Warning signs flash red in the capital's housing market

There’s one area that may be flashing a warning sign for the rest of London's red hot housing market, says Matthew Partridge – new-builds.


Aberdeen: feeling the pain of the oil slump

Although London's housing market still appears to be red hot (see below for the latest example of London property madness), there's one specific area that may be flashing a warning sign for the rest of the market new-builds. "As more shiny residential towers rise on the banks of the River Thames, buyer appetite has paled," say Judith Evans, Jennifer Thompson and Chris Brewer in the Financial Times.

There are more than 50,000 high-end flats being developed in the area, according to one estimate yet only 3,900 properties worth more than £1m (the target price bracket) were sold in 2014. This is having a knock-on effect on developers, with shares in London property group Capco falling after it revealed that "sales of apartments in its Lillie Square development in west London which cost between £600,000 and £6m had not risen since November".

"Vendors have cut the asking prices on 39% of homes in central London's best districts since they were first offered for sale, according to data compiled by researcher LonRes in January," confirm Bloomberg's Neil Callanan and Jack Sidders. This is " the largest proportion of properties in at least three years". Prices are falling for the simple reason that sales are slowing.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE

Get 6 issues free

Sign up to Money Morning

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Sign up

According to up-market estate agency Knight Frank, "the number of properties sold in the boroughs of Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea fell more than 25%from January through October 2015 compared with a year earlier".

What's to blame? Rising supply clearly hasn't helped, but there are obstacles on the demand side too. Chancellor George Osborne's decision to reform stamp duty, so that those buying more expensive houses and those buying more than one house have to pay proportionately more, is clearly having a big impact on demand for prime property.

Meanwhile, the commodities slump has slashed the amount of money flowing in from investors in the Gulf and Russia and the downturn in China has had some impact on demand from wealthy Asians. As for buyers elsewhere in London the boom began in the super-prime areas and radiated out to the rest of the capital. The same may now happen in reverse.

Aberdeen: from boom to slump

Indeed, "the average price of a home in the Scottish city still known as the energy capital of Europe' has fallen 4.1% over the past year to £186,200". This slump comes "after seven years of phenomenal growth when it outpaced the UK".

The commercial property market is hurting even more than the residential one, says The Scotsman's Gareth Mackie. Investment in the city has plunged by 80%, dragging down the Scottish total. Even as Edinburgh and Glasgow bucked the trend, with a "record year" for office deals, according to CoStar Group, "a total of £2.2bn was invested in Scotland's commercial property sector in 2015 a slide of 41% on the record £3.5bn invested the previous year".

It's unsurprising that Edinburgh, with its large financial-services sector and proximity to the seat of the Scottish government, has been doing much better. Clearly, as the centre of the Scottish oil industry, Aberdeen was bound to be hit hard by the dramatic collapse in oil prices, which has driven many energy companies either to cut back on production, or suspend activity altogether. But with oil being such a key part of Scotland's economy, the ripple effects are likely to be felt across the nation, particularly if oil prices stay low.

London house-price lunacy

However,prospective buyers may not be thrilledto realise that the unique feature inquestion is that some of the flats haveno windows. While some of the flatshave skylights, others will have tomake do with "light wells", channellinglight from windows in the flats above.

But whether you view such a flat as"a sanctuary of calm" or a recipe forclaustrophobia, the sad thing is thatthe agents may be correct in callingthem a "bargain". As of January, LandRegistry shows that the average priceof a flat in the area is £545,157.

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

Follow Matthew on Twitter: @DrMatthewPartri