Prime parking nets premium: In streets 'built for horses' Anne Spackman discovers residents are having to pay as much for a garage in central London as for an entire flat in the Eighties

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When Simon Agace, the head of Winkworth, was negotiating to buy a flat in Jermyn Street for a client, the sellers insisted he buy the garage that went with it for an unnegotiable pounds 40,000. They didn't tell him it was actually too small for his Mercedes. Priced per square foot , it was as expensive as the pounds 250,000 flat.

Garages have become the Knightsbridge broom cupboards of the Nineties. We all scoffed at the idea of someone paying pounds 36,000 for a home the size of a prison cell at the height of the loony Eighties. But now people are paying the same price for a home for their car.

David Forbes of Chesterfields, which sells million- pound houses in the Knightsbridge area, puts the premium for garages at pounds 50,000 and off-street parking at pounds 25,000-pounds 30,000. A resident of Cheyne Walk in Chelsea has just bought a pounds 30,000 garage from him, even though it is a 10-minute walk from his house.

He says parking is one of the first things buyers mention when asking about a property. 'At the top end of the market, everyone wants to buy property with some form of parking,' he said.

'As parking in London's prime residential areas becomes more and more difficult, properties with garages and off-street parking are becoming more and more sought after.'

Chesterfields is selling a Knightsbridge mews house with five bedrooms, a garden and garage for pounds 1.5m. They recently had four buyers chasing an unmodernised house in the same area with an asking price of pounds 1.85m, with a garage.

Inconvenience and crime are the two factors driving up the price. People are tired of taking half an hour to find a parking space three streets away from home, only to discover next morning that the car has been broken into or been stolen.

Flats and houses with their own garage can command a double premium because of their rarity value.

At one of London's newest and most expensive developments, Observatory Gardens in Kensington, flats are selling for a 25 per cent premium because they have the added bonus of secure parking, but buyers have to pay an additional pounds 25,000 for the parking space itself.

So far, all the flats released for sale at Observatory Gardens have been snapped up by Hong Kong investors who are accustomed to having on-site parking at home and will not do without it here. As these investors have been central to the recovery in the London housing market, their demand for parking has driven up prices for garages even faster.

Hong Kong buyers have been particularly active in the Docklands market, where 60 per cent of properties have parking. At Galliard Homes' site on Surrey Quays, you can buy a one-bedroom flat with parking for the same price as a garage in central London.

And it is not just in the prime areas that prices are rising. In Fulham, notorious for its double parking, garages are selling for about pounds 20,000 each. Foxtons in Fulham Broadway had one customer who insisted on having a garage. He paid nearly pounds 250,000 for a house with numerous complications near Chelsea's football ground, purely because he could park his car there.

'At the end of the day these streets were built for horses,' said Sarah Haskell-Thomas of Foxtons. 'Now, with all the conversions, you have six to eight cars per house.'

For some people the parking problems are just too much.

'I have lost a few sales where people have gone round to see the property and have not been able to park,' she said.' We have a lot of people on our books who want parking with their homes and they are prepared to pay for it.'

In Hampstead, another area renowned for traffic problems, an agent with Anscombe and Ringland said people were starting to sell their cars rather than put up with the hassle of finding a space.

'People are finding it more cost-effective to do without their cars,' he said. 'They are using taxis and public transport instead.'

Hampstead and Fulham both have residents' parking schemes, but, as in central London, there are not enough parking places to go round. In the borough of Kensington and Chelsea there are more than 36,000 residents' permits issued for 24,500 spaces. In Westminster there are more than 31,000 permits for 23,000 spaces.

Planning authorities are now demanding that any new housing developments have at least one parking place, and in some cases two, per house. The only group that escapes the strict regulations are builders of retirement homes, who need only one space for every three homes.

The problem of parking may get even worse from 4 July, when the Metropolitan Police hands over responsibility for parking to local authorities. Individual boroughs will be able to choose how they administer schemes.

If they opt to contract out parking to private companies, paying staff on commission, the cost of a safe haven for your car may rise again.

(Photograph omitted)