It’s no secret that property in London is expensive, but when you flick through online estate agents for a laugh and spot a flat listed for £33.5million (not a typo), it stops being funny. I mean, sure, it’s a swanky 6-bed in Knightsbridge with all the trimmings, but I’m still coming to terms with the fact that even as a double-income-no-kids household, my partner and I can barely afford the mortgage on a tiny – sorry, minimalist – studio.
Having seen endless guides telling me where to find the most affordable spots in London, I decided to embark upon an exercise designed to amuse and horrify. What could I afford if I had a hypothetical budget of a million pounds?
Elsewhere in the country, it might afford a luxurious mansion, or even a castle or private island further afield. In our glorious capital, however, all I’m asking for is a comfortable home with at least two bedrooms, somewhere between the price of £900,000 and £1,000,000.
So, where to start?
For me, the obvious choice is Notting Hill. Between the brightly painted terraces, the elegantly bohemian boutiques and the vibrant food and antique markets, there’s something totally irresistible about Notting Hill. In case the eclectic shopping districts aren’t enough for you, the area also boasts some of the finest eateries in London. For example, The Ledbury (two Michelin stars and reservations 2 months in advance, please), and Marianne – but expect to drop £100 – £200 per person.
Why don’t I live there already? Oh, because the average house price is currently hovering slightly above £1.6m, with each square foot costing an extra £1281 to the price (for the record I’ve been using this tool for some of the figures in this article).
If you’re a little short – but have pockets deep enough for a cool million – then it turns out there are some perfectly serviceable 2-bed flats. Yes, living on Portobello Road is too much to ask for (as is a separate kitchen and living room in most cases), but it’s possible to snag a private roof terrace or access to the private gardens on Ladbroke Grove instead. It’s starting to sound like a good deal, no?
Knightsbridge and Belgravia
Inspired by the delightful range of homes available in Notting Hill, I’m going to push the boat out and investigate million-pound properties in Belgravia and Kensington. For those who are unfamiliar, these two areas sit side-by-side to make up one of the most well-heeled areas of London, and some of the most expensive postcodes in the world.
The streets are lined with gourmet restaurants and patisseries, as well as flagship stores from the likes of Armani and Jimmy Choo – and of course, the infamous Harrods. Over the decades Belgravia and Kensington have been home to royalty, world leaders and A-list celebrities, so at least you know you’re in good company if you can afford to splash out. Accordingly, a home here could be yours for the low, low price of £2-2.6k per square foot.
Amazingly, my property search returns 11 results. Well, okay, on closer inspection, four of these are the same property listed multiple times. It initially appears that my fantasy budget can afford a generously-proportioned three-bedroom house… but a quick skim of the description reveals some peculiarities with the ownership. As with much of Kensington, the freehold belongs to the Grosvenor Estate, and as such my new home would be subject to a £53k annual ground rent charge, with a whole contract renewal every 15 years.
I think I might have been overly ambitious – one million pounds will not get you a home in Belgravia.
Clearly, my invented budget simply isn’t going to stretch that far when shopping in the most desirable areas of West London. I move my search to Stratford, thinking that a home in East Village might be nice – perhaps even overlooking the Olympic Park. Surely, I can afford the epitome of luxury in a more up-and-coming area?
My browsing is short-lived. At £363 per square foot, apparently there is no market for million-pound properties in Stratford. Yet.
Peckham came in at the top of the Sunday Times list of the best places to live in London in 2017. Given that this list came out in March, hopefully it’s gained enough traction that my million pounds is now a competitive offer for a nice home in Peckham.
Wait, is “a nice home in Peckham” even a thing? Well, having once been recognised for being one of the most deprived residential areas in Western Europe, Peckham’s fate has turned dramatically around. Thanks in part to the hipsters and artists that couldn’t afford to live anywhere else in London, but also to substantial funding from the EU, the scene is Peckham is urban, creative and cool.
I’m in luck. Although there aren’t many properties available in my price bracket, it turns out that a million pounds will actually get me quite a good deal – homes here are around £427 per square foot. Particularly around the Peckham Rye area, there are a number of lovingly-decorated 3 and 4-bedroom terraces, all of which have separate kitchens and could even give me a little bit of spare change.
At this point, I have to come clean and admit I’ve noticed a huge flaw in my concept – maybe you’ve already spotted it.
In my disbelief at the sheer expense of London homes, I decided to take a look at Zoopla’s market trends tool. Yes, it does confirm that average house prices in Notting Hill are just shy of £1.7m and that in Belgravia you need about £3.5m to make a purchase. However, if you look at average home values in elsewhere in London, it’s apparent that actually, my fantasy budget of a million pounds overshoots by quite a margin. In Peckham, a 2-bed flat averages at around £400,000 which, while still far beyond my real budget, actually starts to sound quite reasonable.
Looking at overall trends for London, the majority of properties currently on the market are priced between £200-300k. Only around 17% are valued at over £500k. Am I saying that a house in London is affordable? No. But while you can absolutely drop a million pounds on a 2-bed in West London, you really, really don’t have to.