The Only Way Is Up

Submitted by: James Cracknell

Waltham Forest is now officially the most sought-after borough in London. House prices rose a staggering 26 percent in the 2013/14 financial year, and there are no signs yet of that trend slowing.

This is well above the average London rise over the same period of 17 percent, with Waltham Forest’s good transport links, thriving arts scene and relatively low prices compared to other parts of London cited as fuelling the demand.

An average home here will now set you back £323,000, compared to £256,000 a year ago, according to the Land Registry.

Despite the huge rise there are still 20 other boroughs with higher prices than Waltham Forest, and the London average is £435,000.

So when might price rises slow? Waltham Forest Echo spoke to a local first-time buyer, an estate agent and local council to get their views.

Caroline Daniels and her partner Ronnie Suleiman have been looking for a one-bed flat since January, and recently had an offer of £265,000 accepted for a property near Bakers Arms.

Caroline, 27, told the Echo: “Places like Hackney are unaffordable now so I think people are coming here instead.

“It’s one of the few places left in London where you can afford to buy and still get on the tube to work without it taking two hours. There’s a lot to do here.

“We were trying to get a one-bed for under £250,000 in Walthamstow, because that’s when stamp duty kicks in, but unless you want to live in a high-rise block it doesn’t seem to be possible now.

“We had been renting in Walthamstow and realised we had to buy now because in a year’s time we probably won’t be able to.

“When we moved here to rent it was purely because it was cheap, but now we’re buying because we like it here and we want to stay.”

Caroline spoke of some of the increasingly fraught bidding wars for homes and “dodgy tactics” by estate agents to generate interest.

“They kick up a fuss about certain places,” she said. “They’ll have an open day on a Saturday and when you get there people are queuing up outside.

“They do it to make you feel under pressure to make an offer. Then they’ll give you until 5pm on Monday.”

The London Evening Standard reported earlier this year that Hoe Street in Walthamstow was “the most estate-agent infested street in the country” with a third of its shops taken up by them.

Residents might also be familiar with estate agents’ junk mail, which arrives on an almost daily basis to demand new properties in the area, while lauding how much nearby homes have been sold for.

And many homeowners are taking the bait.

Philip Waterfield, director of Strettons in Hoe Street, said people who had lived in the area a long time were now deciding to “cash in” on the local housing boom and make a sizeable profit on what they bought several years, or even decades, ago.

He told the Echo: “I bought my first house here for £34,000, now it’s worth £300,000. The way the market is going it’s rather frightening for young people.

“There are people who are cashing in.”

Philip said the reopening of the William Morris Gallery in 2012, and its subsequent award for “Museum of the Year” in 2013, might have marked a turning point.

“I have heard of people moving from Brixton to Walthamstow, all the way up the Victoria Line, because they realise this is also a trendy place to live, and it’s cheaper.

“It isn’t a bubble, it’s a ripple effect. When the artists start moving somewhere because it’s cheap it becomes a catalyst for other people to move here, and then prices go up.”

But when will it end? “I think it will get to a certain point where it levels out, probably when interest rates rise next year.”

For those still saving to get on the property ladder in Waltham Forest, it’s cold comfort. Prices may only stabilise after mortgages have become more expensive.

How else might house prices be controlled?

It is clear that demand is outstripping supply, which is why the Mayor of London has given the borough a target to build 10,320 new homes by 2026.

And it is the job of the local authority to encourage the right homes to be built in the right places.

In the council’s local plan for the next 15-20 years, four specific areas are earmarked for “change”. Three of them are in and around Walthamstow – Blackhorse Lane, Wood Street and the town centre itself.

These are where more than half of the target for new homes is expected to be met.
A council spokesperson said: “It will not have gone unnoticed to anyone who knows the borough that the number of regeneration schemes that have come to fruition over the past couple of years is unprecedented.

“Much of this has been residential, with old industrial areas like Blackhorse Lane being transformed by new housing developments.

“Where commercial ventures crop up there is also housing that goes with it. The transformation of the old Arcade Site [now called “The Scene”] in Walthamstow may centre around the multiplex cinema, restaurants and shops, but will also see 121 homes built.

Morrison's South Grove proposals

Morrison’s South Grove proposals

“Likewise the new Morrison’s supermarket at South Grove will include 245 new homes, and the Travelodge Hotel by Walthamstow Central Station has been built alongside two blocks of flats.”

Such schemes, despite providing the new homes the borough desperately needs, often attract opposition from those already living here.

The eight-storey South Grove supermarket development – set to be built around the corner from Sainsbury’s and Asda in Walthamstow High Street – was strongly opposed by locals who objected to its height and density.

But Councillor Chris Robbins, the council leader, said such large developments were “exactly what we want to help bring about real change.”

There’s likely to be a few more of these battles in the borough to come.