From warehouse parties to closing pubs…
We all know the obvious indicators that a new pocket of London is about to get gentrified quicker than you can say “Hugh Fernley-Wittingstall”: The earthy scents of hand-ground Fairtrade Ecuadorian coffee beans floating from the artfully distressed doorway of a new barista; the sizzle of sourced-from-Suffolk seventy-per-cent-pork sausages whispering to you over a traffic jam of Bugaboo prams; the cacophony of media types in their 30s chattering about the local Aqua Zumba class that’s “only £15!”
The cannier residential property investors among you will want to spot the next-big-thing postcodes your eight million fellow Londoners haven’t caught onto yet. To do this you need to be able to spot the really early signs an area is on the up – the signs that don’t look like signs at all. Welcome to our guide to the counter-intuitive indicators that a London area is on the verge of a property price explosion.
1. Dead high streets
A friend working in property tells me: “I live between Camden and Holloway. When I walked down the road next to mine, it used to be mainly empty shops, which you might think isn’t great. But that’s because before then those units had been Ladbrokes, chicken shops and other low-end shops. They couldn’t afford the rent anymore. Now they’re all being redone. There will soon be a new crop of coffee shops and hairdressers.”
Alex Carr, associate, residential development at Knight Frank, says closing pubs can be an indicator in the same way. “Sometimes pubs have to close for new cocktail bars to open!” He urges caution though, as a wilting local pub scene might also “hint at an area’s unpopularity”. To find out either way, contact local councils and look out for any “coming soon” signs on shop fronts and pub windows. Some London areas also have online noticeboards that might help you out.
2. Warehouse parties
Local folk often fear the financial impact to their properties of the rumbling basslines that seem, of late, to permeate their previously peaceful neighbourhoods from midnight to 11am every weekend. But a new spate of parties hosted in large commercial units, spewing out drug-addled trendy types and repetitive noises, are a good indicator that a London area is a few years off the big time.
Dalston, and more recently Stratford, are textbook examples. The cool kids go to the parties hosted in the battered old warehouses their impoverished arty mates can (just about) afford on the outskirts of town. Soon, they want to rent there too, to be seen on the scene. Within a couple of years the area has established its kudos, and a wealthier and older crowd start buying up, bringing with them the boutique retailers and coffee shops that will gentrify the area – ready for rich City boys to push the property prices up even further a year or two later.
3. Lots of building work and skips in residential streets
Forests of scaffolding might at first engender terrifying thoughts of disrepair everywhere. But a flurry of building activity is often the symptom of a flock of new buyers who’ve spotted the potential of an area early on, and are renovating their new homes. Home-owners willing to invest in tarting up their bricks and mortar are likely to have: 1) A bit of cash to splash; 2) Intentions of re-selling for more money. If lots of properties are being done up in tandem, it will also benefit the look and feel of the whole street or micro-area, again adding value to the district.
4. Lots of bicycles
Swarms of cycles “might seem like an area can be full of students”, Carr says. But he reminds opportunistic investors that “London is full of celebrity cyclists – Elle Macpherson, Boris Johnson – and [cycling]is now seen as part of a healthy and wealthy lifestyle.”
The trick is to eye up the brands and general demeanour of the bikes in question. Rusting remnants from the 80s chained to lampposts casually (i.e. just by the frame with little care for whether the wheels are nicked) are probably £20 wonders owned by students. But, if the bike population is more up in the echelons of Bianchi, Colnago, Condor and custom-built fixies, then you’re looking at neighbours who comfortably spend anything from the price of a flight to Sydney (economy class) up to the price of a flight to Sydney (first class) on their wheels.
5. Drunken, drug-taking ravers
This one is suggested by Patrick Bullick, managing director of estate agents STANLEY Chelsea and chair of The National Association of Estate Agents for London region. He explains: “Brixton a few years back is a good case study. We used to get people from nightclubs, all hours of the night, peeing in our garden, taking drugs. Then the police cracked down on them. But those clubs put Brixton back on the scene for a younger generation.
“Now those people, who were 18 or 25 then, are 30- to 35-year-olds. They’ve bought properties in Brixton, making it their home and giving it that new lease of life.” Catering for them now is the redevelopment of Brixton’s market into the distinctly disposable-income – and utterly lovely – Brixton Village, not to mention the last few years’ spiralling house prices in SW9.
It’s a similar pattern to the warehouse parties: an area becomes trendy, albeit gritty, and over the next few years that trendiness matures into gentrification and brings in first-time buyers. If you can tolerate the ravers, you’ll be the one with your hands in the air in years to come.
6. Empty driveways
“Empty driveways can make an area look uninhabited,” says Carr, which is obviously not what you want from your next residential investment. “However, it may be that the cars are an expensive brand and their owners therefore favour off-street parking, or keep theirs in their garages,” he adds. You obviously can’t go snooping around residents’ properties trying to find out, but you can sit outside a café having a nice cup of coffee and observing cars driving past. Of course, front gardens are a giveaway too – flashy cars often come hand-in-hand with well-manicured gardens.
7. People begging on the streets
You might think that London’s most affluent areas are exclusively populated by pashmina-clad Pandoras and Percivilles walking their pet poodles. You might think that people begging on the streets is more Harare that Mayfair-y. But you’d be wrong on both counts. People asking the public for pounds need to ensure those passers-by have pounds to give – which means they often congregate in places they know there are rich residents. Don’t rely on this indicator alone – it might just mean that a new hostel or shelter has opened nearby – but if you spot it in conjunction with one or two other signs on this list, you could be onto a winner.