What Exactly IS A Luxury London Flat?

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 92 months ago

Last Updated 18 October 2016

What Exactly IS A Luxury London Flat?
The Tavistock in Covent Garden is noted for its "luxury Rako lighting and polished nickel ironmongery throughout". Everyone's idea of luxury is different.

We've all done that thing where you say a word over and over until it starts to sound strange, garbled then incomprehensible. London's property market seems to be doing exactly that with the word 'luxury'.

Walk past any residential construction site, and there's a hefty chance the hoarding ads for the apartments will be prefixed with the decadent descriptive.

'Luxury' is the adjective that media outlets and Londoners seem to apply every time something is bulldozed, making way for new residences. It's become as much a derogatory term as a superlative.

But does the word 'luxury' have any weight behind it? How does the seller decide what is and isn't luxurious? And have we got to the point where we're slapping the word on any old bricks and mortar?  

Says Foxtons' South Kensington office sales manager, Felicity Walker: "the term 'luxury' indicates 'the best of the best' in every single aspect of a property".

Yet that definition of what constitutes 'best of the best' is perpetually shifting.

In the late 90s we saw all kinds of show-off bells and whistles, like lobster washers in the kitchens ... buyers don't want that any more.

As James Forbes, head of 'luxury real estate agents' Strutt & Parker in Knightsbridge, explains, "in the late 90s and earlier Noughties we saw all kinds of show-off bells and whistles, like lobster washers in the kitchens, scales in-built to marble bathroom floors and even digital mirrors that delayed your reflection so you could see yourself from behind as well as from the front!

"This is not the sort of luxury that buyers want any more."

So what DO today's Londoners consider the difference between a luxury and a non-luxury flat? That very much depends on the Londoner.

Says David Galman, director of sales at Galliard Homes, "previously, location, pricing structures and target market would dictate the words used to describe a development and particularly whether a word, such as luxury, should be used. But the practice of using this word and certainly its meaning is now becoming relative to the buyer.

"For example, to a first time buyer, the addition of a Juliet balcony or added study, could be seen as an unexpected luxury touch..."

Other aspects the buyer may consider as luxury, says Felicity Walker, include anything from hand-painted silk wallpaper to wall-to-ceiling privacy windows.

'Luxury' flats can often appear quite pedestrian. Image from rightmove.com

And the luxury element can exist outside the walls of the property, as well as in. Says Felicity Walker, "Having a wide selection of luxury boutiques, restaurants and other amenities right on your doorstep is also considered luxury..."

So you can have a luxury flat in 'non luxurious' part of town — say Stratford — or live in an absolute dive just off Sloane Square.

We've now used 'luxury' 20 times, and yet we're no closer to defining it in terms of London property. The problem is there are no physical parameters to define it, certainly no law; a luxury apartment can be sold or rented for any amount of money in any part of London, with or without privacy windows, with or without a lobster washer. If you wanted to advertise a Sutton garage partly furnished with a Bisto-stained quilt as 'luxury', you could chance your arm. In London, luxury is a word that means everything and nothing.

And while 'luxury' is subjective to each and every buyer, it's the seller who decides whether or not to use it. Generally it's safer to call something luxury than not. These rather pedestrian looking flats in Hounslow started at £275,000, for instance, promising "the ultimate comfort and luxury for each resident" — and they all sold out.

On the flip side of the coin, as Amy Funston from Rightmove, points out, "you could have a £1m property in London that isn't luxury". While this is an exasperating thought, it's also true — just look at projected average house prices for London in 2030.

Maybe it's time London introduced an all-encompassing, Will Self-like portmanteau: luxuryflat; because while estate agents, marketers and the like will continue to define 'luxury' under their own terms, in 15 years' time, many Londoners will consider it a luxury to live in London at all.