Buying for children – still a smart London property play?

According to Legal & General, the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ will contribute to 47% of house purchases this year. But does this really reflect what is happening in the prime London buying market?

As a London buying agent, many of my clients are parents investing in property for their children. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting dozens of families over the years, and parental-led purchases have always formed a large part of the prime London market. In my role, circa 20% of active requirements come from clients buying for their children.

From my experience, buying real estate for children remains a wise decision. It sits at the intersection of securing a comfortable future for the next generation, economic foresight, emotional attachment, and a desire to provide safety and stability.

Typically, the parents drive the decision to start a property search, often as part of their tax planning. I have had clients whose children are very young and properties were being ‘bought for them’, but when you get to know the client, other reasons for the purchase emerge. Examples include wanting a rental investment in the immediate term that is tax efficient, protecting assets from Capital Gains or Inheritance Tax if it is structured correctly, or simply using the rent to pay the school fees. The children are rarely involved in the early stages of the search.

In some instances, I have parents looking to buy as many as three or four London properties for their children of equal size and budget so that there is no favouritism shown. Siblings tend not to share individual properties as this can cause complications if one party decides to move at a later stage.

On my patch, I tend to see families searching for properties within the £2 – £5 million price range. However, parents buying multiple properties need to factor in paying multiple sets of legal fees and stamp duties. Most of the properties we have sourced for children this year have been houses with a freehold, as this reduced the parents’ exposure to service charges and other costs.

These variables form part of the initial consultation with clients at the start of the process to understand their needs and advise on which London areas would best suit them and their budget.

I recently advised an Australian family on the merits of London postcodes and property options for their daughter, most of which were off-market. The reality is that a two bedroom flat in Notting Hill is great, but moving further to a location like Battersea, Putney or Clapham will secure a house for the same budget. Many of these areas are excellent locations but have been hampered by the lack of quality housing, transport links and amenities in the past. Consequently, they are more affordable than some of their more affluent neighbours.

I have seen a spike in demand for parents seeking properties in Fulham, South West London, where there are more options for Victorian houses and prices can range from £1.5 – £2.5 million for a good-sized house on the best streets. These properties are also easily resellable should circumstances change.

Nostalgia also plays a significant role in choosing a location. Many parents have a deep-seated attachment to an area whether due to personal experiences, cultural ties, or professional opportunities. This emotional connection often drives the decision to invest in property to preserve familial roots and ensure that future generations have a tangible link to the family’s history and heritage.

In conclusion, London, as a global financial and cultural hub, has long been an attractive destination for property investment. Parents keen on ensuring the financial well-being of their offspring recognise the potential long-term gains and liquidity that London’s real estate market can offer. The city’s property values have historically shown a consistent upward trajectory, making real estate an appealing asset for wealth accumulation. By purchasing property for their children, parents essentially provide them with a valuable asset that is likely to appreciate over time, potentially serving as a foundation for future financial security.

For more information, please get in touch with me here.

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What do wealthy buyers want in a home? London vs Country

The Wealth Report 2023, published by Knight Frank earlier this year, gave us a comprehensive review of prime property markets, global wealth distribution and luxury spending trends.

However, how do these luxury trends translate into what spaces and amenities wealthy buyers seek in their next property purchase? And how does this differ between our London and countryside clients? We asked Philip Eastwood (Partner, London) and Mark Lawson (Partner, Country) to share their insights.

London – by Philip Eastwood

I’ve seen a spike in demand from London buyers favouring functional, usable, and low-maintenance spaces.

As the cost per square foot in London is so high, clients want to maximise the use of their space and prefer properties with areas that can be enjoyed daily rather than occasionally. For example, some of our clients don’t want swimming pools that are rarely used and have high maintenance costs. It’s come full circle. They would rather have a really good utility room for daily use or even more extensive wardrobes.  Many clients already have homes in places like Majorca, Ibiza, and the South of France with a pool, so they don’t need one in their basement.

Clients often insist on property features that make life more comfortable and efficient. Double glazing, air-conditioning, fibre broadband, on-site porters and parking are all prerequisites. These requirements outweigh extras like saunas, cinema rooms and gyms. Even some high-end lighting systems with complicated control systems have become passé as clients look for wireless and smart AV solutions.

This pursuit for practical spaces also crosses over into the condition of a property. My clients want their homes to be turn-key and a finished product. That means they expect a well-fitted kitchen, a good shower, and top-end interior design and materials. Very few clients have the appetite to take on a lengthy refurbishment project.

The topic of security is also becoming more prevalent. Clients are interested in how safe a street is and the security systems available. The notion of a panic room can make people feel uncomfortable. However, some London roads employ private security firms to reduce crime. For example, Chelsea Square and Brunswick Gardens have regular patrols with guards and dogs – all paid for by the residents.

Lastly, I have noticed that clients continue to look for properties with considerable floor-to-ceiling heights and big walls. Why? Well, with art investments rising by 29% in 2023 and the stellar prices paid for museum-quality works of art by ultra-wealthy collectors, our clients need bigger spaces for bigger art pieces!

