Time for a Knightsbridge revival?

By Patrick Alvarado, director of Nicolas Van Patrick

It is never wise to consider the housing market as a uniform whole as not every area ‘performs’ as well as the next. Knightsbridge is a prime example; while it has been well documented that the housing market has thrived over the past 18 months/two years, Knightsbridge has lagged behind its prime central London neighbours. Meanwhile, Kensington & Chelsea has seen a stellar rise in values, with its property market outperforming Knightsbridge as it is mainly driven by domestic buyers and international-domestic buyers who have made London their home.

Knightsbridge hasn’t witnessed the same level of recovery in sales and values as RKBC because it is more reliant on international buyers. While the £5m-plus market is reportedly strong in PCL, when you drill down, it’s not surprising to find that many of those sales took place in RKBC. Travel restrictions mean that the mainland Chinese who love Knightsbridge so much are still not back in town, while the Middle Eastern buyers are to a degree but perhaps not as many as one would usually expect.

However, the main issue facing non-resident international buyers, more so than Covid, the conflict in Ukraine or Brexit, is taxation. It has totally changed our market as those buying property in the UK find the taxation extremely onerous; global travellers have plenty of choice and don’t have to buy here. If you are an international buyer looking for a decent return on your investment, PCL doesn’t give you that; other European cities do it better. However, London remains the place where people often choose to park their money because it is regarded as a safe environment, as well as having plenty to offer in terms of quality of life.

Mayfair and RKBC have fared so much better than Knightsbridge because they do a better job at appealing to the domestic and international-domestic market. Both benefit from over-arching landlords who invest in significant regeneration projects, with the Grosvenor Estate behind Mount Street, Elizabeth Street and Motcomb Street, and the Cadogan Estate’s investment in Duke of York Square, and more recently the redevelopment of Pavilion Road. This isn’t replicated in Knightsbridge, although we are pleased to note that some of the intensive heavy construction work which has gone on for some years is finally coming to an end. Key developments such as the Peninsula hotel at Hyde Park Corner, the high-end residential developments in Parkside and the regeneration of Lowndes Square with the Chelsfield development, are all welcome.

While Knightsbridge may lag RKBC in terms of price growth, the flip side is that on paper it represents pretty good value compared with other parts of PCL, particularly when you consider its geographical position. A house in Knightsbridge has plenty to recommend it – beautiful garden squares, Hyde Park, St James’s and plenty of fantastic shopping.

When it comes to pricing, the market is undoubtedly shifting; we are telling clients that it is not as much a seller’s market as it has been so if they are serious about transacting, they need to be realistic on price. The Knightsbridge market is extremely price sensitive with best-in-class commanding a premium while everything else needs to be as close to the ‘true’ price as possible. It is important to get the pricing right when launching a property as the window of opportunity is short; we are already halfway through June and the market is increasingly moving towards a buyer’s market.

That said, there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful about Knightsbridge’s prospects, particularly when it comes to the rental market. Underpinned by a lack of supply, the rental market has improved enormously since the days of Covid. Rents have hardened while yields have improved substantially, and tenants are embarking on longer tenancies which is good news for our landlords.

We have seen more deals agreed in the past month than we have in a while, on both the sales and rental side, and when the last of the travel restrictions are removed, we believe the Knightsbridge market will fare even better.

The lost art of valuing – how the banks have yet to catch up with the market in PCL

By Nic Pejacsevich, director of Nicolas Van Patrick

One glance at the flurry of updates from housebuilders and estate agents and it’s clear that the pandemic residential housing boom still has plenty of momentum. It has certainly been a strong market for Nicolas Van Patrick over the past year, but we would still urge a note of caution. Our pipeline in September was the biggest it has ever been and yet we were in danger of losing nearly a quarter of it thanks to down valuations from the banks. Fortunately, we have been able to save some of those deals we thought were lost but it has been a stressful time, requiring some delicate negotiating.

One example of a deal that nearly fell out of bed was an unmodernised property with development potential for sale in Knightsbridge. We agreed a very good offer from a buyer who needed a 40 per cent loan-to-value mortgage so they weren’t too stretched. However, the bank valued the property at 12 per cent below the agreed price as it wouldn’t take into account the full extent of the development potential. We explained to the buyer that this has been happening frequently; luckily, he was open to bridging some of the gap, as was the vendor, who was prepared to meet him somewhere in the middle. We were able to find common ground, with an outcome that was satisfactory and fair to both.

With another property, buyer and seller agreed to proceed at £22m but the bank came in at £20m – another significant haircut. While the buyer was happy to proceed at the reduced price, the seller wasn’t, and in this case, we weren’t able to bridge the gap.

