Comment: All that glitters is not gold when it comes to selling London’s new build homes
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Whilst sex might sell in Beverley Hills new homes in Hampstead and Highgate capitalise on more highbrow sales stories, but there’s more to the Midas touch of clever marketing than meets the eye
How do you market a hundred million dollar Beverley Hills mansion that comes with a gold Lamborghini in the garage, 170 bottles of Cristal champagne in the cellar and a couple of million dollars worth of Damien Hirst’s on the wall? With a three minute movie trauler featuring a cast of women nude but for some strategically placed sequins, a raunchy virtual reality bedroom sequence, and Sapphic overtones laid on thicker than the gold body paint.
There are a few shots of the house there, but blink and you’ll miss them. The team behind the trailer described it as having a ‘high art concept’ with stylistic nods to David Lynch, but it’s more Twin Cheeks than Twin Peaks.
It’s as if the marketing team couldn’t decide if their target audience was a Russian oligarch, a Saudi prince, or a minor Kardashian, so hedged their bets and tried to appeal to all of them at once. The result is certainly surreal, just not in the way they intended.
Over here we’re prudish in comparison. There are no steamy videos selling mansions on the Bishops Avenue. In leafy and wholesome Hampstead and Highgate new builds and refurbishments play to our love for all things literary and pride in local heritage.
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It’s the thinking person’s property porn. Naming blocks after local notaries buried in Highgate cemetery or creating brochures that fete the important part a building has had to play in past events are gestures designed to anchor these new buildings in an established narrative. It’s a very modern form of mythmaking in a city that’s constantly reinventing itself.
Sometimes there is a whiff of glamour, just not the model kind. There are apartments dressed with famous artworks (also for sale) or new homes that come with their own signature scent. Show homes come with carefully arranged keys for a luxury car on the side signal the level of affluence buyers might have – or aspire to have. Even tiny to scale site models have miniature versions of classic cars parked outside.
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Marketing matters. Humans are highly visual creatures, and we crave stories to make sense of what we see. When you’re buying a home you’re buying into the idea of who you could be if you lived there: a happier, healthier, wealthier version of you. No one would buy a home on the marketing materials alone, but they play a part in that emotional heartstring every estate agent wants to tug on.
There is a side of this that’s darker, and not in a sexy way. Hoardings covered in aspirational images of glossy, pale people shopping or looking out over a city skyline have been held up by the media as a symbol of the unbearable whiteness of gentrification, although they speak just as much to the lack of diversity in stock images.
Where developers market these properties has come under scrutiny too. The latest report from Transparency International UK highlighted how new builds have been heavily marketed overseas to attract investors, sometimes with whole developments sold to foreign buyers before local people get a look in.
I find it reassuring when a press release drops into my inbox because it means that in a marketing suite somewhere someone wanted to get these homes in front of local people. Even if they’re billed as luxurious in a market where luxury as a prefix has lost all meaning, they’ve been designed to be lived in by someone. Yes, their location gives them value, but there’s also the hope that the buyer will value the location.
There’s a real worry that the choicest postcodes in north London could become a series of glossy gated communities. My heart sinks when I see the social-rented homes shunted to the side of a site plan. It’s good that it’s there and not been quietly done away with altogether with a fine or a lawsuit, but it’s a visceral symbol of how London serves the wealthy few above its needy many.
Buying a new playground for the school next door is a great piece of PR of course, but it’s an important gesture to make in a climate where communities feel under threat and you certainly can’t trust the government to give up the funding goods. Developments such as the Highgate Newton Community Centre, where money raised from the homes built will be used for facilities for the community and residents will share public spaces should be applauded.
I’m not suggesting that developers are the heroes in this story. At the end of the day, the aim of building these homes is to make money. When even the council has to act as a de facto developer to try and turn a profit to make up for funding cuts the system is clearly broken. There’s another story behind the one we’re being sold.