Comment: Is art beating property as a top-end investment?

Willowbrook party

Willowbrook party - Credit: Archant

Record-breaking prices have been achieved for both art and property since the financial crash – but could art be overtaking as the safest place to stash your cash?

Immediately after the financial crash, investors at the top of the market in both art and property were reaping the rewards of these two supposedly failsafe havens for money. Record-breaking sales in both markets happened despite considerable dips lower down the scale: Damien Hirst’s two-day sale at Sotheby’s in September 2008 raised £111 million on the very day that Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy, while the Candy brothers’ launch of One Hyde Park in 2009 coincided with a plunge in the value of most people’s houses.

In Hampstead now it seems like the scales could be tipping in favour of art.

A new record of £113 million was set for the Modigliani painting sold to a Chinese billionaire this month. Meanwhile, listening to the woes of high-end north London estate agents you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d dreamt reports of London property prices smashing pre-crash peaks.

But, say the agents, such is the unequal nature of the new Stamp Duty rules, which significantly increased the tax burden on buying properties above the £2 million-ish mark. As a result, vendors are going to increasing lengths to attract buyers, touting holidays or free interior design as incentives. They’re also using art to lure people to their properties.

How to Spend It, the Financial Times’ luxury lifestyle supplement, highlighted the trend for developers to incorporate museum-quality artworks in luxury developments, thereby increasing their value by three or four per cent (no mean sum when faced with a seven-figure asking price).

The team behind Willowbrook decided to combine an arty party with a property viewing at the off-Bishops Ave development’s launch last week.

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The house was populated with works provided by Hampstead’s Zebra One Gallery for the event and guests were encouraged to mingle, play roulette and listen to a jazz band while viewing the house. Interestingly, artworks by Finn Stone and Dom Pattison sold, while agents Goldschmidt & Howland and Aston Chase were taking a soft sales approach for the property itself.

Why might art be safe but property not? Perhaps agents are right to blame Stamp Duty: while with property the tax burden falls heavily on the buyer, making a purchase for investment less appealing, with art it’s the seller who pays up. Whatever the cause, it may make for a cooler property market but it does make for some hot parties.