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Tips on How to Buy a Flat in Central London

By Fraser Gregory  //  Mon 16th October 2023
Central London is still as sought-after as ever, and high house prices make finding a property in London a challenge.
Central London aerial picture

Whether you are buying a new home or looking to invest in London property, you will probably have to compromise on factors such as location or property type to find a flat within your budget.

This guide includes some hints and tips to help you find a property that meets your needs at an affordable price.

Consider The Type Of Flat

London has an endless variety of new and old flats and apartments on offer, including modern property developments, converted houses, period apartment buildings and flats above shops. 

Each property type has its advantages and disadvantages, and keeping a flexible attitude may mean that you can get hold of a great property at a reasonable price.

If you are looking at flats at the higher end of the London price range, Knightsbridge and Marble Arch have an abundance of luxury apartments, including new builds and gated developments.

These are the different types of flats you will find in London:

  • Purpose-built flats - constructed as flats from the beginning.
  • Flat conversions - created by converting an existing building, such as a large house or warehouse.
  • Mansion flats - purpose-built apartments built in the Victorian or Edwardian eras. They are often found in smart residential areas such as Westminster, Knightsbridge and Kensington.
  • Mews homes - were originally built as coach houses or stables on cobbled cul-de-sacs behind some of London's most famous streets.
  • Studio flats - a self-contained unit comprising a single room which serves as the living space, kitchen and bedroom with a separate bathroom.
  • Maisonettes - two-storey flats which have their own front door to the outside world.
  • Gated flats - apartment buildings enclosed by gates or walls with access restricted to residents and their guests.

Knightsbridge has many Georgian and Victorian-style properties with classic architectural details and modern luxury developments. Properties in Knightsbridge and Marble Arch include some of the most expensive properties in the UK, and it is a popular area for celebrity buyers and property investors.

Some of the most sought-after homes in Central London feature the Queen Anne Revival style of architecture. These properties have an intricate appearance, often incorporating bay windows, wraparound porches, and an asymmetrical façade. 

It is also common for these types of properties in London to be designed using terracotta elements, as seen in the Brompton Road terracotta façade. 

Understand The Difference Between Leasehold And Share Of Freehold

If you are buying a flat in London, it is likely to be a leasehold. A leasehold gives the purchaser the right to occupy the property for the period specified in the lease. Leases are usually long-term – often 90 or 120 years but can be as short as 40 or as high as 999.

Some flats are a share of freehold. This means that the leaseholders each own a share of the company that owns the freehold. Share of freehold gives the leaseholders more control over their home and gives them the power to extend their lease for up to 999 years.

Check The Length Of The Lease

The costs of extending a lease are high, so when buying a leasehold property, check how many years are left on the lease and how many will likely remain by the time you may want to sell. A short amount of time left on the lease could cause issues with the future sale of the property. The value of properties with short leases will rapidly reduce as the lease period decreases. A residential lease with less than 80 years left to run constitutes a short lease.

Check The Annual Charges And Building Costs

You must factor in costs such as the annual service charge and ground rent. The service charge covers the cost of maintaining the building, including building insurance, maintenance and repairs, provision of leisure facilities, concierge services or additional security. 

Ground rent is typically a token fee paid to the freeholder in exchange for renting the land the property sits on.

Find out what the annual service charges are. Apartments with more communal areas or leisure facilities such as gyms will have higher service charges. 

Consider Where To Buy In London

What constitutes a good location will vary from person to person, so keeping an open mind is a good idea. When searching for your new home, list your top priorities, such as local amenities, schools, transport links and flat type.

Flats in sought-after areas with features such as outside space will fetch premium prices which may be out of your budget. However, we would advise you to buy in the best location you can afford, even if this means compromising on the size of the flat. This protects you against a weakening property market risk because prime properties tend to hold their value better. 

If you don't have an in-depth knowledge of the different areas of London, these overviews should help you to find the area that best suits your priorities:

Central London

The heart of London is the most vibrant place to live because it is packed with world-class culture, restaurants, bars, shops and more. Transport links in central London are excellent so you can get to most places quickly and easily. Knightsbridge, Belgravia and Marble Arch are amongst central London's most sought-after and most expensive areas.