Country – by Mark Lawson

As London buyers crave pragmatism, we receive more extravagant requests in the countryside, where our clients have plenty of space to work with.

To complement outdoor country living, no country home is complete without a boot room. A client of mine built himself a new boot room where each family member had their own named space, polished oak locker, each with a heater to dry out and warm up two pairs of Wellington boots. It also included heated coat, hat and glove sections. 

Often, dogs have their oak-panelled beds with their names, a shower or wash area, and sections for all their leads.

There is also demand for the ‘butler’s pantry’ as an amenity, a space that allows the host to prep for meals without entering the kitchen. These spaces are becoming more multi-functional and elaborate, and I expect this will be a trend that grows as interior designers continue to push the boundaries.

I have had clients with specific needs for wardrobe space and storage.  I once had a client who had an online database for the contents of her wardrobe so that she could track precisely which pieces of clothing were in her houses around the world. We have also seen clients with refrigerated wardrobes for those with pieces of clothing that are preserved best at lower temperatures, like faux fur and suedes.

Another popular area is the continued interest in well-being spaces and wellness activities. Padel tennis is the fastest-growing sport in the world – lots are installing courts at home. The craze spread quickly amongst country house owners and purchasers, with many building courts on their land. We have also seen clients asking for ice baths, cryotherapy chambers and meditation spaces – dedicated rooms for recovery, reflection and spirituality.

Finally, an increasing number of wealthy individuals are interested in sustainable and eco-friendly features, such as solar panels, energy-efficient appliances, and eco-conscious building materials. This means they can offset the costs of running high-end amenities such as pools and home cinemas.

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Outlook on the prime central London market this autumn

It goes without saying that the last year of uncertainty amid interest rate hikes has had an instrumental impact on the real estate market. Whilst we expect the interest rate to have finally hit its peak, here is our outlook on the buying market and the shift we’re seeing in prime central London.

In a period that is traditionally one of the busiest times of the year, as we enter the autumn market, we are optimistic that London stock levels will improve, and this will continue for the remainder of 2023 into 2024. Whilst we expect house prices to further reduce elsewhere in the country, the average sale price of London prime properties has shown resilience throughout the past year, and we expect this to continue.

There is greater demand than usual from clients for turn-key properties – the appetite for ‘projects’ is low, so clients looking for a recently refurbished property in prime central London could really benefit from a buying agent. Often, we get access to these properties before they hit the open market and given that demand is outstripping supply, gaining that advantage will be crucial to being able to get the right property, in the right area at the right price.

We’ve also seen an increased demand for pied-à-terre properties in the capital as the shift to more permanent hybrid working patterns continues. I recently acted for a US client who was looking for a pied-à-terre. We helped them purchase an apartment in Knightsbridge’s most sought-after garden square address, right in the heart of the action, meeting their needs and giving them the perfect home from home. 

We’re also seeing a higher than average number of clients who currently rent but are deciding to buy. Unsurprisingly, rising rent prices in London are pushing some buyers to consider the trade-off between paying rent or buying a property and absorb the Stamp Duty – especially if they intend to extend their stay in London. Regarding other London hotspots, Marylebone, Chelsea, and Notting Hill continue to be popular choices amongst my client base, but London villages are also desirable. Locations like Wimbledon, Clapham, Barnes and Chiswick offer clients a short commute to the office with plenty of family activities on their doorstep.

As buying specialists, our local knowledge is critical if a buyer is searching for something particular. We can target specific houses. If the buyers are looking in a defined area, we will often already know the houses; if we don’t, we make approaches.

Buoying the stock levels for the rest of the year are those facing re-mortgaging who will assess their options on whether to hold on to a large family house, downsize or sell a second property. Add to this the uncertainty of a general election in 2024 and the Labour Party proposing to charge VAT on independent school fees, we may see vendors choosing to leave London in search of areas with excellent grammar schools.

In conclusion, with London and prime central London readying for a busy Q4, getting the right advice and expertise from an experienced buying agent is a wise decision. Get in touch with me here if you would like to carry on the conversation.

The Buying Solution in The Telegraph

Will Watson of The Buying Solution speaks to Arabella Youens of The Telegraph on the increased demand for pied a terre properties in London in light of more office time being called upon.

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Five differences between a buying agent and a selling agent

My professional life has changed considerably since I joined The Buying Solution in January 2023 as a buying agent. I never imagined I would be commandeering a helicopter to view off-market properties in Sussex, Surrey and Kent!

A bit about me: I grew up in Somerset, then moved to London in my early twenties and started my estate agency career with Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward before moving to Carter Jonas’ Barnes office. My first buying role was with an established boutique agency, Crown Mayfair. I then spent 5 years within Savills’ country department selling super prime country properties in Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire.

