool?

They weren’t forming long queues down West End Lane, but reports are that potential buyers were booked in every 15 minutes all day on Saturday and Sunday at the grand opening of Ballymore’s West Hampstead Square development. Many apartments had already been sold to ‘preferred’ clients before the launch, but it now seems that most have gone simply from the plans.

The rest of the West Hampstead and South Hampstead residential sales market has continued to reflect this voracious demand, which we see across the capital. More than 300 London estate agents recently reported buyer registrations up 50% year-on-year while new instructions are up only 17%. This makes a tight housing market even tighter, and pushes prices even higher.

Such has been the pace of this demand that I have recently found myself in the unusual situation of renegotiating prices upwards on sales that were only agreed two months previously. That’s a very high price for buyers to pay for delayed and slow conveyancing, and even more reason to make sure all your ducks are in a row and your lawyer on board when you make an offer.

As is becoming increasingly reported, most of the demand in London is being driven by overseas investors or wealthy UK-based individuals who are looking for somewhere to park their money. It’s odd to think of these buyers being prepared to spend such huge sums on property in areas they must surely often know little about. I can’t imagine many British people taking the same plunge in other foreign capitals. Nevertheless, their appetite seems insatiable and it’s happening in West Hampstead as much as anywhere. I actually sold a £3 million house to a Middle Eastern national who had never seen the property until the day he picked up the key!

Could there be a glimmer of hope for Londoners who live and work here? We’re starting to see signs of an oversupply in the lettings market, meaning that rental prices are falling in order to compete. Could a fall in yields and longer periods of empty properties deter investors, or cause them to capitalise their assets sooner? There is no doubt that sale prices will start to weaken if the rental market does suffer from over supply, as it is these investors who have kept prices high. This trend could become even more pronounced if significant numbers of renters take advantage of the Help to Buy scheme and therefore take themselves out of the rental market.

On a more personal note, I feel moved to set the record straight on what I see as the farce that is the Evening Standard’s ‘Diary of an Estate Agent’. I doubt this regular Wednesday column is top of most people’s must read list, but I get drawn to it every week. I guess it’s because I seek reassurance that my day-to-day experiences are mirrored by my competitors and thus that all is well in the world.

However, every week, some agent (normally from Knightsbridge) seems to have packed an entire lifetime’s events into five working days! Their witty anecdotes normally involve animals straight out of You’ve Been Framed videos, or swearing parrots that have reserved their hilarious commentary for the precise moment our agent steps through the door with his unsuspecting applicant. Fancy that. These viewings also seem to coincide (with astonishing regularity) with natural disasters, unruly children, leaks, non-English speaking tenants, Laurel and Hardy style building sites, buckets of water, uncontrollable bodily functions and general hilarity. Of course, it also always happens to be the week that the biggest deal in the history of the company was struck by the hero of the hour.

If only my weeks came anywhere close!

Darryl Jenkins
Associate Director
Benham & Reeves
West Hampstead
020 7644 9300
Follow @BenhamReeves

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Property News: Renters are people too

When choosing an area to live in, what is your main priority?

Place your vote and we’ll update you on the results on Twitter next week.

There is a common assumption that tenants are not invested in their local area and don’t care about what is going on. When the #whampforum was hosted in May it exposed the views of a minority that ‘young people aren’t invested in the area emotionally or financially because they don’t own property, so why would they care’. That’s a huge assumption and one I would dispute in my experience.

Tenants have often been considered a transient part of the population, but this is no longer always the case. The tenants we let property to have researched different areas and made a choice to move to West Hampstead. Many will rent for several years in the same area and are just as invested in the local community as those who own a property. Their priorities might be different (a family who own their home are more likely to participate in the free school debate than a single professional renter) but this has little to do with property ownership.

For some, renting is a stepping stone to home ownership. One benefit or renting is that it allows you to trial out life in an area before committing to staying for longer and this type of tenant is likely to have a very vested interest in the strength of the local community. Reasons for renting aside, considering that 44% of households in West Hampstead live in private rented accommodation (12 percentage points higher than the average across Camden), tenants are clearly essential to the future of the area, economically, politically and socially.

West Hampstead is renowned for its local village feel and community. There are numerous resident groups and local organisations that are incredibly active for an area of London. West Hampstead is unique because the high street continues to thrive with popular independent shops, restaurants and cafés and tenants are essential for their future. West Hampstead used to be considered the Ugly Sister of the area compared to St John’s Wood and Hampstead. Nowadays it is less of a thoroughfare and more of a destination in its own right, catering to its residents with local shops that thrive as they meet the community’s needs.

It wouldn’t be right to talk about the local community without mentioning Twitter. It is an incredible source of local information (often helpfully curated by @WHampstead) and provides a resource and real life social network for those new to the area. The #whamp hashtag, with its various suffixes, has solidified the community, engaging and activating local people irrespective of housing tenure.

As an estate agency it has always been important to us to get involved in the local community, socially and financially. We are proud to support local businesses and have done so since our inception. We take advantage of local and independent services wherever possible; from the printers we use to the independent restaurant we have team meetings in.

