Comment: The price we pay for being so posh
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So the St Albans district has topped yet another list linked to wealth and prosperity: more million pound homes are being sold there than anywhere else in the East of England.
St Albans, Harpenden and surrounding villages are so lovely and posh and expensive, people are prepared to pay an absolute fortune to live there! Welwyn Hatfield isn’t far behind either – there’s just 1.5 per cent between them and St Albans when their seven figure sales are viewed as a percentage of total properties sold.
This is all well and good, but also a little bit worrying. Because as prices become increasingly inflated, the chance of any regular person being able to afford a home in these sought-after parts of Herts dips still further.
An area that already feels warped in favour of the extremely well off will soon be an impossible dream to all but the super-rich. For many, it already seems so.
I feel extremely lucky to have been able to buy my first home (with my other half) in St Albans back in 2003. Even then, the prices seemed crazy. Our vendors had paid less than a third of the 2003 asking price when they’d bought the house six years earlier, and didn’t seem to have done much to add value – the market had done most of the work for them. Seems they’d just been very, very lucky to buy at a time when all you had to do was sit tight and wait for the price of your home to sky-rocket – something that’s happened again in recent years.
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As with most things house price-related, this is more noticeable in London and the home counties than anywhere else. The national average house price has risen by 281 per cent since 1996 according to the Nationwide house price index, while in London – so close to Herts – the figure has increased by an unbelievable 501 per cent.
These days that tiny two-bed terrace (or ‘character cottage’ to borrow a bit of estate agent speak) is apparently worth double what we paid, something that would have seemed impossible to comprehend 13 years ago. Sadly, salaries haven’t risen to the same extent – in many careers (journalism, for example) they’ve actually dipped in real terms.
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So what does this mean for the fair cathedral city? An increasingly warped demographic, no doubt. I’ve already lost several friends to Scotland and the north, where rents are less ridiculous and home ownership is realistic for so many more people on average incomes. Several others are, understandably, considering following suit.
In London, we hear of empty investor-owned properties ripping the heart out of the capital. Will St Albans’ escalating house prices eventually leave us living in a one dimensional bubble populated only by wealthy commuters? While the residents may be richer than ever, the community as a whole will be worse off.