For the first time in his career, “John” had taken a sickie from his work as an NHS dentist. But then, perhaps it could be said that desperate times called for desperate measures.
After four years of fruitless searching, the 38-year-old saw a chance of getting on the property ladder and finally buying his first home, at an affordable price. So he was queuing in the rain for the start of the great Galliard Homes sale.
As part of its “Get on the Ladder” starter home campaign, the developer was offering – on a first come, first served basis – one-bedroom studios for £199,000, in Hounslow, west London, where the average one-bedroom flat costs £358,000, in a city where the average property price is £500,000.
Others had queued overnight. So John found himself number 59 in a queue growing to more than 200 people.
“Of course it’s crazy that people are queuing in the rain like this,” he said. “I never imagined this would be what I had to do to get my first home. But here I am, a highly qualified professional on £45,000 a year, struggling to get on the property ladder.”
He was hoping to get something for £300,000, towards the £315,000 highest price of the 228 apartments on offer at Galliard’s Trinity Square development.
It didn’t matter that the new-build apartment would only be ready in 2017. Anything to escape his £1,000 a month “basic” rented one-bed flat in a west London suburb.
“I have put in offers for about 20 properties and seen many more,” he sighed, “But if you’re not a cash buyer and you’re not prepared to pay 10 per cent over the asking price, you have very little chance. There is definitely a housing crisis in this country.”
That, though, was not how Galliard Homes was positioning this. The website spoke of “a full-height impressive atrium”, and “excellent transport connections”.
The press people briefed about “the capital’s largest new homes development specifically designed and priced for first-time buyers and investors”. They listed six Get on the Ladder projects since the campaign started last year.
The day’s headlines told of a study by the Town and Country Planning Association showing the UK needs to build more than 1.5 million homes in five years to solve its housing crisis. A spokesman for the housing charity Shelter suggested that the rain-lashed queue “really does show how desperate people are for affordable homes”.
At number two in the queue, 25-year-old import export entrepreneur Shalinder Singh had been willing to camp outside for more than 24 hours, from 4pm on Wednesday, for the chance to get one of the £199,000 studios.
“I have been looking for eight months,” he said, “At one-bed studios that weren’t really furnished but cost £230,000 or £240,000.”
Those prices seemed to tally with the figures that Monika, No 1 in the queue, had at her fingertips. The 38-year-old accountant, who wouldn’t give her surname, was, like many others in the queue, an investor.
“If I can get one of the £199,000 studios,” she said, “With rising prices I will be able to sell it for £260,000 in a few months, or rent it for around £1,100 a month.”
That people were queuing like this, she said, was “a good and a bad thing”.
“For investors, it is worth doing. [But] for many people in Hounslow affordable housing is a bit of a dream.”
The clock struck five: it was time to buy an affordable home, or make a shrewd investment.
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