Last year we designed cotton bags to help launch the West Hampstead Farmers’ Market, which has become an asset to the area. Every Saturday we look out of our office window and see how popular it is, with regulars returning week after week. Due to the popularity of the bags we recently decided to print some more with a new design. We worked with an illustrator just as passionate about the area as us to create our very own West Hampstead map, and although all of our favourite independent shops couldn’t fit on the design we hope it sums up what is special about the local community.

Please pop into our office to collect your free #whamp bag.

Spencer Lawrence
Lettings Director
Paramount Properties
150 West End Lane
West Hampstead
020 7644 2315


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Property News: Tenants’ extra rental

To accompany our regular pieces about the property sales market, Paramount is going to be covering the rental market in West Hampstead. Do leave comments (note, they will be moderated!). Even though these articles are being written by an estate agent, I’m making sure it’s honest comment of the industry and market!

Landlords need to think long-term

We thought we’d kick off our series of Property News articles with a question:

What’s the benefit to you of renting?

Place your vote and we’ll update you on the results on Twitter next week.

How many households in West Hampstead do you think live in private rented accommodation? According to the 2011 census it’s a staggering 44%, which is considerably higher than the average percentage across all Camden Wards (32%).

For many years West Hampstead has been a desirable place for people to call home. Renters are drawn to the area for a number of reasons, including the often cited transport links. The lettings market is based on supply and demand so it’s no surprise that, with the strong demand, the market has favoured landlords over the past few years. However we have now reached a point in West Hampstead where supply is plentiful, and as stock levels increased we began to see a downturn in rental prices.

The supply can be attributed to three main reasons: a lacklustre employment market in financial services sectors, an increase in overseas investors and the rise of ‘accidental’ landlords. Control of the market has swung from landlords to tenants, and landlords have to be realistic about rental prices if they want to minimise void periods and protect their yields.

Why has demand dropped? One reason is that since the census the government has implemented its Help to Buy scheme for first time buyers, which has helped a number of tenants in the area take their first tentative steps on the road to becoming homeowners. Demand for rental properties has shifted to demand for 1 and 2 bedroom flats for sale, with our sales department regularly receiving sealed bid offers significantly over the asking price for these types of properties.

Another reason is that tenants are looking to stay for longer in the same rental property. Instead of moving home every year, tenants in West Hampstead want the stability of a home and once they find the right property they are happy to renew year after year. We support longer tenancies and encourage landlords to invest in the property for this reason.

This type of tenant needs a flat that matches their lifestyle in order to stay, so a professional clean at the end of a tenancy is no longer enough to get a new long-term tenant in. As letting agents we don’t charge tenants a renewal fee as we want to encourage them to stay for longer as it helps minimise the landlord’s void period.

In the last couple of years there has been a shift in the market; it is more price sensitive and product sensitive too. Landlords have to put capital investment into their property and often need to redecorate, redo the bathroom or lay new carpet between tenancies. As tenants have more choice, landlords need to make their product appealing as the rental market becomes more competitive.

Are you a tenant in West Hampstead? What does being part of a local community mean to you? We’d love to hear your thoughts for our next Property News in October.

Spencer Lawrence
Lettings Director
Paramount Properties
150 West End Lane
West Hampstead
020 7644 2315


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Property News: Could West Hampstead become a ghost town?

The West Hampstead property market has been mirroring the rest of London with demand continuing to outstrip supply in our low interest rate environment. Although we don’t seem (yet?) to have any “ghost streets” caused by the super-rich buying houses that they leave empty, the nature of buyers in our area has been changing over the past few months, with implications for prices and the future of home ownership.

Out of 7,000 new homes built in London last year, more than 5,000 were sold to overseas buyers. It seems that the capital growth from such properties is such that these homes can stand empty for most of the year and only used as a place to stay occasionally when in town. Kensington Palace Gardens now has an average property value of £36m and, closer to home, even Frognal Way in Hampstead comes in at £9.5m!

Aside from the impact on house prices, which doesn’t help buyers, councils have also highlighted this as a growing economic problem for the local community: unoccupied properties create no demand for local services or shops leaving empty run down looking local streets.

Since the spring, we’ve also seen the introduction of the ‘help to buy’ scheme. Mortgage lending has risen 21% nationally since May and, according to, asking prices across the country have continued to rise.

London still remains an anomaly though: prices in the capital have jumped by an average of £30,000 since the start of the year, and are now 7% higher than they were before the financial crisis. In the rest of the UK, prices remain 9% down on 2007 levels.

What about West Hampstead? In terms of activity, we’re seeing new applicant levels on a par with last year, and instruction levels are similar although down slightly since the first quarter.

We have noticed a change in the mix of the type of buyer, however, especially the re-emergence of buy-to-let investors. Rental prices in London have risen 7.2% year-on-year, significantly outstripping inflation and interest rates. West Hampstead has always been attractive for these investors due to our transport links and type of housing stock, but these price increases combined with the demand from those who are finding it hard to get on the housing ladder means very healthy returns and strong capital growth. In fact, three of the last five sales we have agreed were to buy-to-let investors.

