Independent woman: no holds barred advice on buying, selling, and understanding the London property market
PUBLISHED: 07:00 26 June 2017
Independent property advisor Jemimah Barnett on the mad world of property, tips for picking a not-so-terrible new build and how to fix the housing crisis
A quick Google search for Jemimah Barnett, independent property advisor, brings up the sort of website that looks more suited to a high end fashion boutique. All tasteful pastels, elegant script font and impossibly glamorous headshots.
But don’t be fooled by the blow dry and shift dress. Buying agents can always be that little bit more candid about the market but Barnett is no holds barred when it comes to her opinions. When it comes to property she’s refreshingly straight talking in an industry known for being heavy on the hype, shooting straight from the hip on everything from pricing your property right to explaining just how London developers have got it so wrong.
Before moving into property Barnett worked in the city, so she’s probably seen her fair share of hot air.
“It was really quite an interesting transition, coming from finance. You think of that as the Wild West with people doing shady things, and then I came into property and I was like, ‘oh wow,’” she laughs.
“The property market in the UK really IS the Wild West, with people running around doing whatever they want with huge amounts of money, and there’s astonishingly little regulation. You can literally be driving an Uber taxi today then tomorrow you can value and sell someone’s house. It’s insane!”
Barnett acts as a buffer between her clients and the crazier side of house hunting, holding their hand through viewings, crunching the numbers and negotiating fiercely for a good price.
Even if you can’t afford her services, she has plenty of advice for vendors in north London. “Any resale inventory there that’s remotely well priced is not going to be difficult to shift,” she says, particularly in Primrose Hill, the west side of Regent’s Park, or newly trendy Marylebone.
If you own property in inner north London and are looking to sell, now might be your window of opportunity. “The challenge in north London is there is quite a lot of new build, a lot of it is fairly overpriced compared to resale stock, but a lot of the resale stock is a little bit run down,” she notes.
Since the financial crash there are less people doing up homes in order to sell them on, leaving a gap in the middle. Barnett reckons this is the perfect opportunity for families to “zhush up” their property to sell on for a good price.
Buying agents and estate agents aren’t renowned for always seeing eye to eye, but when it comes to vendors getting the price of their house right everything Barnett says chimes with what every sales agent is stressing now: don’t price too high.
“It’s very common here for people to list their homes with three or even four sales agents,” explains Barnett.
“They’re incentivised to lie to you. They’re competing for the business; they want to get the listing so they quote silly numbers.” Stick with one agent and an honest valuation rather than letting your head be turned by a sky high valuation.
“They always think the risk is under pricing, but actually the risk is in overpricing. If you overprice your house it will sit on the market, nobody will offer on it,” warns Barnett. “Time on the market is like cancer for property. The longer it sits on the market the lower the offers are going to get.”
It sounds upside down, but as any economist knows the market will find its level. “If you under price your home, the market will correct for that. Potential buyers will think it’s a bargain and you’d get multiple offers that would bid the price up.”
As for buyers, “Absolutely negotiate. I’ve been able to do deals for clients in the last six months that would not have been possible even a year ago.”
If possible, Barnett advises would-be buyers to opt for a house over an apartment. Even if it’s further out of London, owning an entire property gives you room to ‘build value’ in business lingo.
“I always push my clients towards resale stock,” she says. “It’s old, but because it as built to be liveable it’s got sturdy bones, big windows, high ceilings, good room proportions. Then you look at what they’re building now with low ceilings and tiny boxes, just grim and sad and too close together.”
Barnett is a big fan of period property, but stock is tight right now. Even downsizers with a house in London would prefer to hold on to it and take advantage of low interest rates on mortgages to purchase a smaller property.
Even if you have a £1 million plus budget like Barnett’s clients, in order to get the best location you might be looking at a new build flat, and they come with their own benefits.
“A lot of people want apartments these days. Some people don’t want the responsibility or the security issues that come with owning a house,” she explains. “When you own a home and the land it sits on you are truly responsible and if the roof caves in you might not be equipped to deal with it, financially or otherwise. There is a safety with leasehold properties, but you do pay a huge premium for it.”
