Fulham is ground zero of London’s slowing property market, The time to renovate and extend your prop
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The property market was so heated in the London district of Fulham 12 years ago that when a heavily pregnant Katinka Donagemma visited a two-bedroom flat there she was told she had 30 minutes to make an offer. So she did. These days, buyers are in no hurry. A house a few doors down from the flat Mrs Donagemma and her husband bought on Bronsart Road has been on the market for the past two years, and failed to sell in spite of repeated price cuts. A few doors down in the other direction, another house has been on the market for months — even after an extensive renovation. “People are waiting because prices are going down, down, down,” Ms Donagemma said ominously. For years, escalating property prices prompted a frenzy of buying and selling that spruced up this once-sleepy London area. But Fulham is now falling to earth, suffering one of London’s worst property slumps. Prices for “prime” residential properties fell 4.6 per cent there last year, according to Savills, the estate agent, and are down more than 14 per cent from their September 2014 peak. A wider measure of residential properties in the borough of Hammersmith and Fulham shows that prices have dropped 4.3 per cent since 2014 while those for London overall have increased by 19 per cent. Estate agents in Fulham once flooded with offers are now sweating the phones. “No one is paying the asking price,” one said.
Like other affluent enclaves, Fulham has been hit by tax changes and tighter lending rules. The government increased stamp duty on the priciest houses in 2014, and then added a surcharge on purchases of second homes. The prospect of Brexit has also been painful for a district that has become a magnet for French expatriates, lured in part by its proximity to the Lycée Français Charles De Gaulle. Fulham’s many financial services workers also make it vulnerable. Several Fulham residents say they know at least someone who has left because of impending Brexit. Even if no expat exodus transpires, the uncertainty seems to have persuaded many would-be buyers to rent instead.
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Barclay MacFarlane, an estate agent at Strutt & Parker, who has worked in Fulham for 11 years, said his business was down about 30 per cent from the pre-Brexit peak, and that it had not bounced back in the same way that happened after the 2008 financial crisis. Still, he is convinced the market is stabilising. “Despite Brexit, despite the stamp duty, the London market is pretty resilient. And Fulham represents great value,” Mr MacFarlane said, noting the economy had defied the doom-laden predictions of George Osborne, former chancellor, and that mortgage rates remained low. Others are less sanguine. “Nobody can argue that prices are down 20 per cent,” a rival agent said, pointing to a new development on the river: a two-bedroom flat there sold just before the Brexit referendum for more than £1m. Such flats were now going for about £750,000. “People will say, ‘we didn’t think we could afford Fulham’. And we’ll say, ‘well, now you can’,” added the agent.
We haven’t seen so many people leaving. We have seen a lot of people hesitate to buyArsene Colarossi, Breteuil Cluttered with home-design stores, coffee shops and women clad in athleisure-wear toting Louis Vuitton bags, Fulham has long been a quirky property market. It sits on the north bank of the Thames, just west of Kensington and Chelsea. It tends to catch the neighbouring borough’s spillover, particularly as families seek more space and good schools. Yet it lacks the cachet to attract deep-pocketed overseas buyers. “In a very strong market, Fulham tends to act like prime central London,” said Lucian Cook, Savills’ director of residential research. “When the market conditions weaken it tends to look a lot more like south-west London, and that’s what’s happening.”
"In a very strong market, Fulham tends to act like prime central London. When the market conditions weaken it tends to look a lot more like south-west London, and that’s what’s happening Lucian Cook, Savills"
The slowdown may have some salutary effects. Rather than selling homes and trading up — as many did when prices were rising — Fulhamites are opting to stay put and remodel instead. As a consequence, BTL Property, a local builder and designers, has so much work it can choose its clients. “We don’t have the physical ability to do all the jobs we get called for,” said Charles Catto, managing director. Most of the jobs are worth between £100,000 and £150,000, according to Mr Catto. (The current vogue in Fulham? Crittall-style doors. “That is everyone’s cherry on top,” he said. “That — and parquet floors.”) Mr Catto speculated that Fulham’s sense of community might improve as speculators are squeezed out and residents end up staying in their homes longer. That would be fine with Mrs Donagemma, 44, a German-Italian designer, who has witnessed the property cycle from her perch on Bronsart Road. She and her partner had been renting in Chelsea when they were starting a family and wanted more space.
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After months of searching, they paid £325,000 in 2006 for the top two floors of a three-storey house. Over time, the neighbourhood changed. Longstanding residents would die and their homes would be gutted and renovated and quickly sold on — usually in a matter of days. Four years ago, the ground floor-flat below Mrs Donagemma came up for sale and she and her husband wanted to buy it to make a full house. But the market had continued to rise. “It was ridiculous. We stopped at £500,000 and it just kept going up and up,” she recalled. The flat ultimately sold for £650,000 — nearly twice the price of the two floors above it. It has certainly lost value since then. Mrs Donagemma, meanwhile, is still on the lookout for a house. But when she views Fulham properties these days, estate agents do not hurry her along. “Even though they’re going down, they’re still quite expensive,” she said, predicting prices still had further to fall. “I’m going to wait.”
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