It is also noticeable that a large number of our vendors are moving out of London rather than staying locally. Rising prices and stamp duty make it impossible for many people to afford to trade up locally when faced with starting a family. We’re also seeing retirees cash in and enjoy the proceeds in a similar, cheaper property out of town or a second home abroad. Some estate agents in the Home Counties have reported a 20% increase in London applicants looking to move out. Is London becoming the new Manhattan?

The other trend we’ve seen is that buyers are becoming more price sensitive. Earlier in the year, buyers were more prepared to ‘pay what it took’ to secure a property. Buy-to-let investors are ruled by the head not the heart, of course, so if the deal doesn’t stack up they won’t proceed.

For the ordinary buyer, salaries are struggling to keep pace with house price growth and what may have been affordable three months ago is now out of reach. Naturally, vendors want to sell for more than their neighbour did and are also constantly consuming the price rise headlines. Throw in estate agents who are desperate to secure instructions in a highly competitive market with limited stock and it’s easy to see why asking prices are continually rising. Nevertheless, we have recently found that viewing numbers on overpriced properties are now very low whereas at the beginning of the year and last year buyers would still take a look. Dare I say it, could things be starting to cool down?

Overall, if you are thinking of selling there is strong demand locally if your property is priced sensibly. If you find that viewings are thin on the ground, then it’s almost certain that your asking price is too high. Don’t forget that estate agents only earn a fee if they sell your property. so they have all the motivation they need to bring buyers through the door.

Darryl Jenkins
Associate Director
Benham & Reeves
West Hampstead
020 7644 9300
Follow @BenhamReeves

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Paramount scoops national award

There are a lot of estate agents in West Hampstead. This is a truth universally acknowledged. However, as anyone who’s sat through Avatar will testify, quantity doesn’t always equal quality.

It is, therefore, refreshing to report when one of our esteemed agents does well. Even more so when it’s not one of the larger chains, but a West Hampstead operation.

So, credit where it’s due to Paramount who won two gold awards at The Times and Sunday Times Lettings Agency of the Year Awards 2013. Paramount won Best London Lettings Agency and Best Single Lettings Agency UK.

Karren Brady (l) presents Carla Bradman and Spencer Lawrence with their award

This isn’t just some industry back-slapping award ceremony, there is a degree of rigour involved. Nearly 5,000 offices enter, and the winners are determined by a panel of 19 industry experts who conduct an extensive review of the entrants, including mystery shopping exercises. The judging process was overseen by Christopher Hamer, the Property Ombudsman.

The judges described Paramount as an “agency that is absolutely red hot on customer service, keeps up with technology and constantly strives to move forward … always looking for ways to improve the business.”

That’ll be partly due to Carla Bradman, who lots of you know better as @west_hampstead. Carla, who runs the account, does a great job of balancing local info with property-related social media updates and engages with the community rather than trying to masquerade as a pure community resource. I’ll be honest, I’d prefer it if it used @ParamountWH as people do occasionally get Paramount’s Twitter account confused with mine but, while Carla’s hands are on the agency’s social media reins, then all is well.

Carla herself told me “We recognise that our website is our shop front to the world and have invested heavily in design and functionality for our new website (launching next month). I personally also spend a lot of time on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin – it’s a great way to meet new people, learn something new, promote a local cause (our coat collection for Hands on London, for example) and also allows us to respond to queries and feedback within minutes.

Spencer Lawrence, Lettings Director of Paramount, said “it feels great to be recognised by our industry peers for the overall approach we take to lettings. The lettings team work exceptionally hard to ensure every step of the lettings process runs smoothly, so national recognition on this scale is a great reward for all of us at Paramount”.

Property News: Has West Hampstead just got more acccessible?

This month sees the introduction of various welfare and tax changes and we’ve already had the announcement in March of further government initiatives to get the housing market moving, but what will this all mean for the West Hampstead market?

The background to these initiatives has been covered in previous articles, but in a nutshell banks are reluctant to lend to buyers as they are striving to improve their balance sheets and are reluctant to over expose themselves to the housing market with risky high loan-to-value ratios. This means that first time buyers are having to find at least 20% deposits and some existing owners do not have enough equity in their homes to meet the new lending criteria and therefore can’t move up the ladder, even though they can afford the repayments due to the low interest rates.

This situation has led to a dramatic slowdown in the number of transactions. Recent government figures show that the number of annual house sales has fallen by 50% since 2007 and that, on average, a house sells once every 25 years up from once every 15 years as recently as 2007. The implications of this slowdown on the economy and on all the related industry and services are enormous and clearly something has to be done to get things moving.

Last month we looked at the relaxation of planning laws as a way to stimulate building work. Rather than invest in infrastructure regeneration, this government has focused on other methods both of which should boost the West Hampstead property market.

First, from Jan 2014, the ‘Help to buy’ mortgage guarantee will enable buyers of new and existing property to borrow with only a 5% deposit. As long as the buyer is creditworthy and judged able to make the payment, the lender has the option of purchasing a government guarantee that will compensate them for a portion of its losses in the event of foreclosure. This is available for purchases up to £600,000 with a maximum guarantee of £120,000 (15%).

