House Hunting in London: Once a Dark Garage, Now an Airy Light Box

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This three-bedroom home, converted over the past two years from an auto mechanic’s garage, is just down the street from Mile End Park in East London. The modern design incorporates below-ground and staggered levels to maximize the house’s 1,600 square feet of living space, with a central glass atrium that runs from top to bottom.

“It’s a clever design to bring light to the lower part of the building, so you don’t feel like you’re in a boat or something,” said Chloe Bliss, an agent with The Modern House, which has the listing.

The home’s brick facade is painted black, with sections of frosted glass above oak doors. The main entrance opens into the combined kitchen and dining area, which has a double-height ceiling, two skylights and polished concrete floors. The appliances and sink are built into the sleek cabinetry that runs the length of one wall.

An oak and black steel staircase leads up a half level to the living room, which has glass walls overlooking the kitchen on one end and the atrium on the other. It has a skylight, oak parquet floors and a linear frosted glass window to bring in more light. On the other side of the atrium is a bedroom (currently configured as an office) with an en suite bath. Stairs at the kitchen end of the living room lead to a small rooftop terrace.

The other two bedrooms, one with an en suite bath, are below the kitchen, situated on either side of a small courtyard at the base of the atrium. Another level below is a large “family bath” lined with polished concrete. It has a large walk-in shower, a trough sink and a soaking tub.

The property does not have a garden or dedicated parking space. There is a bike storage closet just inside the main entrance, Ms. Bliss said.

The once-industrial East London neighborhood has been undergoing regeneration for some time, Ms. Bliss said. This property is flanked by a builder’s supply shop on one side and homes undergoing redevelopment on the other. Two parks are within a block: The 79-acre Mile End Park, with its fitness center and stadium, climbing wall, skate park and children’s playground; and Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, a restored Victorian cemetery. Shops for necessities and casual restaurants reflecting the area’s ethnic diversity are within an easy walk, she said.

The property is about a 10-minute walk to the Mile End underground station; the ride to central London is about 15 minutes. Heathrow Airport is about 75 minutes by car, and 90 minutes by public transit.

After at least five years of flat or falling prices, due in large part to the economic tumult unleashed by its protracted withdrawal from the European Union, Britain began to see some encouraging signs in the housing market as 2020 began.

“Over the past three years, there has been a general slowdown in UK house price growth, driven mainly by a slowdown in the south and east of England, but there has been a pick-up in annual growth since December 2019,” according to a March 2020 report by the Office for National Statistics.

The average house price across England in March was 248,000 British pounds ($323,000), a 2.2 percent rise from March 2019. In London, prices grew by 4.7 percent year over year to an average of 486,000 pounds ($635,000) — the largest 12-month growth in the capital region since December 2016.

According to the report, the increased growth in London “may reflect a larger shift in the type of properties being sold than usual, with more sales of very high value properties.”

The report also notes that the national House Price Index would be “suspended until further notice” due to data volatility caused by pandemic-related disruptions. But real estate agents there report that London’s housing market has seen a surge in demand since England’s pandemic-induced prohibition on in-person real estate showings was lifted on May 12.

“There are a few things going on,” said Tom Bill, head of United Kingdom Residential Research for the property firm Knight Frank. “We have a degree of pent-up demand that’s been building for five or six years against the landscape of Brexit, tighter lending conditions, and an ever-changing tax landscape. Then the general election last December that elected a majority government released a lot of demand in January and February.”

The subsequent coronavirus lockdown, he added, “caused people to re-examine how and where they live, and we are at a slightly artificial moment in time. We don’t know how long it’s going to go on.”

Britain has been hit hard by Covid-19, with 310,829 reported cases and 46,574 deaths as of Aug. 11, including the second-highest death rate in the world, according to the World Health Organization. While England has lately seen some local outbreaks, cases have been on enough of a decline that buyers are venturing out in large numbers.

“People are feeling a little more confident that they understand what is going on globally more than they did three months ago,” said Guy Gittins, managing director of the estate agency Chestertons. “They were more fearful and paranoid at the start of lockdown. And if you’re working at home, suddenly you need that home office or that garden.”

In the month leading up to Aug. 7, Chestertons’s 32 London offices had 100 percent more accepted offers than during the same period last year, Mr. Gittins said, adding that the fall-through rate on deals was half that of the previous year. “That is a very important indicator of buyer sentiment,” he said. “We haven’t seen a market like this for 10 years.”

Ms. Bliss said that visitors to The Modern House website have increased by 144 percent since May 13 compared with the same period last year. About 70 percent of those visitors were new to the site.

Leafier parts of London offering family houses with more outdoor space, including Wandsworth, Richmond, Dulwich and Islington, saw small price increases in July due to rising demand. Prices in prime central London, including the neighborhoods of Mayfair, Kensington and Notting Hill, remained flat, as those areas are more reliant on international buyers, many of whom have been stymied by travel complications, Mr. Bill said.

While interest from international buyers dropped off during the lockdown, there were some “brave buyers” who used the moment to strike some discounted deals from afar, Mr. Gittins said.

“We put together some high-value deals for overseas buyers who were very familiar with the city and the types of properties,” he said.

More recently, Chestertons’s offices have seen a doubling of interest from Hong Kong buyers, many looking for a safe haven from the political unrest at home, he said.

Interest from U.S. buyers has also increased over the last year or so, Ms. Bliss said. (Americans traveling to Britain are currently required to quarantine for 14 days.) Other foreign buyers tend to come from China and the Middle East.

There are no restrictions on foreign buyers in England. Buyers and sellers use their own lawyers. The agent’s commission in London is 2 to 3 percent, and is paid by the seller.

Buyers must pay a surcharge of 3 percent of the purchase price if the property is a second home.

Foreign buyers should be aware that many apartments in the prime, older areas of central London are for sale on a leasehold basis, Mr. Gittins said, wherein purchasers buy a lease from the building owner, which could be an individual or group of individuals.

“You own it for a set period of time — it could be very, very short or very, very long — and you have the right to extend that lease,” he said. “There are rules around that, and it’s complicated, so you definitely need very good legal expertise to walk you through that.”

English; pound sterling (1 pound = $1.31)

Normally, stamp-duty land tax is due on the portion of a sale price above 125,000 pounds ($147,000), starting at 2 percent and gradually rising to 12 percent on the portion above 1.5 million pounds ($1.77 million).

However, a tax “holiday” in place countrywide through March 31, 2021, exempts the first 500,000 pounds ($590,000) from the tax, and provides additional savings up to a maximum of 15,000 pounds ($17,700), Mr. Bill said.

“Up to purchases of $1.5 million, it does make a difference, and we’ve noticed a relative uptick in activity in that range,” he said.

Legal fees for a freehold purchase range from about 1,000 to 5,000 pounds ($1,180 to $5,900), Mr. Gittins said. Fees for a more complicated leasehold purchase could be twice as much.

Annual council taxes on this home are around 1,400 pounds ($1,650), Ms. Bliss said.

Chloe Bliss, The Modern House, 011-44-7508-133-248;

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