Record numbers of Londoners join the 'Don't move, improve' brigade

The number of Londoners choosing to improve their home rather than move stands at a record high, having risen by a third in 12 months according to an exclusive study for Homes & Property.
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Increased spending confidence and the shortage of housing stock have combined to persuade many Londoners it is cheaper and easier to extend rather than uproot. 

In the 12 months to March last year, 65,468 home owners applied for planning permission to upgrade their space, with basement and loft conversions among the most popular options. During the year that followed, ending in March this year, the number leapt to 86,816, up 32.6 per cent according to research by Barbour ABI, which tracks trends in the UK construction industry. 

“I think this increase is down to the realisation of how much extra value you can add to your property,” says Michael Dall, chief economist at Barbour ABI. “If you look at the economic recovery we have had over the last 12 months, it has largely been driven by consumer confidence. That is being manifested by people spending more on their properties. 

“There is also a lack of supply in the market. With low interest rates it is easier to borrow the money to do the work than move to property that is rising in price so fast it is becoming too expensive.” 

Since today’s figures relate to major schemes which require planning consent, the true number of people upgrading their homes — including adding small extensions — is certain to be far higher. 

The study shows some of the keenest home improvers live in affluent, leafy Barnet. A total of 4,828 people in the north London borough applied for permission to upgrade their homes in the last year — up from 3,354 a year ago, an increase of almost 44 per cent.

This is attributed to a combination of the number of homes in the borough, and the proportion of owners who can afford to have work done. In the City of London, where most residents live in modern flats with less scope for alteration, the number of applications was just 547, up from 457. 

Boroughs where property prices have risen particularly quickly are seeing the biggest increase in the number of improvers. In Hackney, where prices are up 19 per cent according to the Land Registry, applications shot up 43 per cent over the year, from 1,409 to 2,021.

In the most expensive borough, Kensington and Chelsea — home of the basement extension, and where the majority of home owners have few financial worries — applications rose 58 per cent, from 3,303 to 5,228. 

One of the highest-profile would-be home improvers of the last year is billionaire businessman John Caudwell, co-founder of Phones 4U. He hopes to link two adjacent Mayfair mansions with a subterranean leisure complex to create a 49,180sq ft property complete with full-scale ballroom and private multi-storey car park.

It would be one of central London’s largest private residences and only marginally smaller than Westminster Cathedral, which measures 54,000sq ft. Mr Caudwell, whose fortune is reported to be £1.62 billion, bought the houses  for a reported £81 million last year.

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