Lenders mostly rely on comparative evidence in order to assess value and where this is piecemeal, as is the case in Knightsbridge, it can be difficult. The banks don’t have enough comparisons to reflect prices being agreed; because of Covid and particularly in PCL, there are very few comps around, which isn’t the case in an area such as Wandsworth, for example.

It is extremely frustrating for us as agents, particularly where seller and/or buyer are not open-minded and willing to negotiate between what the bank thinks something is worth and the previously agreed asking price. The question is: when are the banks going to align themselves to the reality of what is actually happening in PCL? Will it take them until the spring to catch up? Transactions are taking place which support the prices sellers are asking as, in the main, we have seen buyers willing to pay in order to get the property they want. But we need a critical mass of cash sales, achieving the prices that are possible, in order to give lenders the evidence they demand. 

We have come a long way from last spring when the housing market was forced to close its doors to business because of the pandemic. The situation is vastly improved but when it comes to lending, the banks remain prudent. Moreover, it is a myth that all PCL deals are done for cash; many buyers leverage, partly because they have to as their assets may not be liquid and/or to take advantage of low interest rates. If the bank down values a property, some buyers will try and use this as a way of chipping on the price. The trouble is that while sellers may be motivated, they are not often desperate and don’t mind playing the long game. If that means waiting for another buyer who will pay more, then so be it. 

At Nicolas Van Patrick, we like to think of ourselves as the voice of reason. We have our feet on the ground and part of our job is to educate buyers and sellers as to what is going on in the market. So what can buyers and sellers do? It is worth being flexible if you possibly can. The market is improving but we have come to realise that there are no guarantees. If you are serious about proceeding, it is worth trying to bridge the gap.

It is a shame that the valuation process is often lost in the pounds-per-square-foot exercise and important factors such as the uniqueness of a property, ceiling height, development potential and market sentiment are not more of an integral part of the valuation process. Having said that, it is unsurprising that not everyone is aligned when it comes to values, given what we have been through and are still going through. There are gaps in market knowledge, which needs to be filled and could take time. What we do know is that despite everything, London remains a place where people want to live and to invest, and that continues to give us cause for cautious optimism.

Why Nicolas Van Patrick is truly international

By Nic Pejacsevich

Recently, on two occasions, I have been asked by vendors considering listing their properties with Nicolas Van Patrick what I think about some other agents having more of an international reach. I know what they mean – they see those large firms with plenty of offices overseas as perhaps better placed to sell their Knightsbridge property because of their perceived wide reach.

But while I understand what they are getting at, such enquiries make me chuckle as you will struggle to find a more international agent than Patrick or myself. Put us together with the ‘Van’ between us – John Fentener Van Vlissingen, our Dutch industrial partner – and in NVP, you have a formidable level of international-ness.

I am of Austrian-Hungarian and Italian heritage, born in Caracas, moving to Rome at the age of nine, then onto New York and back to Rome before finally settling in London 24 years ago. In the mid-nineties, London was morphing into a global international city, full of opportunity and I chose to stay and make my life here.

Patrick has Spanish-French heritage and his journey was not dissimilar in that he was born elsewhere, travelled for his studies and then settled in PCL. Patrick was born in Madrid before moving to London as a young boy to attend the Knightsbridge Prep school Hill House, partly because it was so international. London wasn’t quite as global in its outlook in the eighties as it is now and Patrick studied in Paris and Switzerland before settling in London and building a career and family here. Patrick may have been born overseas but he has grown up in the neighbourhood in which he now works so has a unique understanding of Knightsbridge and has built an impressive network here over a long period of time. Yet crucially he also ‘gets’ what it means to be an international domestic foreigner as many of our clients are – someone from abroad who settled in London some time ago and made it their home.

Understanding the culture

All these travel and life experiences mean we are fluent in five languages between us and most of our clients are international. Indeed, it is not exaggerating to say that our  international-ness really is our USP. On those valuations where our international reach is questioned, we feel we are right to push back and argue that on the contrary, we are very international indeed. Many people who weren’t born in the UK speak English but what puts them at ease is someone who can also converse in their native dialogue and understands their culture. Terms of reference, being able to draw on our experience of living in other countries – all these are important when we speak to clients. Take, for example, a recent instruction we won on a property in Ennismore Gardens, where the vendor is a Hungarian Baron. I have no doubt that our background helped in winning that business.

Ultra-high-net-worth buyers who are looking at London are unlikely to attend an international trade show in Beijing; rather they will have advisers on the ground which are recommended to them. They will have local property finders already in London, doing the groundwork for them. When we meet them, they can relate to us as we are truly international.

