2nd homes: folly or fantasy?

I spent a fair bit of the summer thinking about second homes. At times it seemed as if every second person I knew had a second home – with plenty bought since lockdown started, as a getaway from urban London. They are (see map below) for the most part 2-3 hours drive form London; the Cotswolds just beyond Oxford and the Poole/Bournemouth coast in the southwest are particularly popular among my London circle.

I have had longstanding views on 2nd homes, so I found James Max’s summer FT article to be very thought-provoking on the topic.

Locations of 2nd homes of friends of mine

2nd homes as hassle and/or social problem

James Max starts with my position – that 2nd homes are fundamentally a hassle. Complexity. Things that can go wrong. Costs. An asset that is more of a liability. Like James, I don’t see myself letting a home out, via AirBNB, VRBO or the rest – so I wouldn’t see any income to offset the additional council taxes, utility bills, and occasional maintenance to deal with. Builders to find, gardeners and cleaners required.

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Whither London?

I feel as if there is a crescendo of doom-mongering about London.

Some of the most expensive footfall in the world

Most notable for me was a piece a week or two ago by Simon Kuper in the FT. Kuper argues that three things threaten to diminish London, risking it following Vienna and Constantinople into decline:

  • Covid-19. Covid means lockdown. And lockdown means working from home. Kuper argues that “though working from home threatens all cities, it disproportionately threatens London”.
  • Brexit. The “UK-EU trade deal does little for London”. In the first week of the Brexit new world, apparently €6bn a day of stock trading moved from the UK into the eurozone, which alone could be worth has much as £20bn a year of lost revenues (a quarter of the UK’s services trade surplus). I hear rumours that Goldman Sachs is yet to move 2000 roles from the UK into the EU. That is a lot of tax that won’t be paid to HMRC, and fancy dinners no longer being enjoyed in the West End.
  • The role of English. Kuper argues that “a decade ago there was no obvious European substitute for London. Now, cities like Berlin, Copenhagen, Amsterdam have become quasi-bilingual business hubs.”

Kuper cites house price data as suggesting that “local rivals are eating into London’s supremacy”: London’s prices have fallen (in international terms) since 2016, whereas Parisian prices are up about 25%. More money is going into Paris’ office space than London’s in 2019, the year before the pandemic.

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May 2020: A sunny month

Well, May 2020 was the month that highlighted, as the Economist put it, Boris’ short-Cummings. Remember much else happening that month?

In May the UK started unlocking, slowly. The government(s) has(ve) been slowly releasing the strait jacket to fit what people (in London at least) have been doing anyway for a week or two. I’ve stayed healthy, and my boundaries have enlarged slightly – by which I mean I had my first Zoom party, and there are slightly more restaurants available on Deliveroo.

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