Saturday 21 July 2018

The Saturday List #180 - Five reasons why the Mill Hill Property bubble may have burst

I live in Mill Hill and own property in Mill Hill. So from a financial perspective, anything that is bad for property prices is bad for my bank balance. There have recently been several posts on the Mill Hill related social media websites reporting a glut of rental properties in Mill Hill along with a stagnating sales market.  The Barnet Eye has been doing some research and discussing the matter with various people, including local estate agents, potential buyers and sellers, as well as people letting property and people looking to rent. We have been trying to work out whether the current situation represents an opportunity or whether it is something more fundamental. From this research, I've compiled a list of the reasons why I believe we are currently seeing a downturn in the Mill Hill property market.

The list we've compiled is purely based on the anecdotal evidence of those we've spoken to, but I am sure anyone with property will be interested. There are several big national issues that have an impact (Brexit, Tax on second properties, etc) but these are national or cross London issues and so I've not included them. I have tried to identify whether Mill Hill is worse than other similar suburban towns and what may make it so.

1. Thameslink. For decades, the fast and reasonably reliable Thameslink service from Mill Hill into central London has been a huge attraction for potential residents. Young professionals renting flats have seen it as an ideal base, with the opportunity to be in central London in 20 minutes. Over the last eighteen months, the service has virtually disintegrated.The new timetable in May has for many proven to be the last straw. Commuters have lost confidence in the service. Many firms do not view continued lateness favourably and it can affect promotion prospects as well as employment prospects. In short, until Thameslink has sorted itself out, no sane commuter would consider moving to Mill Hill. Couple this with all of those who have simply had enough and you have a situation where there are far more sellers than buyers and far more empty flats than renters. As the situation simply cannot stay as it is, this theoretically presents buyers with a great investment opportunity (assuming you believe that sooner or later the service will start working and people will start to trust it again).

2. Traffic issues with private, selective and religious schools. Mill Hill has quite a high number of private and religious schools, including Mill Hill School, Mill Hill County, Goodwyn, Belmont, St Martins, St Vincents, St Pauls, Etz Chaim and Hasmonean. Whilst all of these provide an excellent education, due to the higher than average percentage of non local children, they also all see higher traffic flows than non denominational, non selective and non fee paying schools. Roads like the Ridgeway and Page St have seen massive issues with congestion and parking during school hours and especially around the time of the school run. Whilst canvassing for the local elections, this was an issue that came up time after time. Several residents who were looking to move and lived on roads affected, told me that canny estate agents had advised them not to arrange viewings during the school run. Perhaps the biggest bugbear are the selfish parents who block drives, often telling home owners "It's only for five minutes". I was surprised how many residents said "I've had enough of this, I'm moving out". I guess that if you don't have a car or don't, it means that there are real bargains to be had in such roads.

3. Massive development schemes. Another refrain I've heard recently is "Mill Hill is getting overdeveloped, we are selling up whilst we still can". On the Ridgeway we've seen the National Institute for Medical Research scheme. There is also the humongous Pentavia scheme. Many residents in roads affected said they were considering moving, as they believe that the traffic issues will make things impossible and were looking to get out before this started to blight their property. There are real worries that if roads such as Bunns Lane become an access for the Pentavia scheme, it could become even more gridlocked. I've yet to speak to anyone (who isn't a developer) with a good word to say about either scheme. There are real concerns around the NIMR scheme and the lack of parking and with the proposed Watchtower development, this is only likely to get worse.

4. Crime. You may well say that Crime is a cross London issue. A year ago, no one was saying to me "Mill Hill is unsafe". A very unfortunate series of events has changed that perception. The saddest and most shocking was the killing of shopkeeper Vijay Patel in Mill Hill Broadway. Such an event rightly unsettles many. What made matters a hundred times worse was the hastily arranged and very badly run meeting at Hartley Hall, where our local MP, Mr Matthew Offord and the local chief of police sought to reassure locals, but only succeeded in scaring them to death. We heard tales from the floor of brutal attacks at home, which were met with a response from the panel of "Mill Hill has RELATIVELY LOW CRIME" which convinced the audience that the panel was a bit clueless. Many left the meeting in a state of shock and I know two people who have moved since directly as a result.