Knightsbridge – a truly international borough

Knightsbridge appeals to Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern buyers in particular, as well as European and domestic clients. Being based in Knightsbridge for so long has helped Patrick receive many referrals over the years. Growing up in London in an international environment and attending an international school means many of his contemporaries who are now in their late-40s and mid-50s have taken over the family business and come to him for advice. They all speak English as their mother tongue but understand the Middle East as well, particularly the culture. It all boils down to trust, as the Middle Easterns are very sophisticated buyers and have good advisers.

We firmly believe that one of the reasons we have done well in this market is down to our heritage, the fact that we have travelled a lot, our sensibility to foreign buyers and being English almost by default because we have lived here such a long time. We have a level of sensitivity which is really important. I am hugely grateful to London for giving me what I have today – a family and a business. But at the same time, not being English has helped us grow the business the way we wanted to and believed we should.

Indeed, I look forward to when we are asked the question about our international-ness because I am quite relaxed about it: if you want international reach, you have it right here.

Has PCL turned a corner?

All of a sudden, over the past few weeks, we have started seeing property transactions in prime central London (PCL) pick up again. At NVP, there is a sense of excitement, which we haven’t felt in quite some time. Covid is not going to go away but we are learning to live with it. In gloomier moments, we may have questioned the resilience of our Knightsbridge patch but we are reassured that the fundamentals remain and are starting to capitalise.

It is well reported that the country house market has been booming for some time, thanks to the stamp duty holiday and desire for more space, coupled with less need to be in the office every day. PCL is a different story; price growth has been negative and it is only in the first quarter of this year that the tide has turned, with price growth turning positive. We are seeing properties, some of which have sat on our books for 12 to 18 months, starting to go under offer.

Buying opportunities

With a lack of international buyers, thanks to travel restrictions brought about by the pandemic, domestic and international domestic (international buyers who reside in the UK) are taking advantage. Chelsea and Notting Hill have been performing better than Mayfair, Knightsbridge, Belgravia and St James. These last four areas have been the hardest hit and where buyers have the biggest opportunity to purchase at a substantial discount to asking prices.

There is perceived value because property prices have gone nowhere over the past seven years. Low interest rates are resulting in attractive mortgage deals for those who need, or want, to borrow. We have just completed a deal which is a case in point – the purchase of six flats in a single building on Lyall Street on behalf of a client. These flats have been on the market for three years but we secured them for just under £1,500 per square foot, which is good value for SW1X.

However, those hanging on in the hope of buying at the bottom of the market in PCL may have missed it. We are seeing transactions in Kensington & Chelsea, for example, which are not a million miles from where we were at the peak of the market, driven by a lack of stock, pent-up demand and the vaccine rollout.

Waiting in the wings

We have clients poised to return as soon as travel restrictions are lifted. In the meantime, we are acting on behalf of clients who can’t yet get here. One client bid on a flat in Cranley Gardens in South Kensington subject to being able to come and see it as soon as he can. We have been buying assets for Middle Eastern clients who haven’t come to town in the past year but who trust us to act on their behalf.

As soon as international travel resumes, we will have a good critical mass of demand, underpinned by the usual low stock. Chinese buyers have been the biggest purchasers of period freehold properties in Knightsbridge over the past few years and we believe they are set to step back in now that the currency is no longer working in their favour. Strong growth in the Chinese economy in the last quarter (18.3 per cent), coupled with continued pressure and restrictions from mainland China in Hong Kong, will also persuade them to return in force to buy in PCL and Knightsbridge in particular.

While stock levels remain low, we have earned some good instructions on some important properties recently and have interesting stock coming to market. We were recently instructed on an incredible flat in Ennismore Gardens; the vendor said that while the numbers we gave him made sense, it was the passion and excitement we both bring that was the deciding factor. It is good to know that is still in evidence six years after we first set up NVP.

Post-pandemic living: blip or permanent shift?

In PCL, flats have carried a premium compared with houses for a while, with the latter proving to be much better value. Yet lockdown has meant that demand for houses with big gardens has risen, although this is more of a feature for those buying across prime London, in Putney, Richmond, Barnes and Clapham, than PCL. The desire to have a garden or work from home may well be a lasting effect of the pandemic but we believe the popularity of flats will return as the young, who mostly can’t afford or need large houses, prefer to live in cities.

International buyers, who use London as one stop among their global destinations, neither want nor need a big house. They like the concierge, gym and underground parking that comes with their flat and that won’t change. For foreigners who have made the UK their home, and have done for many years, they are highly unlikely to move to say, Hampshire. For them, it may be lovely for a weekend but a permanent move is not on the cards.

Indeed, our experience is that the direction of traffic is the other way, with people in the country looking to step back into London, wanting a smaller place to complement their larger country property. We had a call from a client earlier this year who did just that; despite the UK being in lockdown, he was convinced it was a good time to buy. We viewed several flats in January and February before securing a fantastic one for him which, eight weeks down the line, we would not have been able to get for the same price. His timing was spot on.