This is very good news for the NW6 market; a significant part of the property for sale in our area is valued between £350,000 and £600,000, so given the attraction of owning versus renting, this access to mortgages with a 5% deposit should be hugely beneficial. It will also make it easier for owners of first-time buyer properties to take the next step on the rung to owning a 2- to 3- bed property and improve supply all round.

The second part of the scheme is for new build properties only. This provides a loan directly from the government of up to 15% of the property value (capped at £500,000). There will be no charge for this loan in the first five years, then in the sixth year a 1.75% annual charge is levied. This will be adjusted in line with the RPI every year (~+1%). Again, for the lower end of the West Hampstead market this can only be good news. Most new build developments in the area have starting prices of around £400,000.

The criticism levelled at these schemes is that they will create another housing bubble. Artificially creating demand could lead to unsustainable over-priced housing and put us exactly where we were when the bubble burst in 2007. The government has said that these schemes will be available for only three years, so the impact should be limited in the long run but give the market a much needed kick start by providing access to home ownership that has been denied to many Londoners in the short run. Given all the failed attempts to get banks to lend again at least something different is being done to help.

At the upper end of the market, the scrapping of the 50p tax rate for high earners came into effect on April 1st, and this too should hopefully stimulate demand among those with higher levels of disposable income.

As usual, please let me know your thoughts. Has one of these schemes meant that you can now make the move you were hoping for? What else could be done to stimulate transactions?

Darryl Jenkins
Associate Director
Benham & Reeves
West Hampstead
020 7644 9300
Follow @BenhamReeves

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Property News: Planning for disaster?

The first days of spring seem to have come and gone, but we are now looking forward to what are traditionally the three best months for residential sales. However, while prices are on the up locally, the government’s attempts to stimulate the construction industry may not be enough to dampen demand and risk blighting our neighbourhoods.

As previously reported, the property market in West Hampstead has started buoyantly this year. With buyer numbers up and slightly more property coming to the market, we have shown a 50% year-on-year increase in the number of sales agreed for January and February. I know other local agents are reporting similar stories.

The latest data from property analyst Hometrack indicates that national house prices rose by 0.1% in February. This is the first time since May 2012 that rises have been reported for nine consecutive months. The report also indicates that the north/south divide is growing further: Fewer than 1 in 7 postcodes across all of England and Wales reported an increase, but when you look just at London, that jumps to almost 1 in 2 (meaning they account for three-quarters of those national rises). This indicates that although there are some signs of recovery for the national market, London is still powering ahead.

The reasons for this demand have been well documented by the press and in this column. The government is hoping to capitalise on this demand and get the economy growing by stimulating the private construction industry (worth 6% of GDP and almost £100 billion), which is forecast to decline by 2% in 2013 following a 6.3% drop in 2012. This fall is largely due to a 14% reduction in government spending on infrastructure and construction projects.

The biggest concern is that only 118,000 new homes are expected to be built in 2013. I realise it may seem as if the majority of these are coming to sites around West End Lane; the reality is that this total is predicted to be only half the actual demand. The government has identified planning red tape as the issue and is temporarily relaxing planning laws in an attempt to generate more building. However, the Local Government Association, which represents local councils, says that there are currently 400,000 sites across the UK that have planning permission to build and that roughly half of all applications are eventually granted.

Of course, what it really comes down to is money – profit and availability. Developers are only interested in sites that return a profit, while more often than not local councils’ insistence on provision of affordable housing (or payments under section 106 agreements) in new developments often make these sites unprofitable. Meanwhile, former industrial or landfill sites require expensive cleaning operations and are normally in lower cost and less desirable areas. Developers want prime sites on which to build prime properties. It’s no wonder that house builders are sitting on large land banks in greenbelt areas just waiting for the value to shoot up when permission is granted. In addition, the financial crisis has led to less available funding for building, more financial penalties for missed repayments, and banks requiring more collateral. 

At a micro level, the government is trying to kick-start the construction industry by enticing us to build more extensions and conservatories through this three-year period of relaxed local planning laws. Now, you no longer need planning permission to build loft conversions or single rear extensions that are less than 6m or 8m from the back of your house (whether a semi or detached). Again, this assumes that funds are readily available to complete these building projects. Neighbours still have the right to complain and halt construction and any flat still requires planning permission for any building. I fear this policy will lead us towards half-finished, half-baked and ill conceived designs that will be refused retrospective consent when this temporary period finishes.

There is clearly a significant social and economic issue regarding available housing and accommodation in London and the UK, but planning procedures and consultations exist to protect individual homeowners from ‘blot on the landscape’ developments and over ambitious neighbours. Relaxing these laws is unlikely to lead to economic stimulus or benefit local neighbourhoods. Perhaps, in true Keynesian fashion, the government could consider increasing its spending on larger-scale house building projects to give the industry and economy the kick-start it needs?

In the meantime, a lack of available property and new-build investment, together with an insatiable demand continue to drive house prices upwards in South and West Hampstead.