Having worked on both sides of the fence, I often think about the differences in skillset and lifestyle when moving from selling to buying agent. Here are my top 5:

We only represent the buyer

Buying agents differ from estate agents in that we are retained by the buyer to act in their best interest and charge a fee for this service. Our key objective is to find and secure a property that best matches our clients’ preferences and guide them through the whole search and acquisition process. 

We also aim to secure this on the best terms and price for our client, whereas, of course, the estate or letting agents work in the seller’s best interests. Sales agents are appointed to sell a property on behalf of the vendor, and once the transaction goes through, their job is done. Each agent will charge a fee for their service.

Giving access to off-market opportunities is one of our main winning edges. In fact, most of our transactions are off-market with many being totally exclusive to our client.

People and relationships

I prefer working as a buying agent primarily because it is a people business, and we work a lot closer with our clients which makes it more rewarding. 

Buying agents are much less process-driven and more focused on people, relationships and giving the best advice. It is not a servile relationship but more of a trusted advisor role based on honesty, often resulting in friendships at the end of the process. I have already been referred to a client’s friend to help with their search after securing them their new home.

You have to invest time to understand the client’s brief properly, and often, buyers may not even know what they want or may have misconceptions about certain areas or property types. Then, you have to find the right property at the right price, which often means mining a network of contacts to unearth off-market gems. As a buying agent, our job rarely ends when the deal has been completed, and our clients often seek our help once they have moved, whether it is for recommendations for local amenities, interior designers, architects, or property management issues, to name just a few.

Generally, once an exchange has taken place, the estate agent’s role has been satisfied, and they will be off to commence the next sale. Meanwhile, the buying agent is still liaising with the client over contractors, architects, security and other professionals, ensuring the transfer and completion run smoothly. Rarely will an estate agent go around to the house on the day of completion to check that the curtains included in the sale are at the property, for example. Our completion day starts with an inspection prior to final monies being released and we are then there to deal with the handover of keys and ensure the day runs as smoothly as possible.

Listening, empathy and discretion

The best buying agents listen to their clients. They understand what and why their client wants to buy something and quickly learn their likes and dislikes. Empathy and discretion are extremely important and differentiate the good from the bad or mediocre.

Most importantly, a good buying agent must know why the purchase price should be a certain amount when the agent is asking for something different.

The second important role is to highlight the positives and any possible negatives that might affect the client’s experience or the property’s future value. We explore what’s happening in the local area and delve into planning portals to spot any issues. As an example, is there a threat of major development in the area? A new housing development, be it close by or a number of miles away, could change the area dramatically in a few years – be it travel time to schools/stations or an impact on the view. Fracking is also a topic that we advise our clients on. A buying agent will organise surveyors, liaise with solicitors and other professionals to ensure the transaction proceeds with the minimum of fuss.

A buying agent’s role is not one of selling but of advising and safeguarding that their client’s interests are looked after at every step of the way, listening to them rather than telling. Although we are not afraid to tell clients what they might not want to hear if it is in their best interests.

Attention to detail

The buying process is often much longer than the selling process. To begin with, we will proactively search the market using our network of contacts to give you access to all properties that suit your requirements, including those that are only available ‘off market’. Patience is often needed as our role is to find the client the right house and on the right terms, so we have to play the long game at times to achieve this.

The search is only the start of The Buying Solution’s service, as we conduct extensive due diligence on the property, providing impartial advice on price and any other issues that might affect your future enjoyment. These are then summarised in our comprehensive due diligence report.

Our teams are made up of experts in their region who know how to get their clients to a ‘preferred buyer status’ and negotiate the most favourable terms on their behalf. It is only sometimes the case that the highest price wins, and we are creative and flexible when it comes to negotiating on your behalf. Once terms are agreed upon, we guide the purchase through to exchange of contracts dealing with any issues that might arise and working closely with solicitors and other advisers.

Following an exchange of contracts, we provide clients with a completion and handover service. This includes inspecting the property on the morning of completion to ensure everything is as it should be before final monies are released.

On purchases, our completion management specialist will then deal with the transfer of staff (if required), utilities and services and provide you with a New Owners Guide on how everything works, as well as advice on the ongoing management and the running of the property.

It’s not for everybody

I find that my role as a buying agent is much more varied than before. I cover a bigger region – from Surrey to Kent. This means I must plan my days more thoroughly and carefully manage my diary. 

I also work at home more with greater levels of autonomy but know that my evening or weekend can change very quickly if the right property for a client becomes available – as it is then all hands to the pump to land it for them.

Life as a buying agent can be very demanding as we often work to a tight timetable, but the rewards are worth it when we deliver. My most recent exchange in Surrey was a house that was offered to us through a private network; our clients were first through the door and, subsequently, the last through the door! They had been looking for over two years before engaging with us in a very tight area, and we acquired this for them within a few months of being instructed – they totally now see the value in using a buying agent.

Of course, there are perks to the job besides the helicopter trips. I get to see the best properties my patch has to offer and get to attend extraordinary events to meet clients from all over the world. Get in touch if you would like to find out more.