London property expert talks about the current market in the capital

Posted 19 October 2017 by Jo Courtney

WhatHouse.com talks exclusively with Alison Hurcombe of London Property South about the homes market in London...

WhatHouse? has an exclusive interview with Alison Hurcombe, the publishing director of London Property South, an established and much-respected magazine focusing on property across London’s south-east and south-west boroughs.

Please tell us a little about yourself and London Property South.

I’ve been in advertising for most of my professional life. My career began on a regional newspaper where I became specifically involved in property advertising, from there I never looked back, working on many property glossy magazines, both regionally and nationally. Property is my passion and I have continued to work in this field for over 25 years. Six years ago I launched London Property South.

Within a year of launching London Property South it had become the go-to magazine for news, views, insights into the best neighbourhoods, financial know how, design inspiration and lots more. I love meeting people and hearing about their worries and triumphs so this is my ideal job.

When I’m not working I love theatre and hearing live music. I’m a big lover of modern jazz and often go to Ronnie Scott’s and the Jazz Café and sometimes a bit nearer home to Hideaway in Streatham. I am very keen on supporting local bars and restaurants in my home town Tooting where I often meet friends and family. 

To keep fit I belong to a gym and also walk, my target is 10,000 steps a day using my Fitbit, but this can sometimes be difficult. What helps is living so near the leafy wonderland of Tooting Common. 

I also love foreign travel and make sure I have a few holidays abroad each year to recharge my batteries.

Times are tough for some print titles, but what is it about print that still appeals to many consumers?

People said that sales of books would drop drastically when the Kindle appeared on the scene, but now book sales are undergoing a revival. In the world of magazines I think there will always be a place for specialist titles. Let's face it, flicking through a magazine while lounging on the sofa is so much more comfortable than peering at a phone, laptop or Kindle.

Digital media can be dynamic, but also can be overwhelming. Everything online competes for your attention, and it’s draining. Reading an article on your phone can become frustrating as messages, pings, notifications and email alerts all fight for your limited screen space.

Print doesn’t do this: it provides an oasis from the torrent of information that our devices pour out. I believe in future people will choose to unplug or disconnect to engage more with printed material.

One of the many benefits of physical marketing is that it stays with the viewer more than digital ads, which tend to be a distraction. An ad in a magazine is more memorable than something you scroll past on the web and there’s also power in something that can be held or handed out. It’s amazing how impressed advertisers are when you offer to give them extra copies of an issue or send them their page which they frame and display in the office.

It’s also difficult if not impossible to brand yourself as an agent above all others on a property portal or online. Everyone is trying to do the same thing, but local magazine advertising has less competition and advertisers can stand out from the crowd.

People may spend time with other media, but time spent with print is quality time and that offers a powerful communication opportunity. Remember that earlier this year Waitrose said that print remains its most effective advertising channel.

So for more effective marketing, advertisers need to get physical and go back to the future.

How have you seen Brexit and the general election affect the market in the area you focus on?

Property prices were at the forefront of the debate in the run up to last year’s referendum and some of the scare tactics adopted by politicians led to uncertainty and a nervous market. When London got the result it didn’t want, we were all waiting for the carnage that George Osborne and the Remainers warned was about to sweep the country. But fortunately in the New Year things started to pick up a little, buyers were back and the first quarter for many agents was a superb early spring market.

Then just as things were getting better, the government called a snap general election and this caused more hesitation. But the property market is fairly resilient and able to brush off political and economic uncertainty. The agents in south London are looking forward to a steady market with steady growth that is far healthier than the significant increases of recent years. Despite an expected seasonal dip for house prices as we lead into the last quarter, their figures reflect a wholly resilient market.

What do you consider the best places for owner-occupier buyers to consider at the moment?

Picking future property hotspots can always feel a bit like a lottery. But it is not impossible.

Here are my top four top picks:

Streatham

Streatham has undergone regeneration and offers a good location within south-west London’s charmed circle. Well connected to the city centre by the rail services from three stations and centred around the open space of Streatham Common, it is perfect for both families and commuters. There is loads to do with new bars, shops and restaurants opening all the time. Streatham is once again the hotspot of South London, with a mixture of housing stock at competitive prices. 

Kennington

There are dramatic changes taking place all around it. Less than a mile from Parliament, the district’s Victorian terraces and Georgian squares act as a block on big development projects. It has been gentrifying for decades, but hasn’t reached the heights yet. The Northern Line spur will accelerate its popularity.

Kennington also butts up against the Thames, right where ancient Lambeth Palace stands, and where an ugly office block has been bulldozed to make way for Palace View — 55 apartments with full-height glazing to maximise the vista.

Lewisham

Lewisham, south London, is the natural heir to Hackney. Both boroughs were once home to tatty, decaying housing stock. They had a reputation for crime and substandard transport systems. Lewisham is now benefiting from the East London Line, which passes through Shoreditch in Hackney down to Forest Hill and Sydenham, and is drawing buyers farther south. Lewisham has great housing stock and has the parks and shops of Dulwich nearby. Now that it has the transport links, too, it has taken over from Peckham as the new on-trend place to buy south of the river.