Do let me know what you think? Are you planning to take advantage of the looser regulations on extending properties? Are you happy to watch your house price rise through undersupply in the market more generally?

Darryl Jenkins
Associate Director
Benham & Reeves
West Hampstead
020 7644 9300
Follow @BenhamReeves

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Property News: Why sellers tolerate fees

The start to the year has been very encouraging for the sales market in West Hampstead. It seems that the government Funding for Lending scheme, introduced six months ago, is starting to have an impact on the availability of loans while overall rates for borrowing are now at their lowest levels since the start of the recession.

It is hard to quantify exactly how much of an effect the scheme is having but there is no doubt that new applicant and viewing levels are up significantly from January 2012, and there’s an increased level of confidence in the market from agents and sellers alike.

Further good news for buyers is the government’s announcement that later this year it intends to allow empty office buildings to be converted into residential homes without the need for planning permission. This should relieve some of the upward pressure on sales and rental prices and is estimated to create an extra 100,000 homes across the UK.

This month I also wanted to raise the thorny subject of estate agents’ fees. According to the Guardian and Halifax Building Society, between 1959 and 2009 house prices have risen by 273% while real earnings rose 169%. Estate agent fees have not changed much in percentage terms over that time, so it would seem we are therefore earning more in real terms for the same job.

Is this what causes the ill feeling about estate agents? After all, in London we are talking about £40,000 (ex. vat) for selling a £2m property or even £10,000 (ex. vat) for selling a £500,000 flat (the price of an average 2-bed in NW6). On the face of it, not great value. Throw in the fact that ours is a largely unqualified profession governed by a mainly toothless Ombudsman scheme (although there are signs that it’s finding its bite) and even we can see why some of that negative sentiment arises. Fees for your estate agent far outstrip those for your conveyancing lawyer or RICS qualified surveyor. Hardly seems fair?

However, I suggest that there is a love/hate relationship between seller and agent and that although our fees seem high we can justify this and that secretly, sellers don’t really mind paying them.

This thought came to me while reading about Tesco’s failed venture into estate agency. Like many others, it invested into an online-only estate agency. The premise was that sellers, fed up with high fees, could advertise their properties online, take enquiries, conduct viewings and negotiate a sale all for a few hundred pounds. Other companies have tried various different versions of this model; some offering a negotiation and sales progression service and others a lower fixed percentage. None have yet succeeded.

It intrigued me that although sellers complain about estate agent fees when they were given the opportunity to pay less, they didn’t take it. I conducted some very basic market research: I emailed 25 of my friends and family and asked them to rank in preference what makes them decide who to appoint to sell their house: a) fees. b) local reputation c) recommendation d) personality/liked the agent or e) sold in my road.

Only one person replied that fees were the most important factor, and most placed it at the bottom of the list. It would seem that there is value in local knowledge and a track record, and that sellers do put trust in their agent to do the best job for them. I would argue this is because agents invest thousands in up front costs, creating a market place where property can be sold for the best possible price.

High street premises, newspaper advertising, expensive websites, numerous property search sites (whose prices go up exponentially each year), staff, sponsorship, marketing, petrol, cars etc.. are all up front costs designed to attract buyers for your property. This demand creates a market where you will be assured of achieving the market value of your property.

Another aspect of estate agents is that they have played a significant part (rightly or wrongly) in pushing up property prices over the last 50 years. Competition amongst agents and sellers’ desire to get the most money they can for their property means that every new instruction comes to the market at a slightly higher price than the last. This has contributed to huge amounts of personal wealth being made through the property boom of the last 50 years. Is part of the reason we accept the fees because the money we make is almost like Monopoly money that we have not seen and wouldn’t have made otherwise.

Property is usually a family’s single biggest asset and, naturally, when selling you want to be absolutely sure that you will be getting the best possible price. It seems that when it comes down to it, sellers do consider the agents the experts.

I would be interested to hear your views on this. Next month, we’ll look at the importance of development and consider whether homeowners and local authorities have too many rights to prevent it.

Darryl Jenkins
Associate Director
Benham & Reeves
West Hampstead
020 7644 9300
Follow @BenhamReeves

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License landlords or resort to Asbos?

This month Newham will become the first council in England to require private landlords to be registered. Meanwhile, Camden has already served the country’s first landlord asbo to a West Hampstead landlady and has sought this week to extend it in court. Over at City Hall, Boris is proposing a “new housing covenant“, which puts forward some changes to tenancy agreements in the favour of tenants under a London Rental Standard.

The idea of licensing is to root out and stiffly penalise rogue landlords – the sort of people who exploit tenants by cramming lots of people into poorly maintained houses and then charge them an extortionate amount of rent. It also means that people who decide to rent their property out for lifestyle reasons rather than for pure profit must also register – there are a lot of these people. Many in the industry think that the licence requirement is overkill and that there are more cost-effective ways of protecting tenants from rogue landlords.

Last year, Camden opted for a different approach. It served a two-year anti-social behaviour order on Catherine Boyle of 14 Iverson Road back in January 2011, and sought to extend it at the end of 2012 after she failed to comply with some of the court’s requirements.