Rental opportunities

Rents in PCL have fallen by around 15 per cent over the past year due to the lack of international tenants, so there is perceived value to be had. Those who may have rented in the periphery of prime London – for example, paying £650 per week in Clapham, can now rent just off the King’s Road for similar. However, this is unlikely to last and there will be upwards pressure on rents when international students start to return in the summer.

At NVP, it feels good to say that we are positive on PCL. With the Brexit debacle and the threat of a Corbyn government but a distant memory, and the vaccine rollout helping us get to grips with Covid, we feel the bottom of the market has been and gone. For those investing in bricks and mortar who are prepared to consider Europe as a whole, PCL remains the destination of choice for many, even if they can’t quite get here just yet.

Reasons to be Cheerful

As we finally embark on 2021, after a pretty wretched 2020, we are feeling rather more hopeful for the year to come. Even though we have now entered another national lockdown we are extremely thankful that, as estate agents, we can continue to operate, particularly as business has been relatively good recently. In the three weeks leading up to Christmas we managed to exchange on seven properties across two deals – no mean feat when you consider that Knightsbridge was already in Tier 4, along with the rest of the capital, and both buyers bought blind without viewing.

Unusually for us, given that we are mostly known for selling Knightsbridge property, these deals were both purchases on behalf of clients. The first was a house with a triple-A address in Ennismore Mews. Originally marketed at £3.6m, it hadn’t seen much activity so the seller was advised by his agent to lower the price to £3m. This generated interest and our client, an American who knew the address and recognised a great mews on a great street, ended up offering £250k more than the reduced price. If a property looks fair, or good, value in a triple-A address, then there will be those prepared to do that deal.

The other purchase was of six flats in one house in Hans Place, SW1 – again, for a Saudi client who hadn’t seen them as he is based in the Middle East and not able to travel because of the pandemic. He paid just over £11m, working out at just over £1,500 a square foot. He knew he was getting good value with a yield of above 3 per cent, and was prepared to buy blind, and move quickly, because of that. Tellingly, our offer wasn’t the highest – there was another offer on the table which was £750,000 higher – but if you are value-driven you need to have all your ducks in a row. We were able to back up our offer with proof of funds (in cash), a solicitor able to confirm instruction and a 10 per cent deposit lodged with the solicitor within a week.

Both deals confirm what we always say at NVP – that you can never undersell if you market something correctly. To sell in this market you have to be realistic. There are so many data points that buyers know when something looks good value – and equally, when it doesn’t. These sales also show that the end of the year is a good time to step in and do a deal. Vendors may well have become fed up with a property that has languished on the market all year and want to start the new year with a clean slate.

A theme we are repeatedly hearing is that clients, who may be in the fortunate position of sitting on a lot of cash, would prefer to invest that money in tangible assets such as property. Banks will only protect your savings to a certain level, while the other advantage of bricks and mortar is you may also get a good yield, depending on where you invest.  

The prime and country markets enjoyed record results last year – PCL is very different as it is reliant on foreign money. If anything, the pandemic has proved that more than ever. But there is still a strong belief in London in the long term and many clients want at least one home in the capital. We have clients looking for family homes in Knightsbridge, Mayfair and Belgravia with a garden in the £15m to £20m bracket – these are buyers who are obviously clued up and still want to invest in London.

With a Brexit deal finally agreed, and given that property prices in PCL have gone nowhere in the past six years, London is looking fair value and hopefully a more stable place to invest in the long term. We saw early signs of a willingness to buy following the Boris Bounce, before Covid hit and international travel halted. With the extra 2 per cent stamp duty coming in for non-residents in April, we could see a pick-up in activity before then.

Despite the pandemic having thrown another spanner in the works, we hope for an uptick in activity from March onwards, if travel returns; if not, it will happen by the summer. But the main thing to focus on, of course, is that the vaccines are here and we are not in the position we were in earlier last year. That is certainly something to be grateful for.

How landlords can help their rental property succeed

By Alice Umfreville, lettings manager, Nicolas Van Patrick

Lettings are encouragingly busy. September tends to see a rush of people doing quick moves but we were unsure as to what to expect this year because of the pandemic. However, on the positive side, there have been plenty of viewings and deals to be done. From what we are seeing, Covid – 19 has had far less of an impact on our market than Brexit – at least so far.

