While Covid-related property moves have sparked a frenzied search by owners for bigger or better-value homes, aspiring first-time buyers have had to sit on the sidelines, pondering whether they will ever be able to step on to the housing ladder.
Yet as we emerge from lockdown and normal life returns, the future looks brighter for first-timers.
Interest rates remain low and affordability has actually improved for many buyers, due to savings accrued during lockdown. The main obstacle to buying a home – having a big enough deposit – is being overcome by government-backed 95 per cent mortgages.
The Help to Buy scheme and reduced stamp duty are continuing. Lenders, too, are becoming more generous. Nationwide Building Society is now offering up to five-and-a-half times income to borrowers, knowing that mortgage repayments are roughly 10 per cent cheaper per month than rental costs for the equivalent property.
Tantalisingly, developers are also dangling juicy incentives. Galliard is offering stamp duty and service charge refunds plus furniture packs at several London projects, including Westgate House in Ealing and Papermill House in Romford.
During lockdown, demand for flats lagged the market but it is catching up now, as the inner city reopens and young Londoners recapture their enthusiasm for urban life.
“Any property with a price tag in reach of first-time buyers is seeing phenomenal demand,” says Rhys Schofield of broker Peak Mortgages. Getting on the ladder usually involves compromises, such as moving to a cheaper location, or squeezing into a smaller apartment than the one you’ve been renting. However, this doesn’t mean that first-time buyers have to accept second best.
Whether building homes in the city, commuter belt, country or on the coast, forward-thinking developers are applying the fundamental elements of a good living space as much to starter homes as to top-of-the-range luxury housing.
This is what the Evening Standard New Homes Awards champion.
And, just as developers have the chance to scoop one of our coveted awards, lower-budget buyers have the opportunity to own a superbly designed, good-value home in an iconic building, or in an up-and-coming area with excellent investment prospects.
Take Canary Wharf and the district of Royal Docks, where regeneration is transforming derelict quaysides.
When built more than a century ago, the Royals’ three docks – Albert, Victoria and George V – formed the largest enclosed docks in the world. The district is equivalent in size to the area from Hyde Park to Tower Bridge, with 12 miles of waterfront – more than Venice. Savvy, early bird buyers and investors are snapping up homes in this new and bigger Canary Wharf-type district in the making.
In the heart of Royal Albert Wharf, E16, Gallions Place, one of the big projects under way, has waterside apartments starting at £370,000. Call 020 3993 7930 for details. Nearby Pontoon Reach, a collaboration between Redrow and housing charity Peabody, boasts apartments grouped around courtyard gardens, plus a residents roof terrace with amazing views. Prices from £362,500. Call 020 3733 0937.
Slough is a west London location on the rise. As well as being a Crossrail beneficiary, it is also getting a makeover to its town centre, spearheaded by the local council and developer Muse. Show homes have been unveiled at Novus Apartments, part of a new hub close to the train station. Prices start at £199,950 and buyers get £3,000 in high street vouchers to help furnish their new home. Call 01753 326146.
A giant transport interchange for Crossrail and the High Speed 2 railway system is being built at Old Oak and Park Royal in west London, part of a £26 billion project that will boast a new community with 25,000 new homes and 65,000 jobs in the coming decades.
Park Royal has long been a manufacturing and distribution base for companies serving the capital’s businesses. Now, though, it is emerging as a first-time buyer hotspot. For Travel Zone 3, homes here are relatively cheap, at about 30 per cent below the inner London average. Grand Union Canal passes through the area, too, so it is ripe for convivial waterside living.
For many years, Guinness used the canal to transport barrels of its world-famous stout to Paddington, for distribution to pubs. The old brewery site is being redeveloped into a complex of homes and offices beside a 20-acre nature reserve with lakes, waterfalls, bridges and cycle paths.
Regency Heights consists of three towers with 807 stylish, light-filled apartments priced from £375,000. Both Park Royal and Hangar Lane Tube stations are a short walk away, while on the horizon, in 2026, is that major interchange serving Crossrail and HS2 services to Birmingham and beyond. Call Fairview Homes on 020 8003 4569.
Barratt is building 1,386 homes at Hayes Village, a new west London address, on the 30-acre former Nestlé factory complex, Impressive Art Deco factory façades, entranceways and double-height spaces are being retained, while original staircases, machinery and artefacts are being incorporated into new sympathetically designed apartment blocks named after famous chocolate brands, from Hershey to Ferrero.
During its Fifties heyday, more than 2,000 people worked at the factory, which is a local legend. The site’s former Sandow Cocoa Works, which was the first place outside Switzerland to manufacture Nestlé’s famous Milky Bar, is earmarked to become a community centre.
More than nine acres of green public space plus a canoe club, café, gym, 1.5-kilometre trim trail and outdoor exercise areas are being created, and the canal towpath upgraded. Prices start at £310,000. Call 0330 057 6666.
Hayes Village: ‘We love all the greenery here’
Royston and Stephanie Rodrigues have put down roots at this fledgling canalside neighbourhood, moments from a new Crossrail station that’s set to open next year. The couple, both 32, lived with Stephanie’s parents for two years while they saved a £21,000 deposit. “Buying off-plan made us nervous,” admits Stephanie, an NHS physiotherapist. “But the show flat and the model of the development allowed us to envisage what we were buying. The scheme has so much more space and greenery than others we visited. Our flat has a terrace facing lush gardens and a beautiful weeping willow tree.”
They paid £431,000 for their home, which includes a parking space, using the Help to Buy equity loan scheme.
Medway Renaissance: ‘I’m paying less to buy a home than I used to pay in rent’
Historic Medway towns on the good-value north Kent coast benefit from high-speed trains and an improving motorway network.
Medway Renaissance is a co-ordinated £6 billion project aiming to transform eight miles of riverfront, linking Chatham, Rochester, Rainham, Gillingham and Strood into an 8,000-home “linear city”.
The aim is to bring affordable Docklands-style living to the Medway, drawing on its maritime heritage with architecture on a nautical theme, plus leisure amenities and moorings.
Nadia Mitchell, 24, swapped east London for Rochester Riverside, a waterside scheme by developer Countryside where prices start at £295,000 for two-bedroom flats. Call 01634 775838. “I’m paying less per month than when I was when renting – and now I own my own property in a beautiful location,” she says.
“Ironically, I still live much the same life as I lived in London. I’m a little over 30 minutes away on the train. I meet my friends at Westfield in Stratford and go shopping and socialising in Shoreditch.”
Greenwich Peninsula: ‘I was smitten’
Living with his parents in Bromley during the first lockdown, Raj Tarrat decided to bring forward his plans to buy a home of his own.
His dream property was a glamorous, modern riverside apartment with plenty of amenities that chimed with his lifestyle.
At first, he thought Greenwich Peninsula, a 150-acre district being built next to The O2 arena, was beyond his budget. But he quickly realised that Help to Buy would make it possible for him to purchase a £575,000 apartment with balcony and river views in Upper Riverside.
“I was smitten, especially when I heard about the monthly food market and the year-round programme of free events, including jazz and outside cinema,” he says.
As well as that cinema and 1.6 kilometres of Thames frontage and gardens, the variety of residents facilities include a gym, pool and spa and co-working space.
His apartment also comes with hotel-style concierge services. Prices from £487,500. Call 020 3713 6153.