PropVestment mentioned in the Telegraph Property section: Why Council homes are a bargain
By Graham Norwood 7:00AM BST 03 Sep 2012
A new proposal to sell off council housing in some of Britain’s best postcode areas could be a once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunity. It is no time for snobbery, says Graham Norwood.
This 17th-century former hunting lodge in South Ockendon, Essex, used to be three council homes, and is today a six-bedroom house. It’s on the market through Fine (fine.co.uk) for £449,995.
It is one of the biggest property stories of the year, and an opportunity for bargain hunters like no other. When the Telegraph published an article about selling off council houses, by Neil O’Brien, the director of Policy Exchange, it had no idea what a storm it would create.
Last week’s report argued that if councils sold all the homes which become free in an average year, they could raise £4.5bn in revenue. This money would then be ploughed back into 170,000 new-build properties in cheaper parts of the country. The story provoked plenty of debate. Grant Shapps, the Minister for Housing, called the idea “blindingly obvious”. David Cameron said the proposal was “certainly something [councils] should look at”. Not everyone was happy: some Labour MPs warned that it risked creating ghettoes and ruining local diversity.
But aside from the political to-ing and fro-ing, what does it all really mean for homeowners? If cheap houses become available in some of Britain’s best areas, it could provide golden opportunities for canny investors. Certainly, it is time to end the snobbery and acknowledge the truth. Many local authority homes are fashionable, built to last and brilliantly located. For every hideous tower of cheaply built flats requiring demolition, there are spacious low-rise mansion blocks. These date from the public sector heyday of the Thirties, now considered retro-chic.
Then there are thousands of Victorian and Georgian houses, originally built for private sale. Councils bought them as part of grandiose regeneration schemes, many of which came to nothing. But a sprinkling of 21st-century TLC would return them to their former glory, or even better.
There are substantial profits to be made, as has been seen in areas where council properties have been sold in the past. Camberwell is a good example. A two-bedroom council flat bought here for £44,000 in 1994 recently sold for £214,000. During the intervening years, the area has come up in the world. Where once it was slightly grubby, it is now a fashionable village, home to the musician Florence Welch, as well as actresses Lorraine Chase and Jenny Agutter. If a new sell-off becomes policy, there may be thousands of homes coming on the market in the most desirable parts of the country. Often at bargain-basement prices.
In the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea, for instance, the average flat costs at least £967,000 and a typical semi-detached house costs more than £12.5m, according to Land Registry figures. Even in this salubrious enclave, however, a quarter of homes are categorised as social housing: owned directly by the council or through housing associations. In Brighton and Hove, there are similar opportunities. A typical detached house costs almost £461,000, and a flat will set you back £197,000. Yet one in every seven properties is in the social sector. Here and elsewhere, a sell-off would mean ex-local authority properties being marketed at prices lower than those for comparable private homes. There would be rich pickings, for those in the know.
“Even in prime condition, ex-council properties sell for 20 per cent less than a similar home next door because of the stigma,” says Geoff Tanner, a private property consultant based in Cambridgeshire. “If it is in poor condition, it could be 30 per cent less. The proposed sell-off would represent a great deal for buyers who get in quick.” Some councils are already encouraging tenants to free-up larger properties. In Devon, more than £700,000 worth of cash incentives have been paid to tenants. This has released 330 homes in areas such as Exeter, Plymouth, rural Devon and the coastal South Hams.
This one-bed, ex-council flat is in Drury Lane in Covent Garden. It is being sold for £437,000 through Chesterton Humberts.
Westminster Council, in central London, has set up CityWest Homes Residential, a service specialising in marketing council homes. Its website, cwhr.co.uk, advertises flats to rent in areas such as Bayswater and says homes for sale are “coming soon”.
With all this activity already ongoing, it’s no surprise that estate agents have greeted the prospect of a sell-off with open arms. They highlight the advantages of council-owned buildings compared with those which have been squeezed by the private market. “Council properties are often well-built with good-size rooms and communal gardens,” says Christopher Saye of Chesterton Humberts. “Red-brick period blocks don’t even look like council properties and generate plenty of interest. They are cheaper than comparable private developments, with far lower service charges.”
During the Eighties, Margaret Thatcher’s Right To Buy initiative allowed tenants to purchase their homes with a discount of up to 70 per cent, if they had lived there for two years or more. Many councils also offered 100 per cent mortgages to encourage buyers. The scheme boosted Britain’s home ownership level from 57 per cent in 1980 to 68 per cent in 2000.
But the sort of sell-off proposed by Policy Exchange would be even more dramatic. It would be an open field, with anyone entitled to buy the flats. Not just those already living in them. “It’s simply good asset management. Some local authorities do this already. We’ve sold properties in high-value areas at auction on behalf of authorities,” explains Yolande Barnes, head of research at Savills and one of Britain’s leading housing experts.
Clearly, there is no shortage of enthusiasts for the quality and good value offered in ex-local authority housing. Nirav Shah, 24, bought a three-bedroom apartment in Waterloo, central London, in 2008 when he was a student. “My father and I looked at lots of properties and none even came close to the former council flat for location, space or condition,” he explains. He now runs a property investment firm called propvestment.com. “I no longer live in the flat, but I rent it to other students. It has been let permanently since I left. Ex-council is a perfect investment,” he adds.
His apartment was one of many built to Parker Morris standards, a planning regime which until the Eighties imposed minimum sizes on public-sector architects and builders. Parker Morris stated that a one-bedroom council flat built for up to two people should have a minimum of 495 sq ft. Try finding that in a modern private flat today. The standards have even got a thumbs-up from London Mayor Boris Johnson, too. After taking office, Johnson promised to “re-establish space standards promoted by the visionary planner Sir Parker Morris”. He argued that this was the only way to “build for the long term. Buildings that people will want to keep for 100 years and not tear down in 30.” Space, location and value: the council-house dream seems almost too good to be true.
But while many are in favour of selling council homes, there are still issues to resolve. “One concern might be tenant displacement,” says Jennet Siebrits of CBRE, a consultancy advising developers and public bodies on housing. She fears new homes built with money from a sell-off would have to be in cheaper areas. “We would need careful analysis about which parts of the UK have the highest demand for social housing,” she says.
There are also concerns that moving council tenants away from their places of work could create pockets of unemployment, and ruin the mix of people which makes Britain so vibrant. Policy Exchange believes, however, that these short-term problems would be outweighed by the benefits of creating half a million new homes in three years.
So will it actually happen? With a Cabinet reshuffle imminent and a relaunch of the Coalition likely at this month’s party conferences, there is an appetite for radical initiatives. And no sector needs them more badly than housing. A boom of new construction would create homes for the needy and jobs for builders, as well as opportunities for people looking to get on the property ladder.
A social housing revolution may be just the economic shot in the arm the country wants. And for keen-eyed individuals, it could be the investment of a lifetime.
Buying an ex-council property: the pros and cons
Price – they usually sell at 20 per cent less than comparable private properties, says the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.
Investment – ex-council houses are good for buy-to-let landlords wanting more for their money.
Location – ex-council property is often very central, perfect for transport and nightlife.
Outside – tower blocks can look daunting from the street.
Communal areas – there can be disputes over charges and responsibilities if some flats in a block are publicly owned and others private.
Ceiling price – until the stigma dies, ex-council homes will sell at a discount compared to private homes.
Original article link http://www.telegraph.co.uk/property/9508685/Ex-council-homes-how-to-buy-a-bargain.html
OTHER MUST READS: PropVestment in Daily Mail