It’s not an easy market though, and it is price-sensitive. Valuing can be frustrating, now more than ever, but it is fairly predictable too – if we are asked to value a property, and we know the landlord is getting other agents in as well, without fail we can forecast which one(s) will be guilty of over-valuing. A good letting agent should not be over-valuing property at any time – and in this market, it is particularly unwise when there is so much uncertainty and so much property available. Doing so has a two-fold impact; it often takes longer to let and achieves lower rent levels than if the property were to come on at the correct price in the first instance. And it misguides applicants into thinking that every landlord will accept ridiculous price reductions because they’ve seen something at an over-inflated price and been advised the landlord is open to dramatic offers.

At Nicolas Van Patrick, we pride ourselves on being upfront with our clients as to what we think price-wise. We are able to back up our pricing so that tenants feel comfortable that they are paying the right amount. While we have seen more property come to market since lockdown measures eased, we have priced these accordingly. If any adjustments have been necessary on properties already on the market, then we have worked carefully with our clients to bring the rent levels in line.

When lockdown first took hold, we saw some tenancies come to an end as a fraction of international tenants repatriated whilst they were still able to. Many of the properties that returned to market were within the sub-£1,000 a week bracket. Generally, in the areas we cover, a large percentage of this market is dominated by international students – many of which have no plans to return to the UK. Having said that, in the last month we have arranged a number of tenancies for international tenants from Europe, Asia, and the Ukraine. Evidently, even with so much learning going online, many students would rather be in London so they still have some element of social life with their fellow students.  Interestingly the majority of these particular tenancies have been arranged through video viewings while the student has been preparing to return to London.

As we head towards winter, we may see new stock coming onto the rental market from resistant landlords. These tend to be homeowners who originally wanted to sell but because purchase prices may not be what they want to achieve, they will hold onto their property while they wait for values to improve – effectively allowing us to babysit the property with well-placed tenants.

Although there are lots of available rental properties, many are poor quality and we are certainly more selective than others when it comes to what we will bring to market. We tell landlords that not only is correct pricing vital, but if you haven’t done any work in the past three years, or two tenancies, then you probably need to and tenants expect it. It is highly likely that those looking at your property are also looking at scores of others so if it is not looking sharp, it won’t let. Landlords are often prepared to do work once they have a tenant lined up, and as part of the offer, but I would advise rather than waiting around they do the work in order to get the offer. It’s the wrong market to take the other view and we are always happy to give advice to anyone wondering how to get the best from their properties. Thankfully, most clients are taking this on board and spending on improvements in order to proactively help a property achieve the best price it can. Landlords can take comfort from the fact that if they get the property’s presentation and price right, there will always be a pool of people who need to rent.

Much has been said about the mass exodus from the city to the country in search of outdoor space. But when I ask tenants how important this is, most say it would be lovely to have but ultimately it wouldn’t deter them from a move. Being close to a park or green space is often enough but let’s face it, if you live in a city, useable outdoor space tends to be an anomaly, unless you have the luxury of a bigger budget. The reality is that the desire for a home office  is far higher up on people’s lists.

Many happy returns to NVP

While there might not be a great deal to celebrate as we live with a pandemic, this week saw the sixth anniversary of Nic and Patrick founding Nicolas Van Patrick. Given what has been thrown at us during that time, that we are still here, and remain optimistic for the future, it feels right to acknowledge the occasion.

It has not been an easy ride thus far but it has been an incredible one, full of satisfaction and fun. There have been challenges galore, including stamp duty hikes targeted at the top end of the housing market, the Scottish independence referendum, the on-going Brexit debacle, Coronavirus, and President Donald Trump to name but a few. We have managed to survive it all, which is why we remain positive about the prospects for PCL.

The mini-bubble that the housing market is experiencing is not uniform with a very different picture in PCL to the rest of the country. Transactions are starting to happen again but while outer prime, such as Wandsworth and Putney, the country and Scotland are seeing plenty of activity as people move for gardens and more space, PCL relies on international buyers. People tend not to buy houses and flats in Knightsbridge and its environs out of necessity – ours is a much more discretionary and yes, fickle market.

In Knightsbridge, the property market has been hit hard by the inability of international buyers to travel. We have properties which would have sold under normal circumstances but are taking longer because relatively few domestic buyers can afford them. The Chinese have been our biggest buyers over the past few years but they haven’t really been in town because of quarantine at either end. Likewise, Middle Eastern buyers can’t get here.

There is always a market but because it is mainly domestic or international-domestic, buyers must perceive they are getting value. Subsequently, there is activity where there is good stock and it is well-priced. For example, we made a strong reduction on one property in Ennismore Mews that had received limited interest since it was launched just after lockdown lifted. The phone started ringing straightaway once the price was reduced, with domestic buyers showing an interest.

Likewise, we are about to exchange on another property in Kingston House South, which was reduced by nearly £500,000, again after little action. The price reduction has generated some traction and more than one bidder.

