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Where In The UK Would I Buy Property?

Updated on October 8, 2009

Talk about putting myself under the microscope on this one, but sometimes you just have to take a deep breath in and shout out loud and clear about something you believe in. The UK housing crash has upset a lot of the predictions made a couple of years ago, but there’s still one location for exciting property investment that I would definitely sink my hard earned money into.

Over the last few years, the high earning investment hotspots have been the major buy-to-let cities like Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Nottingham. But these have all suffered from massive overbuilding and oversupply. Popularity and targeted buy-to-let development killed them dead. Capital values of all residential properties sank through the floor and a residue of surviving landlords found too few tenants chasing what was left. Result: values fell even more, rent levels slid backwards and the number of repossessions climbed.

As the song said, it’s a sad sad situation. And recovery in these once-upon-a-time boom-towns will take longer than most other places, because they have a higher hill to climb. I only mention this because it’s a warning to all investors to be cautious about following a trend. If you are first in, you can afford to be first out – and that’s the only way of capitalising on the market’s best price rises. In the case of the cities above, most investors left it far too long to abandon ship – and in doing so, they found themselves trapped by the pirates of the galleon called ‘negative equity’.

With the advantage of hindsight, there are lots of locations property investors would have stayed well clear of, had they known what was to become of them. But the same is true of locations rich in opportunity.

How many of us wish we had the foresight to have bought one of the first off-plan properties at Manchester Docks – before it became the chic and stylish Salford Quays? Or perhaps an apartment at Liverpool Docks, before it got the long awaited facelift? And how many can only dream of having taken the opportunity to buy at Canary Wharf?

There are always flickers of light on the UK map, which eventually either fade and die out or evolve to glow bright as prime investment hotspots. One such place, in my opinion, is Elephant & Castle.

Okay, so if it has one thing going against it, it’s the name, which smacks more of a quaint English pub than a new up-and-coming neighbourhood; but perhaps that too is quirky enough to become something special in the eyes of future homebuyers. And because this is a London location, the current market conditions make this a rare opportunity that many of us can afford to take a punt on (a gamble, that is).

It’s proximity to the capital makes it appealing, even before any other considerations are examined. People can stroll to their city commerce jobs from here, leaving the petrol guzzler at home or become eco friendly and desert car-ownership altogether. It’s not necessary, of course, but it’s nice to have that choice. But this is only one very small reason for considering Elephant & Castle. The biggest influence for me is that it is the centre of what is likely to be recognised as one of the biggest and most ambitious regeneration programs in Europe, at an anticipated completion cost of £1.5billion.

Now, people north of Watford may never have heard of Elephant & Castle (and those of you reading this from across the pond are even less likely to have heard of it). So, here’s a bit of history for you.

The area was a bustling and very popular place to live and work in the 1930s, but then it was virtually obliterated during the bombing campaigns over London during the Second World War. What was left was re-shaped a decade or two later and heralded as something completely different for what was then known as South London’s West End. A huge multi-level infrastructure was formed, carrying vehicles and pedestrians above ground level, and a state-of-the-art shopping mall was constructed on the ground. Sadly, this was the 1960s – a time when design and architecture has since been proved catastrophic.

Elephant & Castle fell into disrepair and disrepute. It descended into a sad and gloomy reflection of the boomtown it once was. In short, it became a ghetto and hardly a place worthy of commercial or residential investment. And this is how it’s remained throughout the latter part of the last century.

Then, in 2002, the local council decided it was time for a complete rethink. If it can’t be mended, scrap it and start afresh. The new Elephant & Castle development plan is richly evocative of the best in city design and modern living. It is, quite simply, awe-inspiring.

The 70 acre site falls on land mostly owned by the local authority, which gives them enormous power and control – and in turn, it should lead to less construction problems and more certainty of achieving the goals the plan has set itself. And the plan is a big one … over 5,000 new homes, 75,000 square metres of new leisure and retail facilities, a brand new and completely pedestrian friendly town centre, the demolition of ugly existing retail space and old outdated residential estates and an ambitious eco-friendly zero-carbon infrastructure for water, heating and communication networks.

And all this by 2020. So far, the project is well underway and by 2014 the developers expect the shopping centre to be demolished, the new shopping mall construction to have begun and most of the existing old-style residential estate units at Heygate to be demolished and land made ready for redevelopment.

One of the first of the residential schemes to be completed was Wansley Street, where chic and stylish but affordable 1, 2 and 3 bedroomed homes were created. Despite falling values nationally and the UK market crash, all homes on this early completed development have been sold. It’s a success story I think will repeat itself over and over again, as each new phase is completed.

Elephant & Castle is certainly changing. And right now there is the opportunity to get a good deal at the ground floor of this massive transformation. Whether the opportunity will still be there in a year or two is another question, but for now … I would recommend taking a closer look at what’s on offer.

Average house prices in Elephant & Castle are currently just over £324,000 and apartments averaging about £224,000 (remember, this IS London). Imagine what average prices might be once the housing market recovers and this impressive regeneration scheme completes. Will you be enjoying a celebratory champagne, sat outside one of the new Elephant & Castle wine bars – or will you be sipping a cold beer right where you are now, thinking about what might have been?


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