Google Street View catches a pest control
vehicle parked outside 14 Iverson Road

Catherine Boyle lives in and rents out rooms at the property, at the Kilburn end of Iverson Road. It qualifies as an HMO (house of multiple occupancy). She has been banned from causing harassment, alarm or distress to her tenants, entering their rooms without their consent, and cutting off their gas and electricity supply. She was also fined £8,000 for failing to comply with fire regulations despite having been given more than six months to meet the requirements (more than half of this was to pay the council’s court costs). In August 2010, she was cautioned for assault against one of her tenants.

Asbos seem like a pretty drastic solution to tackle problem landlords. They remain practically unheard of – the only other example that comes up is in Plymouth, where the council is appyling for an asbo against a landlord that would prevent him from letting to anyone on housing benefit. Councils do already have considerable powers to fine landlords heavily, especially those letting HMO properties, and jail sentences are not unheard of. The council can also takeover the running of the property.

In Ms Boyle’s case, I understand that there was both bad behaviour, as well as non-compliance with regulation, which may have been why the order was sought.

What is not clear to me is why a licensing policy such as Newham’s need to be applied to all landlords. Reserving it for HMO landlords, or even those with multiple properties would save time and money for both the council and plenty of ordinary landlords. This might be combined with a compulsory training program.

The Mayor certainly argues against any additional regulation in his private rented sector (PRS) report:

The Mayor does not support top-down regulation as a way of achieving better management or more choice for tenants, not least because the GLA does not possess formal powers in this area. In any case, regulation is damaging for investment into the PRS and it should always be a last resort. The sector’s capacity for voluntary self-regulation has not yet been exhausted – indeed, with the support of the Mayor, boroughs and landlord organisations, voluntary accreditation can deliver the step change in standards that tenants are rightly seeking. It is also unfair to penalise the majority of law-abiding landlords because of the actions of a small minority.”

It does seem that the system of landlord accreditation could do with some consolidation.

What do you think? Should councils use the powers they already have to deal with rogue landlords or are licensing or asbos the way forward?

Property News – What will 2013 bring?

As homeowners and buyers we all have an opinion on what property is worth in our area. Indeed, many people have made a fortune by speculating or even just by staying put while prices have risen.

In previous decades this was a hot topic of dinner conversation, but since the advent of the internet, property prices have become very transparent. You can now find your address on, fill in a few details and be told in an instant what your house or flat is worth.

What is now more difficult to predict is what might happen next. Lets take a look at the factors affecting house prices and demand in West Hampstead for the next 12 months and I’ll give you my best guess on where we could be at the end of this year.

Successive governments have promised the end of ‘boom and bust’, but none have been able to deliver. House prices have ebbed and flowed with the economy, gone pop when the bubble has burst, and then recovered to start the whole pattern again. But, as a nation fixated on home ownership, we have all willed prices ever upwards and this longer-term trend has almost become predictably reassuring. After all, despite the ups and downs, London prices doubled every five years up to 2007.

This time, however, I think things are a bit different. There is now a huge difference between London and the rest of the country. Legal and General predicts that the UK market has now hit bottom but prices will not start to recover until 2017. Prices in London, meanwhile, have already far outstripped their 2007 peak and in some prime areas they are already 50% higher! The difference is that this price increase is being fuelled by the high demand for the relatively few available properties – transaction levels remain half of what they were in 2007.

West Hampstead sellers must face the decision of whether to hold out for another 12 months in a rising market, or whether to sell and pre-empt the possible bursting of the bubble. Buyers of course are hesitant to commit at prices that might tumble, but are more anxious about not eventually paying more for the same property if they wait, especially if they have to move. Lenders are cautious for the same reasons and require more security and certainty. These factors, together with overseas buyers looking for a safe haven for their cash, have all driven the increase in London house prices since 2010.

The big question is how long can London prices keep going up? The answer seems to be for quite a while longer. There is no indication that the factors affecting prices will change in 2013. Supply will remain low and demand high. Recent news regarding increased lending at lower rates will create more room in the market for price rises, and the levels of investment in new-build housing remain at record lows. The only threats to further price rises would seem to be a sudden interest rate rise or the impact from another global economic shock.

In their recent forecasts, Knight Frank, Hamptons and Savills all predict a levelling off of prices in London with small rises of between 1% and 2% in 2013. This seems cautious to me (they said 2–5% last year) so I shall stick my neck out and say we should expect to see rises of between 5% and 10% in West Hampstead in 2013. The basic economics of supply and demand is my reasoning.

Thanks for all your comments and feedback from last month, please keep them coming. Next time, I’ll look at how estate agents work and raise the sometimes controversial issue of fees!

In the meantime, I wish you all a happy and prosperous 2013.

Darryl Jenkins
Associate Director
Benham & Reeves
West Hampstead
020 7644 9300
Follow @BenhamReeves

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Property News – Stressed in NW6

Welcome to the Property News section of West Hampstead Life. Local estate agent Benham & Reeves will be writing about the local sales market over the coming months, giving you some sales and prices statistics for the area as well as encouraging debate around estate agent practices, development and other areas of the property sales market in West Hampstead (comments will be moderated).