Pricing can be a thorny issue but we maintain you can never undersell a property if you market it correctly. Price it right, reflecting its true value, and buyers will compete. If you overprice, there is a risk the property will stagnate. Buyers will then think something is wrong with it, when actually it is only the price.

In the build-up to Christmas we tend to be busy with deals, and it is not unthinkable that this will happen again this year. We started seeing green shoots of recovery towards the end of the fourth quarter of last year and the first of this one, with many foreigners wanting to step into the UK market before Coronavirus put a halt to that. We remain positive about PCL – we have been talking to a lot of Pakistanis and Lebanese about London, and there are always people who need to move capital and see London as a safe bet for their future. The fundamentals are still there. Once we get the American election out of the way and the issues with the EU are sorted, the picture will be clearer and those who have already done their FX trades and have been sitting on the side-lines for a while, will come in. The 2 per cent stamp duty surcharge for overseas buyers from April may also focus the minds of buyers to get something done before then.

Meanwhile, we are tucking away the deals where we can, which we will take every day. The buyers we have are committed. We believe it is important for our business to keep talking – Zoom may have soared in popularity in recent months out of necessity but there really is no substitute for getting out there and meeting face-to-face. We are positive for the future. Here’s to the next six years – and hopefully beyond.

Patience is of the Essence

Encouraging pipeline as domestic buyers seek outside space

Since lockdown started to ease and property viewings were once again allowed, we have managed to build a pipeline of deals at Nicolas Van Patrick where there wasn’t one before. This is hugely positive and gives us room for cautious optimism – even though our usual buyers from overseas are still not able to travel due to flight restrictions and quarantine, there is a market from serious domestic buyers who need a home. We are particularly busy in the £1m to £2m bracket and for big houses with gardens as people search for more space both inside and out, better equipping them if we have to deal with another lockdown.

We have a good selection of properties for sale and there are some interesting deals to be had, which were not there before. Not only do we have good stock, it is reasonably priced which is always our preference; if property is marketed at ludicrous prices, it doesn’t do anyone any favours. The market is more price-sensitive than it has ever been so vendors need to employ a degree of realism if they are going to enjoy a successful sale.

The buyers we are seeing want to transact which is not always a given, particularly as our market is usually quite discretionary. Knightsbridge is unique compared with many other parts of London which are driven by real need and family buyers. Ours tends to be a more discretionary market, with fewer families and mainly driven by foreign investment. But the cash buyers from Europe, China, America and the Middle East we would normally see are not here. They are conducting virtual tours – we can see there is a lot of curiosity out there as to what is available – but that’s as far as it goes for now.

Domestic buyers who are mindful to purchase have a definite advantage they wouldn’t normally have because the usual competition from overseas buyers with deep pockets and no need for mortgages, is not there. While domestic buyers are more likely to need finance than their overseas counterparts, it is a good time to take on a mortgage as borrowing is incredibly cheap. However, we would advise using the services of a good mortgage broker to iron out any issues that may arise, as borrowing adds a level of uncertainty and greater potential for a deal falling through.

We are finding that patience is of the essence – for both buyers and sellers. Where sellers are flexible and in touch with reality, deals have kept going when they might otherwise have faltered. If you read the tabloids, you may be forgiven for thinking there is a booming housing market (the Express had the front page headline ‘House prices bounce back to hit new high’, although it was referring to asking rather than sale prices). While the suggestion is that sellers can ask for as much as they like, that may be the case in some areas but is not the case around Knightsbridge.

Undoubtedly, the housing market has some wind in its sails and if we get good news about a Covid vaccine, it should make it easier for buyers from overseas to return, as would lifting of quarantine restrictions in those countries. There is also the extra 2 per cent stamp duty for non-doms, which will be introduced in April, to consider. We had expected a busy autumn as buyers from overseas took the plunge before then but now, who knows? If travel restrictions change in the next couple of months, we might have a reasonable autumn, although we remain cautious for the outlook for market as the furlough scheme comes to an end.

Nicolas Van Patrick gets back to business

It is good to be back. The government’s announcement that viewings could recommence in England has enabled the Nicolas Van Patrick team to get back to the office and as back to ‘normal’ as possible. Of course, things are very different after a 10-week lockdown as we all come to terms with living and working with a pandemic but it is good to see each other again in person and be back in the office doing deals.

Our patch, Knightsbridge, is undoubtedly much quieter than usual, mostly because the shops and restaurants which the area is famed for, are closed, and flights aren’t arriving from the Middle East or anywhere else for that matter. When one of us popped into the NVP office during lockdown to check all was ok, we will never forget the quietness of it all. With Ramadan not long finished and Eid following, normally Knightsbridge would be buzzing but it couldn’t be more different. We await Harrods re-opening on 15 June with an eagerness we did not think was possible.

While it is a surreal situation on many levels, there has been an uptick in new instructions, enquiries and offers as people pick up the pieces and get on with their lives. These are positive early signs which we hope will turn into solid transactions. If property is priced correctly, there is interest and the phone is ringing. We have received enquiries about one flat throughout lockdown; there has now been six viewings with three offers at asking price. Some might question whether we were underselling this property or is it simply a good flat priced well? 

There is much speculation over the movement of house prices. The truth is no-one really knows and much of the data being published now is pretty historic. What we do know is that the biggest impact a property has is at launch. If vendors are realistic and price correctly, they will benefit from that first flurry of activity and generate interest. But if you get it wrong and over-price, you will lose that initial impact and end up chasing down the market over a protracted period.

As always, best-in-class will command a premium; everything else needs to be priced attractively. Buyers are likely to want a discount 5 to 10 per cent below where prices were in March. The £1m to £2m market is likely to continue ticking along but we are more worried about the £3m to £9m market, which has been tricky for a while. Frustratingly, there was potential that was about to unlock at the start of the year as the market picked up but it is largely decimated now unless there are big discounts on offer or the property is best-in-class. With bonuses not going to be paid this year as a knock-on effect of Covid-19, there will be less money around to spend on this level of property.

Still, on a wider level, there are indications of strong pent-up demand. Property portal Rightmove reported its busiest day on record on Wednesday 27 May with more than six million visits to its listings, an 18 per cent increase on the same day a year ago. Certainly the domestic market has much going for it – if a buyer has not lost their job and is prepared to take a long-term view, then mortgage rates are super cheap and it could be a good time to step into the market. 

Many details still need ironing out before we can establish the true direction of travel for the housing market. Many of our clients are Middle Eastern and of course not able to travel. Government proposals for a two-week quarantine period will undoubtedly have an impact. And then there is the question as to how many people will come over to the UK even when quarantine is lifted. This is having a considerable impact on the student rental market around Imperial College London, for example, – on one or two-bed flats up to £1,000 per week – as the usual flow of Middle Eastern and Chinese tenants is on hold.

For now, and the foreseeable future, gloves and masks on viewings are the new norm that we all need to get used to. We are less convinced by virtual tours, even though most of our buyers and tenants come from overseas. A virtual tour is a nice thing to have but whether people will actually transact on the basis of this is another matter.

We are glad to be back but we are back in a very different environment. At the moment we can’t do our job out on the streets talking to clients but as lockdown eases we hope those days will return before too long.

How to view property safely

Property viewings, in England, can now resume bringing relief to home-movers around the country.

However, your health and safety remains our top concern at this time which is why we’ve created a set of simple guidelines, based on the new government guidance, to reassure you when going on property viewings or allowing others into your home for viewings.

 If you’re a buyer or renter going on viewings: 

Protecting yourself and those in the property you’re viewing

Whether it’s on your way to a viewing, or once you get there, remember these three key pieces of advice from the government:

·         Maintain a 2m distance from anyone you aren’t living with – we know this can be tough at times, but it’s possible

·         Wash your hands regularly (and thoroughly) and avoid touching your face – we’ve all got the dry hands to prove it, but this remains one of the most important pieces of guidance right now to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

·         Minimise contact with surfaces outside of your home – this can be hard as we touch so many things throughout the day, often without thinking about it. Common things include door handles, lift buttons and ‘stop’ buttons on the bus.

Why not start with an online viewing, if available?

You’ll still need to view the property in person, before being able to proceed with an offer, but it’s a great place to start. Particularly helpful if you’re not entirely sure whether it’s suitable for you, it’s also one less journey you’ll need to make. If you’d still like the view the property, the agent will be pleased to know you’re serious.

Before the viewing

In line with government guidance, anyone experiencing coronavirus symptoms should be staying at home, to help prevent further spread of the disease.

To give confidence to all parties present at the viewing that this guidance is being followed, and to help the agent manage the viewing in the most efficient way possible, you should be asked to complete a handful of questions before your viewing such as:

·         Has anyone in your household had COVID-19?

·         Has anyone in your household displayed COVID-19 symptoms or not yet completed a required period of household self-isolation?

·         Are you in the high-risk category?

The current owner, or tenants, of the property you’re going to view will have also completed these questions, as will the agent if they’ll be present on the viewing, so don’t be afraid to check with the agent on this if it’s a concern.

We would also recommend asking the agent as many questions as possible before the viewing, to help save time on the viewing itself.

Travelling to and from viewings

We want you to be more excited than stressed right now, so follow our top travel tips for a smooth, and safe, journey:

·         Wherever possible, use your own transport (i.e car, motorcycle or bicycle) or, if it’s a walkable distance, consider this as an option

·         If you’re planning to drive to a viewing, think in advance about parking. Let the agent know in advance so they can advise you on where’s best to park as it’s not always obvious, especially if you don’t know the area.

·         Public transport is still essential for many of us, especially those in big cities. When booking the viewing, let the agent know so that they can help you book a viewing time outside of peak travel hours (06:30 – 09:30 and 16:00 – 19:00)

·         Show up on time. Agents will need you to arrive at your viewing at the time you’ve agreed, not earlier and not later. This is to help minimise the number of people gathering near the property.

At the viewing

For the duration of the viewing, you will need to be mindful that this is someone’s home (if occupied) and follow the social distancing guidelines.

Being armed with all the questions you still need to ask on the viewing will be more important than ever to ensure you’re getting the most out of the viewing.

Create your own ‘viewing kit to get the most out of your viewings:

·         Anti-bacterial hand sanitiser  – This will ensure you can clean your hands both before and after the viewing

·         A face mask – not an essential but recommended. It will show politeness to the agent and current owner that you have considered them. Especially useful if you’re currently suffering from hayfever, and therefore prone to sneezing, or travelling by public transport. 

·         Disposable gloves – not an essential, but a good idea if you’re worried about touching anything accidentally (especially if you’ve had to travel by public transport)

·         Your phone – not only so you can contact the agent if you need to, but also so you can take photos or make notes.

If you’re a seller letting people into your home for viewings:

Follow our simple guidance to ensure each viewing goes as smoothly as possible: 

Protecting your household and those on viewings

Always remember to follow this simple government guidance:

·         Maintain a 2m distance from those on the viewing – we know this may be challenging, especially in smaller properties, but speak to your agent and together work out a route that makes the most sense for viewings to follow.

·         Wash your hands regularly (and thoroughly) and avoid touching your face – we’ve all got the dry hands to prove it, but this remains one of the most important pieces of guidance right now to help prevent the spread of coronavirus and we’d recommend doing this both before and after each viewing.

·         Regularly clean items that are likely to be touched on viewings – Particularly door handles, doorbells, and window latches/locks.

Before the viewing

In line with government guidance, anyone experiencing coronavirus symptoms should be staying at home, to help prevent further spread of the disease. Viewings should not go ahead if any party is experiencing symptoms or has recently tested positive for coronavirus.

To give confidence to all parties present at the viewing that this guidance is being followed, and to help the agent manage the viewing in the most efficient way possible, you should be asked to complete a handful of questions before any viewings your agent has organised which should include:

·         Has anyone in your household had COVID-19?

·         Has anyone in your household displayed COVID-19 symptoms or not yet completed a required period of household self-isolation?

·         Is anyone in your household in the high-risk category?

Ahead of each viewing, each prospective buyer will have also been asked to complete these questions, as will the agent if they’ll be present on the viewing. Don’t be afraid to check with the agent that this has happened if it’s a concern.

Preparing for the viewing

Most of us will give our homes a good deep clean before opening the doors to prospective buyers, as part of wanting it to look its best and attract a buyer. Now is no different, so use it as an opportunity to give everything a good clean before viewings start.

As much as you’ll not want the strangers in your home touching door handles etc, they will feel the same. If your agent is doing the viewing on your behalf, they should be opening all doors, cupboards etc for those on the viewing. If you’re doing the viewing, we advise you take the same approach as it will help you keep track of what you’ll need to clean afterwards.

 To help minimise the number of people in your home at any one time, it may be required for you and your household to leave while the viewing is taking place.

We would recommend discussing this with your agent before any viewings so that, together, you can work out a sensible plan that works for everyone.

 When preparing for a viewing, follow our checklist to help it go smoothly:

·         Clean items and/or areas that are likely to be touched (i.e door handles, doorbells) with an antibacterial cleaner both before and after the viewing has taken place.

·         Open windows to boost ventilation prior to the viewing taking place

·         Open internal doors, loft hatches, and anything else you think may be of interest, ahead of the viewing to minimise any unnecessary contact

·         If possible, provide hand sanitiser by your front door so that the agent and viewers can clean their hands when they enter and leave your home.

·         Have a plan of where you can go while the viewing is taking place if you need to.

After the viewing

Once the viewing has finished, the agent may want to spend a couple of extra minutes with you, perhaps going through any feedback or comments with you. If you have an outdoor space that allows you to distance yourselves more easily, feel free to take the conversation outside, or ideally minimise physical meetings and book a follow-up call.

Once the agent has left, you’ll want to wipe down any door handles, cupboard doors etc that were touched on the viewing, with an antibacterial wipe or spray, and wash your hands.