5. The departure of the Jehovahs Witnesses from Mill Hill. The Watchtower  Society owns a large number of properties in Mill Hill. They have signposted their intention to move, which means that these properties will be divested and there will potentially be a glut of properties on the market. Of course this is likely to be a short term issue, with many canny investors snapping them up on the cheap, but for anyone looking to invest now, for refurbishment and development projects, it may well mean that when the projects are nearing completion, the marked has dropped and a loss will occur. An estate agent I spoke to told me that this is starting to become a topic of conversation when homes are coming on the market in the areas where the JW's have large property interests. Although this is in some ways a hyper local issue, combined with other factors affecting the local property market, this is likely to become an ever more looming issue for sellers.

So is Mill Hill still a good place to rent or buy? I was speaking to a Mill Hill renter earlier today, who told me that they were paying £830 a month for a small single person studio flat and they moved here because it was close to a certain well known music studio and as a non driver was ideal for getting in and out of town. They also said that they had friends who had moved here, who previously would not have been able to afford Mill Hill a couple of years ago. As for buyers, if I was looking, I'd take a chance on Mill Hill if I wanted to move hear for the medium to long term, but not at the moment as an investment to turn a quick profit. The Thameslink services will sort themselves out sooner or later and there are good alternatives with the Northern Line and buses. I walk down Mill Hill Broadway every night between 10pm and midnight, as I have to exercise my dogs. I feel it is safe. As to the school run issues, this offers cyclists, people who don't need to drive around school run time and non drivers great opportunities to live in a great place at a rather knock down rate. I live on west side of Millway, which is traditionally one of the cheapest roads in Mill Hill, due to the M1 and the Railway. It is a great location and I paid 75% of what my neighbours across the road paid for a similar sized house, so you can make these issues work for you. We have parking issues, with a nursery over the road, which is a bit of a pain, but generally I walk or take the train when I need to travel at busy times. As I bought my home to live in it has worked well. It has also increased fifteen fold in value since 1987, so I've done OK. When I bought it, the big attraction was that I didn't drive and there were great transport links. It amazes me that estate agents so rarely big up the potential for non drivers in blighted roads.

The one spot I personally would avoid like the plague for the time being is the Ridgeway, especially at the easterly end, where the NIMR is located. The parking will be a nightmare, it is already getting gridlocked and as for walking or cycling, Bittacy Hill is not a cycling challenge for the faint hearted, the 240 bus is already rammed at rush hour, there will not be enough parking spaces and the departure of the JW's is likely to cause even more disturbance and depress the property prices even more. My guess is that ultimately the property prices will see a market correction to price all of that in, but for the time being, I don't see it.

Finally a word about the more London wide issues such as Brexit removing well paid jobs in the City, punitive taxes on second properties and all manner of legislation deterring buy to let investors. None of this will help Mill Hill property prices. As not even the cabinet knows what Brexit means, it would take a brave person to invest in property in London at the moment until the situation becomes clearerr and we know the effect on London's finance and service industries. There is a big debate as to whether buy to let investment is a good or bad thing for the economy. The Conservative government certainly thinks it is bad and has done everything it reasonably can to make such investments difficult. When the market sentiment was bullish this was probably a sensible move, as first time buyers were getting priced out of the market. If Brexit leads to a property price collapse, then they may well need to have a rethink, just to get some homes back on the market. Most of the buy to let landlords I know have actually found themselves in the position out of necessity, being unable to sell existing properties and needing to move. I am not sure punitive taxes is the best solution (but I have to disclose a bias and an interest).

So has the Mill Hill Property bubble burst? I'm not mystic Meg, I have no crystal ball, but right now if I had spare cash, for the first time ever I would not invest in property in Mill Hill, unless it was at an absolute basement price. That may sound gloomy, but I certainly wouldn't sell right now either. Mill Hill is one of the best districts of London and sooner or later, anyone who holds their nerve for the white knuckle ride will do very well. I feel sorry for those who have decided to move and are finding their property prices falling through the floor.

Of course all of this is my opinion based on informal conversations as mentioned above. I have no qualifications to advise anyone on any sort of investment, so please just treat this as entertainment!

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