Priced out by foreigners, bankers are on the move

BONUS season is in full swing and – despite the dire economic figures released earlier this week – there is likely to be no shortage of cash being splashed in the next few months. Recent figures from Savills show that bankers are due to spend £1bn on homes this year.

But whereas in the old days they’d have made a beeline straight for prime central London: Belgravia, Kensington and Chelsea, now they’re looking for alternatives. Compared to the kind of money flowing in from Russians and Chinese buyers, many London bankers just don’t have the cash to take their pick of the golden postcodes anymore. Says Charlie Bubear of Savills’ Knightsbridge office: “Central London is the land of the super-rich. Most of it is bought up with foreign currency from offshore funds as pied a terres or investments for overseas buyers.”

Not only have prices soared because of huge and unrelenting foreign demand, those without the ability to buy in cash are at a disadvantage. Last year, around 90 per cent of Savills’ prime property was bought outright. “It’s a cash-is-king world now and that expectation is not likely to change,” says Bubear.

Of course, even if dispensed as deferred shares and not what they once were, bonuses are still good and enable most bankers to get good mortgages. But a shift in attitude has taken place.

James Grillo, of Chesterton Humberts, says that in the past, only the very richest bankers would have bought homes in the countryside and they’d have been trophy palaces. “Five per cent would spend astronomical amounts on trophy houses in the home counties. Now 30 to 40 per cent of bankers are buying solid family homes in the country. That is what’s changed: the attitude, that central London perhaps isn’t the only option.”

Christopher Hilland, a senior banker that lives in Sevenoaks, says: “Sevenoaks is more expensive than most parts of London, but still significantly cheaper than the best bits. If I bought the same kind of house I have now in somewhere like Hampstead of Highgate I estimate it could cost at least £200,000 more. No one knows where the bonus situation is going, so I’d rather just be prudent.”

Good new rail routes and motorways make commuting from the home counties and other countryside locations less of an issue and – of course – technology means more opportunities to work from home. Grillo says: “What we’re seeing is that banker buyers who once upon a time would have said: ‘I must be in Chelsea/Kensington’ are considering alternatives.” Other commuter areas are opening up, too. West Sussex and its borders is becoming “huge” for bankers, says Grillo, thanks to the Hindhead Bypass that will complete the dual carriageway link between London and Portsmouth and revolutionise travel between the capital and Surrey, Hampshire and West Sussex. US bond traders can wake up in leafy Petersfield, say (east Hampshire) at 5AM and be in their office in Curzon Street by 6:30, hence the appeal.

As Bubear puts it: says: “Prime central London is the hunting ground of super wealthy- it always has been and always will be.” For anyone else, new horizons have had to open and they’re getting better all the time.

Nestled in the idyllic countryside of the South Downs, yet only an hour and a quarter’s commuting distance from London, property in Petersfield is understandably sought-after. The town has its own railway station on the Portsmouth Direct Line which runs to Waterloo, and good access to the A3. £1m will buy you a rambling country house near to the famously bohemian private school, Bedales.

This once unassuming district of London has morphed into a property hotspot, luring well-heeled professionals south of the river with the promise of sturdy, red brick period properties, chichi boutiques and the lowest council tax in the country. Central London is on the doorstep, with trains from Wandsworth Town to Waterloo taking 15 minutes plus the exciting option of a river bus to Blackfriars.

A picturesque village situated at the southern perimeters of London, Chipstead’s inhabitants are a fiercely protective bunch who have resisted the installation of street lighting in their quest to preserve its unique character. Impressive, detached properties are on the market for around £2m. The prestigious independent school, Sevenoaks School, is close by.

Recently ranked as the most moved to area in Britain, it seems that there is more to Canterbury than simply a cathedral. Good value property is a major draw: extensive, grade II listed residences can be snapped up for under a million pounds. Commuting to London is relatively painless thanks to a new high-speed rail link from Canterbury to St. Pancras which has a journey time of just an hour.