Even though these articles are being written by an estate agent, I’m making sure it’s honest comment and criticism of the industry! Here’s what Darryl Jenkins, manager of Benham & Reeves’ West Hampstead office, says about the venture:

The concept has been developed in conjunction with West Hampstead Life as a way of encouraging a dialogue between local residents and mistrusted estate agents. Hopefully, it’s refreshingly different with some (though perhaps not all) stereotypes being broken along the way.

So, with that, let me hand over to Darryl for December’s Property Sales News

Stressed in NW6

The start of this venture marks the end of another challenging year of property sales in West Hampstead. Challenging for buyers, sellers and agents alike.

Buyers have faced ever-stricter lending criteria for mortgages and only the very best candidates with at least 20% deposits are being accepted. There are signs that this is starting to ease though. According to recent figures published by the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML), the number of first-time buyers taking out a mortgage to buy a property in London between July and September was the highest for three years, although still far short of 2006/07 levels. Ownership in London remains, at 50%, the lowest in the UK.

In the West Hampstead office we have seen about the same number of new buyers registering in 2012 as in 2011 with an increase over the last few months mirroring the CML data. There are also signs that mortgage deals have become more competitive with private banks entering the market – some of whom are offering 1.99% fixed for 2 years with a 30% deposit.

Fewer offers, and offers below asking price also indicate a lack of confidence in the continued rise in prices and a reluctance to meet sellers’ price expectations, which are being buoyed by the lack of property on the market and the constant message from estate agent marketing that demand is strong.

Naturally, buyers want to buy at the lowest price and sellers want to sell at the highest price but I cannot remember a time when there have been such conflicting messages. Every day, the press highlight the challenging national and international economic situation, yet households are also receiving a constant stream of ‘record price achieved, more property required’ leaflets through their doors.

For example, we recently marketed a garden flat in West Hampstead at the vendor’s asking price of £1.5m, which 12 months ago would have been valued at £1.3m. After 30 or so viewings, we had received several offers all around £1.35m. The owner was reluctant to agree a sale at this level as he really believed the value to be a lot higher even though the market had found the level lower. After months of more viewings we have eventually agreed a sale just below £1.4m. This demonstrates the widening gap between vendor and buyer expectations. Both want to build in more of a financial cushion against the uncertainty of the market.

The next hurdle for buyers has been finding a suitable property to buy. Prices in West Hampstead are up roughly 10% this year so we’re seeing that sellers are more likely to hold onto their property in this rising market rather than sell. This is compounded by the fact that sellers are usually also buyers who have been put off by the new stamp duty increases and the general economic uncertainty of job security.

Apart from the difficulty of finding your next home, owners of property in West Hampstead have enjoyed good capital appreciation in the last 12 months. If a property has come to market at a sensible price we have found a buyer within a couple of weeks at what is normally a record price for the road or block. The difference is that the buyer is more likely to be an overseas investor than a local owner or renter trading up or buying for the first time.

This market also brings new challenges for estate agents. A recent count on showed 106 separate agents advertising property for sale in NW6! Whilst I don’t expect too much sympathy (years of raking it in etc..etc..) every agent is having to work twice as hard just to stand still. Fewer properties on the market and even more agents trying to sell them has inevitably put downward pressure on fees (to be covered in a future article). This is good news for sellers but also explains why you’re getting more marketing material through your door as we all fight for our share.

This unique market, where lenders are reluctant to lend, sellers are thin on the ground, prices are rising and transactions are down has bought new levels of anxiety and stress for all. Agents have indicated record levels for the percentage of agreed sales that have fallen through this year – normally we’d expect 1 in 3, but this year it’s more likely to be 1 in 2. Lenders are taking twice as long (in some cases up to three months) to approve mortgages and surveyors and lawyers are taking longer and being beyond thorough (there’s always more litigation in economic slumps) All this means that estate agents are becoming more skilled at counselling than valuing! Holding a transaction together is now harder than any of the other sales processes, so when choosing an agent consider their life experience and people skills as well as their expensive marketing.

All in all, whether you have been a buyer, seller or agent in 2012 you are probably feeling more than 12 months older than you did in January. It’s been a stressful year.

What will happen in 2013 and beyond is clearly tricky to predict, but that won’t stop me having a go next month!. Please let me know your thoughts on the year ahead or any other comments about either the macro or micro issues of the property market.

Darryl Jenkins
Associate Director
Benham & Reeves
West Hampstead
020 7644 9300
Follow @BenhamReeves

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Is Mill Apartments £15,000 sweetener enough?

A couple of months ago I went to have a look round the show apartment at the Mill Apartments. Back then they were called the Mill Apartments Hampstead, though they have since been rebranded – extremely sensibly – as the Mill Apartments West Hampstead (although the website address hasn’t changed). I saw a 3-bed flat, which was very nice. And very expensive. £815,000 expensive to be precise for this first floor flat. The service charge would be in excess of £2,500 a year and a parking space was an extra £25,000. More hilarious was that if you wanted storage space in the basement “big enough for a bike and a couple of sets of golf clubs”, then you’d have to part with another £10,000. I think I laughed out loud at this point. Sounds like I might not have been the only one.

