Looking to buy your first London home? Go west, not east!

    23 April 2019

    Some of the London neighbourhoods touted as the new this or that are in reality very dull to live in. Dull, overpriced or both. I’ve read countless articles telling me that certain locations would boom. Only to the extent that the whole market rose were those “expert” predictions right. Yes, London is reinventing itself. How we work is changing. And how we live our lives is immeasurably different to even ten let alone twenty years ago. But this doesn’t always call for a move to a so-called ‘up and coming’ area full of new builds on brownfield sites. The places you should look aren’t necessarily where those double page spreads in the papers suggest. After all, those features are often funded by developers.

    According to the Office for National Statistics, house price growth is at a six year low. In some areas prices are falling. Will they fall further? Maybe. Should this stop you looking? Absolutely not. You will never buy at exactly the right time. Market movement is just one factor. Affordability for you is key and with this latest market data, interest rates are likely to stay lower for longer. Good news if you’re taking out a mortgage. So, it’s a buyer’s market and if you’re avoiding the so-called ‘hotspots’, you might get a really good deal. So where’s the best place to buy? Unless you have large sums at your disposal and can buy mortgage free, there’s no point looking at established areas. The average price of property in London is £460,000 and although the figure is a bit meaningless you won’t find much for less. Yes, you could buy a shoe box in Chelsea or a hutch in Hampstead and even a shell in Shoreditch. But what’s the point? The biggest change in the market in recent years is the amount of time you’ll have to live in a place before moving on. That’s partly because of Stamp Duty and also the slowness of the market. So more than ever you need to buy into value. And arguably save for longer so that your first property, is really your second.

    For now, the ship has sailed for hotspots driven by the proliferation of new-build property. Until or unless there’s distress in the market, I wouldn’t bother. Whenever a large development is undertaken, it’s the developer who walks off with the biggest profit and you will be left holding an asset that will take at least five if not ten years to find its true market value. You can be smarter than that. Go for period property. It’s the easiest to adapt, easiest to sell and to live in. Features are back: firepaces, gardens, roof terraces and brick.

    The biggest change on the way in London is the Elizabeth Line. Much has been written about the extremities. Reading and Maidenhead in the west and Stratford, Chadwell Heath and Brentwood to the east. As a result, prices have risen substantially, so it’s probably not worth your while looking in those areas. No matter how good the line is, the commute will be abominable and you’ll have none of the advantages of making a clean break from London or being in the thick of it. The closer to the action you can be the better.

    For years, everyone said go east. And sure, you can go to Shoreditch, Whitechapel, Canary Wharf or Stratford. A lot of what you find there will be expensive refurbished or new build. Enjoy the convenient location but don’t expect to find value.

    Think about it – when the Luftwaffe dropped their payloads of bombs over London, the East suffered the most. Some original buildings were left but many were destroyed. Whereas to the West, much of London’s original housing stock was left in tact. The building booms of the 1890’s, 1910’s and 1930’s are all still there. It is the period stock that retains and gains value and this is where your focus should be.

    Let’s start with the best place to look. Acton. Really? Yes. North and East Acton are your best bet. Communications are excellent with road and existing tube lines and shortly the new Elizabeth line. It’s only in Zone Two and yet it is totally overlooked. Yes, you could go further west to Hanwell but I’d take the compromise of a few less square feet and being closer to central London. When looking around, If you want real value look for all the things people love to hate. Net curtains, oak kitchens, avocado bathrooms suites. And don’t forget carpet on the bathroom floor. Prepare to do a rip. It’s satisfying and it adds value. Given that there’s a discount for the hassle factor in the market, you have more chance of making a better return. Off street parking is always a winner and at less than £700 per square foot, near central London, Acton has room to grow as most of Zone two is at £1000 per square foot.

    And finally, go and walk the streets. See what the local restaurants and pubs are like and experiment with the transport in the area. After all, you don’t want to move in one day and regret it the next.

    James Max presents the Business Breakfast on talkRADIO from 5 – 6.30am every weekday morning and is a columnist, broadcaster and business advisor.

    James’s top picks for Acton: