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Every day we meet investors & owner occupiers looking to buy in Birmingham City Centre. One of the reoccurring questions is whether they should be purchasing in larger or smaller blocks. Are there real advantages to living in blocks comprising one hundred, two hundred or more apartments, indeed are there disadvantages?
Smaller blocks can be attractive particularly to owner occupiers because the properties might be more individual, being conversions of former industrial or works building. On the surface you should be able to meet all your neighbours & the properties might have a feeling of community which in some blocks is absent. The smaller blocks often will carry lower service charges as the annual fees usually don’t carry porters, evening security, blocks of lifts and the costs of big management agents. For particularly Buy to Let investors who pay the service charges for their tenants this cost saving is obviously attractive because of the positive effect to net yield. Likewise for owner occupants the lower running cost benefit is at first glance obvious alongside perhaps the opportunity to get personally involved in the block management.
The larger blocks clearly can offer services which through their size cannot be offered in their smaller cousins. The ability of their porters to handle online deliveries, organise laundry, taxis plus liaise with contractors if work is being carried out has both a price but often an economy of scale which can be very attractive. The ability of these larger buildings to retain the services of the larger reputable managing agents who in turn can easily deal in house with addressing daily block maintenance issues is also appealing for those busy owners who perhaps aren’t always resident. Larger blocks clearly through long term maintenance plans can also build sizable sinking funds if well managed to accommodate long term programmes of works .For smaller blocks this might mean occasional large bills if particular issues aren’t planned or need addressing quickly.
For some tenants & buyers, particularly single women and the busy on the go professionals the porterage, evening security staff and allocated parking is enticing such that no matter well presented an apartment might be in a smaller block they just will not choose it in preference to the larger building. For tenants the rents payable rarely reflect the full service benefits to occupation.
There is sadly no hard & fast rule for recommending either type of accommodation to buyers. There clearly are advantages & disadvantages to each type. The key is really whether you can find an apartment which has the accommodation you need in a location you’ll enjoy. Please do advise our team when you are searching if you have a preference because they’ll know with every new instruction that comes onto our books how many immediate neighbours the apartment will have!
A recent article in The Wall Street Journal highlighted that there is increasing evidence that the urban market will pay a hefty premium for a higher than average ceiling height in their apartments and it is this rather than apartment size which is helping drive prices forward. Certainly this trend has been noticed in the luxury end of the London market where there is a volume of space addition to the apartments standard price if the property can offer more height. In Birmingham niche developers are slowly waking up to this call of demand from discerning purchasers for opportunities to live in spacious surroundings and I feel going forward this can only escalate, to the benefit of all buyers looking for an increasing quality of urban life.
Probably for too long the developers of converted industrial buildings into chic loft apartments have picked up those buyers wanting this extra space. In Birmingham the blocks of Concord House, New Hampton Lofts & The Riflemaker echo this & have secured an audience of discerning occupants who now rarely move. Going forward we have new blocks such as St Pauls Chambers off St Pauls Square & the new penthouse on top of St Pauls House offering accommodation that acknowledges the demand. These same developers including Javelin Block locally are moving the market forward and offering luxury through extra height .
For those of you living in traditional Victorian dwellings I sense you can only smile. For those however living in mid-eighties & nineties apartments there is more choice on the way so do keep an eye on the new homes listings!!
The recent rapid transfer of Government leadership to Theresa May & her new team has undoubtedly settled many property nerves ,calming down some of those considering holding off buying later this summer or this autumn .Whilst we witnessed five individual investment flat sales collapsing on the Monday immediately after the Brexit vote with buyers citing their caution we have been surprised by the larger investors & developers involved with bigger purchases proceeding unaffected and indeed land sales continuing to take place without a pause.
The number of serious owner occupiers looking in the City centre is continuing, many of whom are trading up or indeed are first time buyers coming from rented City apartments. In both cases they’ll continue to commit when they see stock that suits their needs. The finance for buyers continues to sit in place. The individual Buy to Let market whilst being wary short term is very aware of the fundamentals of Birmingham which is continuing to offer high levels of rental demand offering consistent yields for well-located apartments and an obvious route away from the current very poor bank returns. Birmingham has so much in its favour at the moment, from the Paradise Circus redevelopment which you can already see is going to bring Centenary Square into the very heart of the City, the HSBC residential headquarters relocation to Broad Street amongst other corporate relocations & the future HS2 fast train project continuing unaffected ,which is going to bring London visitors in less than fifty minutes .Certainly for businesses looking outside of the capital Birmingham offers a compelling package and a location not matched by its northern competitors.
We see prices continuing to improve for those loft type apartments which are very limited in availability & much sought after by owner occupiers looking for long term homes and solid demand for those well located investment type apartments located within a fifteen minute walk of the leading stations and City core. For those developers currently building the market continues to want stock within six months of completion and show homes offering finishes & detail are increasingly a must. The lettings market continues to be buoyant but short term we see limited price growth for landlords because of the new stock coming into the market, particularly from several Seven Capital projects completing offering choice to potential tenants. Presentation is key for every landlord & their attention to detail we note is securing shorter voids between tenancies & improved rents.
Birmingham is now going to have a busy summer for lettings & we are planning business as usual autumn for vendors & purchasers alike
Please now do though enjoy the holidays
The two May bank holidays are sadly now behind us and we now look forward, if that is the correct term, to the Referendum later this month.There is uncertainty in many people's thoughts as arguments for and against seem to find favour with everyone I talk to.Whether there will be a key tipping point one way or other prior to the election for the majority we will have to see. The debate is stimulating albeit it has upset the property market in the South East and higher up the UK price chain with buyers holding off & waiting.
Here in Birmingham we haven't seen or felt any significant impact with owner occupants and investors continuing to see opportunity and value in the City.This has been helped by a market with limited choice and much interest.For those looking in the coming weeks the stock is now widening as development whether new building or good conversions start becoming available, some six or more months from completion. For those particularly looking in the Jewellery Quarter for something special we have a better choice albeit in very limited numbers. This is from four new mews town houses off St Paul's Square to ten new large two bedroom apartments in Caroline Street . This alongside two converted commercial buildings in Lionel Street and Regents Place both offering very good spacious loft apartments for delivery before Christmas.All these schemes are going to be resetting the bar for quality in Birmingham and will appeal to upsizers ,downsizes and those seeking very good alternative homes whilst they work in the City. Prices are from £275,000 but sit mainly between £450,000 and £650,000.
Another area to keep a close eye on is The Gun Quarter . Our recent success in securing almost total off plan sales for developer Javalin Block's Comet Works highlights both their increasing following plus the reawakening of buyers perception of this much overlooked comer of the City located beside Snowhill .Keep your eyes on this area as it is going to change quickly ,hard on the heel of the Jewellery Quarter nearby. Honduras Wharf the Elevate Design new block now coming out of the ground and completing next year is a tremendous opportunity for those looking for a Buy to Let or convenient a pied a terre in this fast changing City fringe location. Birmingham City centre continues to excite both developers and end users . If you have any questions please do not hesitate to call me or my colleagues.
We recently were proud to sponsor a new Urban Landscape award at the RBSA Annual prize show which is currently being shown at their gallery in St Pauls Square. This now annual prize ,which I hope becomes an increasing proportion of their spring show, offers a great opportunity to view the very best new works of RBSA & other participating artists, being paintings of all sizes & mixed media.
Good urban themed art is I feel often overlooked as the establishment seemingly chase endless outdoor landscapes & fine portraiture yet good art can be found under our noses for the bulk of the population ,particularly those who increasingly being drawn into & enjoying urban lives. I feel the artists in turn need to be encouraged further to continually relook at the urban landscape with their results being given pride of place in galleries & in homes.
The Mark Finch suburban Ealing based painting ,being a modern twist of the classic Greek myth Perseus meets Medusa stands out & has since attracted terrific comment. Mark himself reported that he had not shown any paintings for many years and considered the MJ award as a his first real push at generating interest. ‘It was a real thrill to start on such a high note & It has provided me much needed encouragement to continue to paint themes and ideas that interest me rather than pursue more commercial routes.’ Our thoughts completely.
The Royal Birmingham Society of Artists is an often overlooked nugget here in the City Centre. It is run by an enthusiastic knowledgeable team who continually surprise the regular viewer with jewellery ,pottery & fine paintings. Certainly well worth visiting every time you have a free moment.
A recent City Centre valuation of an attractive apartment in a sought after block by our senior valuer has highlighted the severe weakness of internet agents verses local agents like ourselves for Birmingham vendors when they are considering who to instruct.
On the day in question the vendor enquired excitedly after my colleague inspected the flat why he valued the apartment at £80,000 above another ‘valuation’ which had occurred earlier in the day .This previous valuation was with a high profile internet based agent. My colleague reported several recent notable sales within the block which we had sold in the past three months highlighting the popularity of the building, although not yet recorded with the Land Registry, plus advising the extra size the apartment had unlike most of its neighbours in the building. It transpired that the ‘local’ internet valuer was in fact based in Leicester with a huge area to cover so couldn’t possibly have known how within this particular block just five flats were very different and consequently very much more sought after. It could have been a very expensive lesson with the slight fee saving being insignificant!
Rightmove have just reported the first quarters statistics of 2016.This has reconfirmed our position as the leading sales & listing agent within the five key postcodes of the City Centre. These Spring figures highlight that Maguire Jackson now sell 50% more than our nearest rival and a very high proportion of sales verses the number of instructions we hold. This is unlike one or more firms based on Colmore Row. These statistics further endorse our continuing focus on Birmingham City Centre as a number of separate local markets and our desire to achieve the very best for our vendors and landlords.
We are aware as we saw ten years ago that more agents are planning to open in the City Centre and we will inevitably see as we saw in the past the very same firms closing after several months of trading. Staff experience, perseverance , very good local knowledge and service are far larger than the brand above the door and the Birmingham City Centre market is not as homogenous as it first looks!
With the imminent arrival of several new apartment schemes to Birmingham City Centre we are recommending current owners and possible future vendors of existing flats to now stop & relook at their living spaces through the eyes of likely incoming buyers or possible tenants. With many existing apartments now approaching their fifteenth or older birthdays owners forget that the kitchens ,bathrooms & sometimes overall layout can look easily dated verses the new stock now coming forward to entice likely buyers ,alongside the fanfare of marketing hype which invariably accompanies the arrival.
Existing home owners often believe that their dwelling because of location alone will secure interest ,and in recent years when there has been very little alternative this has often been the case. Buyers invariably have factored in the refurbishment of these key areas as part of their purchase. However the new stock coming forward will create casualties as some buyers choose new in preference.
Ten years ago we saw this particularly in the lettings market when we noticed tenants started moving very regularly & the typical lease lengths shortened . When questioned the tenants admitted that they were attracted towards brand new buildings at similar rents. They too were enticed by being the first tenants there & having the benefit of the new furnishings plus equipment. These are understandable reasons . For a period we saw tenants hopping from one new build to the next. For landlords going forward I recommend that they look to retain their existing tenants. One way is by not continuing the pressure of continual rent rises ,a feature which in recent years has seen rents rise 20% or more, and take advantage of any voids between tenancies by ensuring the apartments present as well as they probably did when they were first marketed. This might mean replacing furnishings or an element of interior redesign .In markets like this landlords cannot afford to be complacent even though rental demand continues to be very high because there is competition coming and in City Centres like ours this can mean lumps of 20-200 flats at once entering the rental market. The arrival of several PRS funds now buying whole apartment blocks off plan will invariably add to this in the years to come.
I can see the sales & rental markets becoming more competitive so please don’t get left behind!
The recent budget tax changes to both second home owners plus commercial property add into the list of increasing costs associated with property purchasing. Successive recent Chancellors have found property an easy tax to both witness & to collect. The Land Registry records the transaction and the Tax man seems to sit beside, with his hands open awaiting the immediate payment from the lawyers who invariably handle the transactions.
My increasing concern is that we will find ,as they do in many parts of Europe ,that the supply of property to the market becomes tighter and tighter as likely vendors hold onto their assets longer and rent rather than selling partly because of the high transaction costs involved. Vendors selling will be wanting firstly to ensure their initial acquisition costs are covered by price growth and whilst in today’s active market showing growth ,particularly out of the South East, these costs are acknowledged and absorbed, I fear in a more cautious market it could impact more severely. It is the vendor when selling particularly into a competitive market of similar stock who will be asked to bear the brunt of these transaction tax rises as buyers try to negotiate the taxes into the deal price. As we run into this Spring vendors of ‘investor’ type flats might see Buy to Let buyers looking for 3% discounts.
I think it is about time we started saying ‘Mr Chancellor ..Please no more Taxes onto property’!
The increasing property chatter about a stalling London property market particularly in investor fed Nine Elms & Battersea area is going to have repercussions outside of the City as we step through this year. We are hearing whispers from brokers, developers & estate agents that the new luxury apartments planned & now being built particularly in the area south of the Thames towards Battersea Power Station are starting to struggle finding buyers. With much of the stock there sold off plan one or more years ago to largely overseas buyers , particularly the Far East, there is real concern now being expressed as some of these buyers who were looking to sell on as they approach completion wont be able to or indeed will fail to complete their purchases.
With nearly 20,000 homes being built or planned in that one area the current combination of the weaker domestic London market alongside the slowdown in the economy of China , the pressure of the Rouble for Russian buyers & the depreciation of the Malaysian ringgit against the pound in what is a secondary London residential location will have an impact. The current statistics record that prices in London SW8 fell 8% last year & that nearly a third of the stock there has been on the market already for one year .Possible discounts of 20-30% on new homes might now be possible there for keen buyers.
An experienced London developer told us that the largely unplanned regeneration in that one area involving so many different schemes has brought just too much stock to the market at the same time and at prices which ultimately weren’t sustainable. For me it restates again that the key for successful property investing is Location Location and Location. Markets rise & fall, and during rising markets as we are now witnessing in Birmingham new properties can get built on areas which in previous times might not have been sustainable when the land sat empty or derelict. Sometimes these fringe locations can very quickly become absorbed into the area they sit on the border of or perhaps like parts of SW8 they sit in a mass of new housing that just takes time to become absorbed.
Birmingham doesn’t have the wall of money that regenerates areas at the speed which you sometimes see in some parts of London. Locations suddenly becoming trendy and seemingly overnight popping up new bars, art galleries with the area catching the vibrancy of urban excitement. Because of this it is important for potential owner occupiers & investors alike that they look properly at every new development they are considering because they too could get caught and isolated if the market here in Birmingham slowed down.
Going forward as a direct result of this London imbalance we might find development finance backing for these outer locations becoming more difficult if London based funders sense caution in all UK City Centres More immediately I now see over promises in the likely levels of rental return being advertised by certain developers who have schemes coming forward in these hinterland locations of Birmingham City Centre. If the steady pace of regeneration slows I sense potential tenants at these higher rentals now suggested to landlords in these particular blocks will easily be tempted into more centrally located properties at those same prices. These outer locations might then see a consequent price adjustment plus possible larger void periods between tenancies.
For investors this means that they need to now open their eyes and look to buy l close to where their tenants want to be not only today but going forward in the immediate years to come. Birmingham City Centre is moving forward but we recommend you don’t go too far.
The increasing attraction of the City Centre by potential buyers seeking something ‘different’ to a standard apartment is steadily increasing. Not all have visions of Kevin McCloud visiting and advising with a Grand Design taking shape but all are seeking something special which can incorporate their own personal design touch. For most it is a step into a new world , that of architects ,planning advisors & builders with their contractors. For many the dream ends when the reality of the likely total costs and amount of time needed are factored in but for others there is a benefit for those who can wait until the builders finish .There is undoubtedly something of a romance that excites potential buyers towards the unmodernised workshops across the City. Clearly the Jewellery Quarter is a target for interest along with parts of Digbeth and the fringes of Edgbaston & Harborne.
The developer Javelin Block, amongst several others ,has spotted this seam of desire and recently delivered two niche loft apartment projects in the Jewellery Quarter ,Viceroy House & The Riflemaker. Both schemes allowed the early purchasers to become involved & incorporate layout changes such that each apartment completed looking slightly differently but all reached the high overall standard sought by the developer. For the project creators this early involvement often bonds the individual purchasers to their particular apartments and means potentially longer term stability within the building with residents clearly having roots into the building itself after completion.
Fifteen years ago a Birmingham developer Mark Humpries started the loft living explosion in Birmingham offering ‘shell ‘ apartments in blocks such as Wexler Lofts, Amazon Lofts Sherborne lofts & Ludgate Lofts . Here the buyers were given blank canvasses within shell industrial type spaces. Today most of these apartments still present well and sell extremely well. The spaces inside often offer unique accommodation sometimes totally focussed toward the original incumbents. The immediate locations around these blocks have stepped up over time & the once vacant spaces nearby have largely been filled in with newer developments. We recommend any one looking for their own project to relook at these particular blocks because some of the units were finished with very limited budgets and now scream for modernising and updating.
If you are searching for something of a project please do ensure my team are fully aware when you call as your requirement will touch three departments..sales..commercial & new homes!
As we step into the New Year I have been quietly pleased by the number & the quality of buyers actively searching for homes for themselves here in the City Centre. Some are inspired by TV programmes like Grand Designs and are actively looking for freehold former workshops to convert & others are looking for well planned , well located apartments so they can easily join into City life. The demand clearly reflects both increasing buyer confidence but also that more finance is now available for home buyers, both in choice but also percentage to valuation. For vendors it means that presentation is still as ever really important because many of those looking are looking at the properties for themselves to live rather than rent out and those first three steps as they walk inside the front door will often determine their decision. Decluttering is often the key !
The big news this Spring will the unveiling of the Jewellery Quarter Neighbourhood Plan which is soon be coming out for public consultation. This new plan hopefully will give much more clarity for planning decisions in the area going forward for the next ten years. It will remove the ambiguity of the current planning zones which have been in place for twelve years, largely to protect manufacturing jewellery businesses ,and unlock the bulk of dereliction around the area. For many ,particularly outsiders, the impact of these protected zones are unknown until they actually apply for changes in use consent. The result in recent year is that many well intentioned developer & likely owner occupiers have in fact walked away. The new plan will if adopted both act as a focus on the regeneration of several key streets but it will also kick start the refurbishment of those current redundant business upper parts plus those handsome listed buildings trapped in largely the current planning fog of the ‘ Industrial Middle’ and the outer areas of ‘The Golden Triangle’!
Finally with the window for Buy to Lets rapidly closing can I recommend that potential investors think location, location ,location rather than just price as they seek something for the long term with minimum voids. Whilst this year will again be tight for tenants with a limited supply of apartments available here in the City Core and an increasing workforce, which is good for landlords ,I sense we within twenty four months will start to see competition from PRS Funds , similar investment institutions & the supply of Seven Capital investment stock bringing whole blocks of new flats to the market to rent. My experience tell me that there arrival invariably distorts & slows the overall market when they come on stream and become absorbed within the market however well presented & better located properties continue to readily let through the same period. Do ask our lettings team for their opinion before you sign !