Property: Notting Hill hit by upwardly mobile prices

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The Independent Online
A FRIEND of mine recently received an unsolicited letter through her door from someone who wanted to buy her flat. Such letters have been arriving at the rate of about one a fortnight for the past couple of months. Some are the usual agents' circulars. This was one of the many genuine house-hunters desperate to buy a flat in Ladbroke Square, Notting Hill.

The latest letter arrived just as my friend's upstairs neighbour had sold his small, two-bedroom flat for a seemingly extraordinary pounds 165,000. Another friend of hers had inquired about a four-bedroom maisonette around the corner priced at pounds 350,000 the day the letter came through the door, only to hear it had been sold that morning. Real demand, coupled with good prices - could the area really have come through the recession unscathed?

I had thought my friend might have been a classic victim of the recession. But, no. Between looking at her flat and actually buying it in 1989, the price fell from pounds 145,000 to pounds 120,000. She now thinks, quite reasonably, that her flat is worth about pounds 150,000. She is looking at a 25 per cent increase in value over a period when most people have seen a 35 per cent fall.

Her story came just a week after I heard another similar tale. A man in the property business said an agent friend had told him he could get pounds 200,000 for his very smart, one-bedroom flat with a conservatory and large garden on the south side of Notting Hill Gate. He only believed her because she had already achieved a rental on his flat that was double his wildest expectations.

Were these freak incidents, I asked Edward Farquhar of John D Wood's Kensington office? Not at all, he said. They were par for the course. 'Notting Hill has seen an upward movement over the past two or three years. We were back at 1989 prices by the beginning of this year and now prices have gone up further.

'We sold a house for pounds 875,000 last week, for a man who bought it for pounds 820,000 in 1988. A house in Portland Road that was bought in 1989 for pounds 695,000 is now on the market for pounds 765,000. I'm expecting to have the asking price by this afternoon. There are 30 or 40 more people looking for a similar property.'

The big prices did not just apply to houses, Mr Farquhar added. When it came to flats, prices were on a par with Chelsea. He had just got pounds 190,000 for a one-bedroom flat by a bus stop in Kensington Park Road from a woman 'who wanted to buy a little bit of Bohemia'.

Perhaps my friend's pounds 150,000 is an underestimate.

MY PIECE four weeks ago about the advantages of the Scottish system of buying property has provoked some fiery reactions. One man wrote to say that I clearly had not experienced buying and selling first-hand. I have Sir, three times as a buyer and twice as a seller, and it was not a pleasant business.

Blaggs solicitors in Stoke-on-Trent wrote to say that it was unfair to blame professionals such as themselves for maintaining the status quo in England. The reason for not changing to the Scottish system of house-buying, in which accepted offers are legally binding on both sides, was, they said, because it forced people to take out bridging loans, which the English are reluctant to do.

The people I met in Scotland were quite happy to take out bridging loans, where necessary, because in 99 per cent of cases they were for a short, fixed time. What the English quite understandably dislike is the risk of open-ended bridging, possibly leading to a desperate sale.