As someone who grew up on the outskirts of London (in Zone 4), my annoyance towards very wealthy overseas investors buying central London properties began brewing as early as the 1980s. In those days, driving up from south London into the centre of the city for a night out would usually involve driving along Grosvenor Crescent in Belgravia.
During that time, Grosvenor Crescent was the most expensive street in London, the UK, and possibly the world. However, during the winter months, whether you drove past those houses at 7pm on a Wednesday or 9pm on a Saturday you would often notice that only 10-20% of homes had their lights switched on, and you would always say the same thing to your friends - ‘hardly anyone seems to live here’.
When rumours started spreading about wealthy investors from the Middle East paying £1m or more for these homes, just so that they could visit it for a few weeks in August and leave it empty for the rest of the year, ‘more money than sense’ was the most common response. However, fast-forward 30-35 years and these homes now sell for around £17m on average, which means that the return on those ‘senseless’ £1m holiday homes was around 50% per year, so it turns out that it was actually a very sensible investment.
Zoopla reported last year that Grosvenor Crescent is now only the third most expensive street in London to buy property, and for more than a decade Kensington Palace Gardens has been the nation’s most expensive street, where a home will set you back around £30m on average, although many homes are worth much more than that and some have had basements built that go down by as much as five floors. When you add in the upper floors, these buildings are more like 10-storey hotels and if you drive past these homes in the evening there will almost certainly be some lights on because the staff live there full-time, even if the owner only rarely visits…this is a new level of wealth.
However, there are plenty of ‘paupers’ that cannot afford to pay for half a dozen staff to sit in their home all year, and thousands of these multi-million-pound homes in London are left empty for much of the year.
According to Zoopla, there are now more than 11,000 streets in Britain where the average property price exceeds £1m. And while the postcodes of the most expensive streets in London may change, the problem of empty homes in the capital has only gotten worse.