South London

South London is the area that lies south of the River Thames. It is popular for its stunning riverside views and attracts a lot of young professionals and families. Areas such as Clapham, Wimbledon, Dulwich and Herne Hill are amongst some of the best places to live in South London, with the convenience of easy access to the city while being close to green space.

North London

Boroughs such as Camden, Hackney and Islington have become highly sought-after. Homes in the area include modern apartments and Victorian and Edwardian properties. Numerous buildings have been converted from warehouses and factories into flats. With the bustling markets and independent restaurants and bars, North London is popular with young professionals.

West London

There are plenty of desirable suburbs in West London with nearby green space, such as Richmond Park and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Notting Hill, Shepherd's Bush, Hammersmith and Fulham are all within a short distance from Central London's amenities, and there are many new developments in these areas.

East London

East London has benefitted from regeneration projects after the 2012 London Olympics. Properties in East London areas such as Stratford and Newham are more affordable than most other parts of London, attracting a younger demographic of buyers and residents.

Assess Proximity To Public Transport

To get around London, it is essential to have easy access to public transport, preferably a tube station and ideally within walking distance. Access to rail services and regular bus services are also a significant advantage.

Most London homebuyers are looking for easy access to public transport, so expect to pay a premium for flats within walking distance of a tube station.

Look Beyond Flashy Design And Furnishings

Appearances can be deceiving. When viewing an apartment, try to be as (quietly) critical as possible, and look at the property objectively. The fixtures and furnishings might look good, but have they been installed well? If you bear this in mind, you might be able to pick up on things you otherwise wouldn't have spotted.

Walk Around The Neighbourhood

If you are new to the area, walk around to get a feel for the neighbourhood and look out for anything potentially problematic. It's worth doing this at different times of the day as a quiet residential street in the daytime could be busy and noisy with revellers in the evening. Walking around the area at night will also give you a feel for its safety.

Find out what shops, restaurants and other facilities there are nearby. Check out how long it takes to get to theatres in the West End and the top shopping spots in London.

Don't Be Afraid To Negotiate

Demand is high for flats and apartments in London, which pushes up prices, but don't let that put you off trying to negotiate on price. Research selling prices in the location and consider offering a lower price and negotiating from there.

Register With A Local Estate Agents

To make sure that you are the first to know when a new property comes onto the market, register with a local estate agent. You can provide details of the type of property you are looking for, and they will notify you when a flat matching your preferences is going up for sale.

Consider Hiring A Search Agent.

A search agent or property finder, sometimes called a buying agent, will use their contacts and knowledge of the London property market to find a property that matches what you are looking for. 

By doing most of the search work, a buying agent will make finding a property less stressful and time-consuming. A search agent will not only help you find the right property, but they can also increase your chances of negotiating a favourable price.

How Much Does A Flat Cost To Buy In Central London?

Of course, this can depend on several variables, such as the size of the property, the location, whether it has outdoor space. According to the Land Registry, the average house index price of a flat in Central London was £1,210,000 in July 2023.

It's essential to consider the extra costs involved in buying property when deciding your budget, such as how much stamp duty you will be liable to pay.

How Much Deposit Do I Need To Buy A Flat In Central London?

Generally, mortgage lenders expect buyers to have a 10% deposit of the sale price, so using the above-average price of £1,210,000., you would be expected to pay a £121,000 deposit. It's not uncommon for lenders to ask for up to a 20% deposit, so it is essential to know what you can afford and what support is in place before you set your heart on a property.

The government introduced a scheme to make it easier for first-time buyers to get on the property ladder, called the mortgage guarantee scheme, which has encouraged lenders to offer mortgages with only a 5% deposit. It was recently extended to December 2023.

There are other schemes in place to help buyers within London afford a property, including the Shared Ownership Scheme, First Dibs for Londoners and the London Living Rent Scheme.

Plaza Estates are one of the capital's leading independent specialist estate agents. If you would like expert advice on buying a property in and around Mayfair, Knightsbridge and Kensington, contact us today.

Offices at

Marble Arch
29 Edgware Road
London
W2 2JE
f: 020-7258-3090
Knightsbridge
34 Beauchamp Place
London
SW3 1NU
f: 020-7581-7005