Croydon

Cool Croydon: bars, burgers and a new Boxpark are making Kate Moss's hometown a hipster hotspot. As well as smashed avocado and quinoa muffins, there is an art gallery set up by Damien Hirst’s dealer, called Rise, and a silicon diaspora, with Croydon Tech City wooing young companies.

The biggest regeneration plan is the development of the Whitgift Centre. Over £1bn is being spent to create an enormous Westfield shopping centre to rival Stratford and Shepherd’s Bush and will include a new cinema, bowling alley and restaurants.

Just 16 minutes journey from Victoria, and roughly halfway between central London and Gatwick, Croydon makes a compelling offer for internationally-minded, cost-conscious occupiers.

The Dingwall Road car park has been transformed into an outdoor cinema and Boxpark is now open, with a Street Feast food market planned. Meanwhile, the £30m makeover of Croydon’s Fairfield Halls – which will see the 1960s' theatre become a state-of-the-art performance venue – is well underway

Croydon recorded double-digit house price growth last year and is among the boroughs tipped to see the highest house price growth this year.

So head south, while you can still afford it.

And what about buy-to-let investors?

With increasing numbers deciding to rent, there is no shortage of areas where the case for property investment is compelling, despite squeezed margins. Anyone tempted to invest in a buy-to-let property has to research the market with care. Yields have been squeezed by the reduction in mortgage interest relief on second homes, as well as the 3% stamp duty surcharge on such homes.

Popular with buy-to-let investors is Nine Elms, where competing developments are coming to completion and offering differing packages to entice tenants. Those priced out of Clapham and Balham are considering Streatham and Tooting and another area to watch for investment is Croydon, which can offer yields of up to 4.5%.

Is south-west London missing out from some of the big regeneration seen in east and south-east London?

No, with the recent development of Battersea Power station, and the surrounding Nine Elms mega-project, which is one of Europe’s biggest regeneration projects – attracting a £16bn investment, compared with the £96bn cost of redeveloping the 2012 Olympics site in Stratford.

The new regeneration extending out from the iconic Battersea Power station all the way up to Vauxhall Bridge covers an area of 227 hectares – almost enough to accommodate 300 football pitches – and will provide 20,000 new homes. The redevelopment of Grade II-listed Battersea Power Station, which also encompasses The Electric Boulevard shopping district, is housing many high-end brands including some of the world’s biggest companies, like Apple’s new headquarters.

The £1bn extension of the Northern Line with two new underground stations at Battersea Power Station and Nine Elms will connect the area into central London within a few minutes and make it easier for individuals to travel around this amazing capital. The city has already seen the potential of the area, and the US and Dutch embassy plan their move to the regeneration zone, with talks going around of it becoming the new diplomatic quarter.

Has there really been an increase in people leaving London for leafier locations in the Home Counties?

There has been an increase over the last few years of upsizers moving out of South London. The proportion of buyers moving to the country, as families look for more space, excellent schools, good-value homes and direct transport links to London has been steadily increasing over the last five years. Savills reported early this year in 2011 that these buyers accounted for 37% of London movers. By 2016, it had increased  to 46%. The most popular locations have consistently been the Home Counties, especially Surrey and Berkshire.

Hesitation in the market has contributed to fewer transactions recently but while the value gap between London and the country has fallen a little, there are still great savings to be made by moving out, which will be a major driver of the market as confidence improves.

How has your personal experiences of buying a home and moving influenced your attitude to the property industry?

Buying the house where I live in Tooting, South London was a challenging experience.

I was living in Surbiton and wanted to move closer to friends in Clapham South but knew I couldn’t afford Clapham so started driving around the Balham area and happened upon the Heaver Estate. I went into a local agent and when I mentioned my budget I was laughed at and made to feel quite small. How could I have possibly thought I could afford to live there? Silly me!

So that was not a very positive experience of a local agent, but I did what she suggested and started looking elsewhere in Tooting. It was an area I didn’t know and the market was booming and lack of stock meant people were buying property without viewing.

I found a lovely independent agent in the area and he started showing me properties but said I had to be prepared to act fast. It was madness and I was gazumped a couple of times, losing surveyors fees and then one day Jack (my agent) called to say: “I have just been instructed on a fabulous three-bed Edwardian property in Furzedown. The builders are in refurbishing it but if you don’t mind a building site, you can view it today.”

I rushed over in the lunchbreak and it was perfect. In an area I hadn’t considered. I made an offer immediately.

Without my agent’s help, his knowledge of the area and understanding of my requirements I would never have found the property. I would like to end this tale however by thanking the first agent that told me I’d have to “look further down the Northern Line”, as now Tooting has recently been named by the Lonely Planet one of 10 coolest neighbourhoods in the world, alongside exotic hotspots in Rio, Seoul and New York!

Are there other parts of the UK that you’d like to set up an extra edition to your title, and why?

Not another part of the UK, but I would like to launch into north, east and west  London, and maybe further out into the Surrey fringes to complete the map – but I will perhaps need to crowd fund the operation, as it would be a costly thing to do!

 

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