Wealth Blog

Living in a prime London location – the reality

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 12 January, 2014, 11:33am
UPDATED : Sunday, 12 January, 2014, 11:40am

As posh London property continues to top the destination list for overseas investors, it’s funny to consider the reality of living in a borough like Mayfair. How does the influx of Middle East and mainland Chinese money go down with the locals, the “real” Londoners, if such a thing exists any more?

A piece in last weekend’s FT was a cautionary and humorous tale for the unwary new resident of London’s best addresses. For the chap in question, a native of lowly Peckham, a south west London suburb with postcode SE15, Mayfair had always been his Holy Grail. When he made his pile, he bought an eight-bedroom house as evidence that he had well and truly made it.

It started with the case of St Emilion claret that arrived with his new front door key. It was that sort of estate agent, he said. I have never encountered that sort of estate agent, even up the Peak in Hong Kong, but there you go. Frank had wanted to live “up west” ever since his dad had first taken him there to see how the other half lived as a kid in the 1960s. To little Frank, Mayfair epitomised success. White stucco and classic columns spelled class. Now aged 51, with numerous board memberships, a clutch of hotel takeovers and ex-wives under his belt, he had arrived. He owned an eight-bedroom town house on Charles Street to prove it. The house had all mod cons, including a voice activated sound system. Frank was in nouveau riche heaven.

A nasty surprise

He moved in. Next morning, a Saturday, he sallied forth to meet his new neighbours, armed with a bottle of fizz. He knocked on the next door. A butler answered, explaining that his employer would not return for the foreseeable future. Away on business, is he? asked Frank. No, replied the butler, he lives in Qatar. Qatar, Moscow, Dubai, Shanghai, the story was repeated at every door down the street. None of the owners lived there. So Frank headed for the pub on the corner, noticed it was heaving during the week. But it was now Saturday, locked and barred for the weekend. So no welcoming pie and pint. It was the same with the two coffee shops and the local deli. Clasping a sweaty scotch egg, all he could get at the nearest newsagents, Frank returned home and rang the estate agent. Is there something wrong? The agent was perplexed. Yes, replied Frank. Where is everybody? “You’re at the house? Why? Has there been a problem?” the agent inquired.  “Why? I bloody well live here!” retorted Frank. “You’re…living there?” gasped the agent, stifling a giggle.

Back to the comfort zone

On Monday Frank put the posh Mayfair pad back on the market. A few months later he was preparing for his house warming party. Just a modest four bedroom place this time and crowded with friends and locals. No shortage of friendly neighbours because he now owned the whole street. Amazing what the proceeds of a Mayfair mansion could buy an SE15. Frank raised his glass: “Here’s to Peckham.”

Even if Frank’s tale is fictional, his experience sounds chillingly real. Prime London real estate is now more often than not a ghost town. At best it’s just a status symbol: at worst its’ reduced to being a sort of currency that goes up and down, but is seldom used.