News: Bargain time for London?

Fri, 16 Nov 07

London is generally thought of as one of the most expensive cities in the world...

All the glamour, prestige and indeed wealth make the capital of Britain a hugely attractive place to visit, spend leisure time and do business, with the influx of the super-rich into central areas underlining the attractiveness of it - at least for some - as a place to live as well. But all this adds to the cost.

Whether this is in general prices (reflected by London weighting in Salaries), house prices or business property, a price literally has to be paid for being in the capital.

In the case of property the gap with the country at large has grown as the UK economy has boomed, the comparative north-south divide has reasserted itself (the early 1990s recession hit the southern half of Britain hardest) and house price growth has sped ahead of the UK average.

Window of opportunity?

Yet this situation may have suddenly changed, offering a window of opportunity for property investors to get a bargain. This is the view of 1st Property Investment, whose managing director Andy Smith said: "At this point it is probably the strongest moment people have had in the last three or four years to get a good deal done in London and the south-east."

The reason, Mr Smith stated, was that the recent housing slowdown, which has left many would-be first-time buyers sitting on their hands waiting to see how the market moves, has in turn caused many companies, "particularly large developers", to offer enticing deals in an attempt to ameliorate their worse than expected performances this year. “Therefore we have been achieving deals that we have never seen before," he added.

Investors may therefore take a fresh look at the capital and its hinterland, whether considering buy-to-let or hoping to increase their commercial portfolios. In the latter case, overseas firms certainly set a high stall on having property in London, according to the capital's foreign direct investment agency Think London.

Now is the time to enter the market

Marc Hardwick, the body's research manager, said such firms liked the wide range of choice in office space, offering attractions such as flexibility and prestigious addresses.

But there was more, he noted - London is the best place to make money on commercial property in Europe: "The annual European Regional Economic Growth Index (E-REGI), recently published by LaSalle Investment Management, ranked London the top European city in terms of the returns on property it can offer investors."

Thus if London can offer the best returns in a whole continent, perhaps now is indeed the time to enter the market and search for a bargain which - literally - offers a big capital gain.

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