It is an unfortunate truth that our trusty River Thames is one of the most underused rivers in the world. Once, its docks were thronging with ships carrying precious cargo, but when trading shifted to the stock market, its warehouses and power stations were rendered derelict.
But in recent years, enormous capital growth associated with London’s prime real estate has led to a renaissance along the river.
“If you were to walk just a one mile stretch of the Thames today, it’s easy to see the regeneration that is taking place following significant investment into London’s riverside,” says Fran Moynihan, head of Savills’ Waterfront office. “Between Richmond and Canary Wharf, there are 270 riverside schemes completed or under construction.”
And many of the UK’s largest agents are creating specialist water-focused divisions to deal with the rise in demand. Some specialise in houseboats as well as contemporary apartments – River Homes and Waterview, for instance – some have recently opened up or are in the process of establishing riverside departments – Strutt & Parker in 2015 and JLL this year – while more seasoned players like Savills and Knight Frank have had a dedicated waterfront team for years.
The advantage is clear; it allows estate agents to extend their knowledge beyond postcode boundaries and focus on the lifestyle the buyer desires instead. “It’s a real lifestyle choice,” says Daniel Turner, who’s heading up JLL’s new department.
“The difference is you’ve got a buyer that’s not focusing on a specific area but on a certain view or connection with the water. I think what having a waterside office does is allow you to spread your wings across a much wider area than you would normally when you’re looking to buy a home.”
As well as providing a more comprehensive service for a slew of new schemes transforming the banks of the Thames – from Canary Wharf, along Albert Embankment and Nine Elms, out west to Chelsea harbour and Richmond – there are major profits to be made. Strutt & Parker’s 2017 Waterside Survey found that 61 per cent of UK buyers wanted to live near the water in the future, and Savills says they’re willing to pay an average premium of 13.5 per cent for resale waterfront flats within 100m of the river.
So who are these buyers desperate for a patch of riverbank? Savills says around 48 per cent of buyers along the Thames are from overseas – some attest to Asian buyers’ penchant for water views – yet it’s UK downsizers that make up a large chunk of the market.
“Our typical buyer tends to be in their late 50s to early 60s. The kids have grown up and flown the nest and they are now looking to live their dream,” says Soren Ravaux, Waterview’s sales director. The security, services and lock-up-and-leave apartments on offer at waterside developments is perfect for their low-maintenance, seasonal pied-a-terres.
Another factor is the perceived well-being one achieves from living next to water. Most respondents to Strutt & Parker’s survey – 58 per cent – give “relaxation” as the reason why they desire a waterfront home and Richard Speedy, head of its waterside department, thinks a hectic schedule could be the culprit.
“The wellness element of being by the water is key to a work/life balance and with more and more companies offering flexible working hours has encouraged them to allow employees to work from home, which often increases productivity due to the lack of commute and beautiful surroundings.”
Transport for London is also taking note, investing £10m into the Thames transport system, including Thames Clipper and Riverbus services, and new bridges connecting the north and south banks. And if under-pressure high street estate agents are investing in these dedicated departments, you know it’s a trend worth watching.
Speedy certainly thinks so. “The national waterside market will increase ahead of the national country market over the next 12 months as more baby boomers opt to downsize or retire to waterfront locations.”