You might argue that £815,000 for a modern nice 3-bed flat in West Hampstead isn’t out of the ordinary. By the way, lets not kid ourselves here, while pretending these apartments are in Hampstead was presumably verging on some sort of property misdescription, they can hardly be said to be in the heart of West Hampstead either. Shoot-Up Hill is much nearer than West End Lane. Nevertheless, it is quite a lot of money for any flat around here outside the NW3/NW8 postcode. This is the cheapest 3-bed in the building, they go up in price as you go up the floors, so the 3rd floor 3-bed flat is £830,500.

Floorplan of the 3-bed apartments

Which brings me to the point of this story. To date, 17 of the 27 non-social housing flats in the development have sold (the three 3-beds have not). The prices for the four penthouses, which are just coming on the market now, are not on the website, but early communications said that the top price flat would be £1.5m, so I guess we assume that’s the price of the only 3-bed penthouse, while the cheapest penthouse is £1.35m.

Looking south from one of the penthouse suites

Given that the apartments don’t seem to be flying off the shelves, so the developer, Taylor Wimpey, is holding an open day and resorting to “buy now” discounts in the form of cash/cash-equivalent incentives.

If you sign on the dotted line this Saturday at the open-day then it will throw in either a luxury holiday, £15,000 to spend at Selfridges or a brand new Mini. According to the PR company, “Offering these incentives is a new trend for estate agents and house builders, in order to kick-start a property industry that has slowed in recent years.” Or in other words “we overpriced the apartments a bit”. Now, if you’re willing to drop £1.5m on a 3-bed apartment in what is almost Cricklewood, it’s debatable whether a £15,000 cashback deal (1%) is going to make much difference to your yes/no decision. Even for the cheapest apartment still available (£588,000), you’d only be getting a 2.5% discount.

The press release implies, although certainly doesn’t make clear, that that expensive car parking space might be thrown in as well (or a 2-year parking permit). That’s a far more valuable incentive, both financially and practically, but this is a common negotiating tool as far as I’m aware.

Anyway, if you want to go along on Saturday, then there’ll be drinks, nibbles and live music between 11am and 3pm. If you want to view an apartment (and surely that’s the only reason to go), then best reserve in advance by calling 0845 676 2377. Even if you don’t have half a million quid to spend on the day, us locals are apparently welcome. I quote: “It is also a fab opportunity for local residents to find out more about their newest neighbour!”. Which is very friendly.

What’s sold and what’s not by Sep 26th 2012 (penthouses not included)

Live long and prosper – move out of NW6

Maps have always been a powerful way of highlighting London’s social inequalities (Charles Booth‘s and John Snow‘s are the most iconic examples of this) and they continue to show how the richest and poorest Londoners often live side by side.


The latest map from UCL’s Spatial Analysis team overlays two sets of data – life expectancy and child poverty. The team wanted to see whether the adage held true that a year in life expectancy is lost for every station eastbound on the Jubilee Line between Westminster and Canning Town.

You can read the full article for the methodology, or click the map for the full view of London, but lets look briefly at the findings locally.

People living within 200 metres of both TfL’s West Hampstead stations have a life expectancy of 81. This is pretty much bang on the national average (which is 78 for men and 82 for women) but lower than our neighbours to the south on the Jubilee Line, to the west on the overground and Bakerloo, and on a par with that in Kilburn.

It’s not especially surprising that wealthy St John’s Wood (83) or Maida Vale (86) have higher life expectancies. In fact the borough of Westminster has the second highest life expectancy in the country, but perhaps marginally surprising that West Hampstead fares as well (or as badly) as Kilburn Park or Kilburn High Road. If we look at the Guardian’s deprivation map from April this year, we can see that the West Hampstead stations are marginally better off than Kilburn’s stations, and the child poverty data above tallies with that. So, why the discrepancy?

Frankly, that’s not the right question to be asking. This sort of mapped analysis is not intended to be a perfect reflection of the reality on the ground. Mapping is all about scale, and this London life expectancy map is best seen as a way to see general changes along tube lines, where the trends are very clear. There is, for example, an astonishing 21-year difference between the shortest (75.3) and longest (96.4) life expectancies. However, when you see that the longest life expectancy is for Oxford Circus and think how many people live within 200 metres of that tube station, you begin to see the challenge of trying to derive meaningful insights from individual data points. This doesn’t detract from the fact that there are large discrepancies, most notably from west to east – this is even more visible when you look at the child poverty data.

You may think this is old news, but as a way to bring to life the concept not just of deprivation but of disparity, maps are surprisingly powerful. Take a look at the routes you regularly use to get around London, and next time you whoosh through the city (or, more pertinently, go to the Olympic Park) on a tube train, have a think about the areas you’re passing through out of sight. Maybe also have a think about whether a child born in east London deserves a lower life expectancy just because of where their parents live.