Rentals are picking up as tenants rush to get in by Christmas

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The Independent Online

Downhearted landlords thinking of selling up have been given an early Christmas present - a flurry of tenants clamouring to move in before the festive period.

Usually, the run-up to Christmas is dreary as both buyers and prospective tenants embark on a punishing schedule of shopping and partying. The only exception is the top end of the central London market, which operates pretty well year-round.

This year is different. A continuing shortage of high-quality properties to let has left many renters increasingly desperate as their leases approach expiry.

"We've continued to have good demand for properties when usually at this time of year the market is slowing down," says Amy Robinson, lettings manager of John D Wood's Richmond office. "Most people who need to move prior to Christmas are making decisions promptly, and we have found that applicants are generally making offers close to the asking price."

In Richmond, at least, more properties seem to be coming on to the lettings market in response to the demand. "The number of instructions has been high for this time of year and a good range of properties are becoming available. We are now getting lots of enquiries for properties coming on the market ready for January 2006," Robinson says.

Young professionals form the bulk of demand in her area, Robinson believes, but the company lets that landlords so love are also increasing in number after years of decline.

A pre-Christmas boost has been seen in central London, according to Anna Cuthbertson of Jackson-Stops & Staff in Holland Park, mainly from executives starting work in the new year. "We had a very quiet October and November but suddenly had more activity," she says. "There has been a stock shortage, and tenants now realise that if they don't make a decision now they will not be able to move in on 4 or 5 January."

Some executive tenants with accommodation allowances have had optimistic ideas of what the money will obtain, Cuthbertson says. As a result, they have been refusing places and are having to top up the allowance to get what they want. "Some people have been looking for three months with a budget of £1,500 a week but failing to find what they want, and are now having to put their own money in and go up to £1,700 a week. It is panic renting, really," she says.

Lettings in central London are doing well on the back of the jobs market in the financial sector, says Liam Bailey, head of research at Knight Frank. "The market in prime central London is usually busy, but it is busier than normal at the moment because the City jobs market is healthy and firms are recruiting."

The renewed activity has also reassured investors, Bailey says. "There was concern in the first half of the year because price growth slowed so quickly, but investors are cautiously buying again. Landlords are not offloading their investments and adopting a much more long-term view."

The shortage of stock available to rent in central London is greatest in family homes, partly because an entire house in Kensington is beyond the reach of the average investor, but also because the cost has been pushed up so high by demand from owner-occupiers that investors can no longer make them pay. "Investors go for one- and two-bed flats rather than family houses because they cannot get a the return on them," Bailey says.

Agents in the mid-market in London, which is mainly occupied by Londoners in professional jobs, are also seeing unusual activity before Christmas. Mark Kraven at Faron Sutaria in Notting Hill says: "Notting Hill rentals are buzzing at the moment, especially properties in the £400 to £600 a week sector. There is a real urgency for tenants to find their ideal property and be moved in prior to Christmas."

Tenants may be keen to get settled in time to get the tree decorated, the turkey in the oven and the wine mulling, but they are not taking just any old place. "Wood floors and well-designed, furnished apartments are in great demand," Kraven says. "As usual, a strong interest in properties located within a five-minute walk of the Underground are getting a 10 per cent premium on properties slightly further away." As ever, flats with crisp, clean decoration and a very short walk to the Tube are preferred, whatever the season.

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