When buying leasehold there are important things to consider, cautions Barnett.
“I would say especially for first time buyers or younger buyers really keep an eye on ongoing costs, which are ground rent and service charges,” she advises.
“Really pay attention to what’s in your lease. They do sometimes embed weird restrictions that could affect the value of your property down the line.”
Building value on apartments is harder, so picking the right location and a good developer is paramount to making sure you don’t lose out on your property investment in the long run.
Barnett’s top tip is to assess whether you think the developer has cut corners. With her own clients she often takes them on a back to back tour of what she considers a bad development and a good one, as it’s hard to tell from a glossy brochure full of CGI renderings.
“If you’re buying off the plan, really study the site plan,” she says. “There’s no point having a balcony if it’s glass and two metres away from someone else’s balcony.”
Other things to look out for are ceiling heights. “Are the ceiling heights like living in a coffin? If they are, what they’ve done is tried to overstuff the height and get in too many units. That’s going to affect your value in the long term, but also your quality of life.”
Barnett sees a lot of poor developments in her line of work, and her sympathy for developers struggling to sell is limited. “If they’d built sensible stuff in areas people want to live at remotely decent prices then they wouldn’t have any slack in their inventory, but they’ve run out of the sort of buyers that are willing to buy things that are a genuinely terrible investment,” she says.
“There’s an enormous development overhang that’s created a bit of a weird effect in the market. If you want to buy new build now is a great time to be buying it because you can go in really low.”
Above the £5 million mark she reckons there’s been a 30 per cent drop in sales volumes, as lower oil prices mean fewer buyers from Russia or the Middle East whilst the Chinese government has tightened regulations on money leaving their country.
“We are seeing a better mix of buyers. We’re pivoting back to local buyers. Local meaning anywhere in Europe,” she clarifies. “The overseas buyers we have now who are coming from the Middle East and China now are the savvy ones, the ones who are still quite liquid, or who maybe got their money out of China before the crackdown.”
Barnett loves working with these clients, who tend to know exactly how and where they want to invest their money.
“Those people buy differently. They’re not just looking to throw cash at anything,” she explains. “That’s been a bit problematic for the big developers here, because they have so much inventory that nobody asked for, like £3 million one beds in Battersea.”
Meanwhile the inventory that people are asking for is nowhere to be found.
“If you talk to the sales agents around areas such Kensington and Chelsea they are like, ‘My Kingdom for a house! Someone give me a house to sell!’” The market has reacted accordingly, with Rightmove recording a 16 per cent rise in asking prices in the area over the past year.
Kensington and Chelsea the borough where Grenfell Tower burned. Our interview was recorded the week before the tragedy, but here it took a spookily prescient turn as we discuss the stark divide between all these new developments and the housing crisis.
“We have a particular problem in London where a lot of new stock is being built and none of it is ever made available seriously to local people, either because it’s not remotely affordable or because it’s not even being marketed here,” she sighs.
“Unfortunately the things the government is doing to help first time buyers, such as Help to Buy, are inflationary as well. What they’re calling affordable is delusional.”
Barnett thinks an amnesty on stamp duty for first time buyers would be a better measure. She dislikes the new tax laws, but not for the reasons you might think.
“Stamp duty is a revenue raising exercise. It’s a reminder that all governments are greedy,” she says. “If they wanted to really cool the market they could do it in the next five minutes by implementing capital control for foreign investors. They don’t want to do that, obviously, because they don’t want a property crash and they need the money.”
A financier turned buying agent advocating for more market controls?
“It’s a controversial measure,” she agrees. “But here’s the thing – if the government really wanted to slow down the property market and cool prices down then they wouldn’t have done the things they’re doing.”
There’s no easy way out of the mess that the market is in, but Barnett has some seriously sensible suggestions to start tackling it.
“My preference would be for councils to return to what they did in the 1980s which was actually taking federal funds and building houses. That’s a better way of bringing the market down, bringing direct competition to the construction sector,” she says.
“Maybe we should thing about for a brief period cooling the jets on how much of London we sell off overseas. It’s something to think about.”
Forget Jeremy 4 Prime Minister, I’m backing Barnett for No. 10.