Tag Archives: London property prices

Uninhabitable London (An Occasional Series)

A study by an employers’ organisation has found that two firms in five say high house prices in London make it hard for them to hire and retain skilled staff. Alternatively, employees are having to move a long way out and commute so far that this is affecting their punctuality and reliability.

This has been a problem for some years now, though it became less pressing when the economy turned down and those staff that had jobs were presumably prepared to put up with anything to retain them. It has become pressing again because of the mad spiral of house prices in London and the south east, which have far outstripped ordinary people’s ability to afford the mortgage on them.

It will get worse again as mortgages become harder to get, even if you are prepared to put up with the financial pain, because lenders are now required to ask more searching questions over whether applicants can really afford them.

I know of three couples affected in this way. All in solid, professional jobs. The problem is children. One pair are off to that remote part of the provinces where one comes from, on the grounds that it is more possible there to raise the two children they have and enjoy a decent living standard than in over-heated, over-crowded London. Fine, if your job is exportable.

Two others jacked up borrowings to the limit and bought the property, had the offspring and then found that child care was no longer affordable. The numbers do not stack up; child minders or nannies can wipe out one small salary. Nursery places and after-schools clubs are few and far between, and do not always provide the hours of care that modern jobs require.

It makes having one child, on typical salaries, hard enough. It makes having two out of the question. Expect lots of only children among the urban middle classes, then, the “little emperor” syndrome seen in China after the one-child policy.

In a proper free market, which of course is a concept all employers pay lip service to, then wages for such professional jobs would have to rise to make mortgages and child care affordable again. The numbers suggest they will have to rise an awful long way.

Employers won’t countenance this, which is why you will hear much about how the Government should Do Something. Thereby interfering in that free market, which tends to be something corporates encourage when it is in their interests and scream blue murder about when it is not. Funny, that. This is not a problem that is going to go away.


Christmas Does Not Come In A Delivery Van

An extraordinary flyer flops through the door, glossy and obviously expensive. There is a company that will select, buy and then decorate my Christmas tree for me. Price unspecified.

I had always assumed, though I am fairly unsentimental about Christmas, that part of the fun of a tree was choosing it, dragging all the old, familiar and battered ornaments down from the attic, and then dressing it en famille. Ideally with the odd decent glass of something.

Apparently there are some people for whom this is too onerous a task. They probably get someone to choose, buy and wrap their presents too. It reminds me of the classic 1977 episode of “The Good Life” when Margo orders Christmas over the phone, and some of it fails to arrive. Margo recoils with horror. “Christmas hasn’t been delivered to our house.”

Except that the firm in question obviously hasn’t seen that episode. “Designer Christmas Delivered”, the flyer promises, without apparent irony.

We live in a part of town where there is the Rich Bit, and the Other Bit. The Rich Bit has houses worth multiple millions, inhabited by investment bankers, City lawyers and their pampered wives. It contains two or three of the most expensive streets in the London suburbs.

The Other Bit, inhabited by ordinary people, used to be affordable, just. Such is the unstoppable march of London house prices that the last home to sell in our road changed hands for almost a million. Presumably the company thought that if anyone could afford that, they might be interested in paying some ludicrous price for a decorated Christmas tree.

The people who live in the Rich Bit are just the sort to want an overpriced, designer Christmas tree. You can imagine the scene. “Blue and white is rather last year, madam. This year, the colours are gold and green.” And God forbid, when you invite your fellow investment bankers and City lawyers around for Christmas drinks at your multi-million pound mansion, that your Christmas tree should be decorated in last year’s colours.

Some people have too much money.