If you can’t go up, go down is a motto I’ve heard many builders use over the years. And it’s true. Just take a walk around any of London’s suburban areas and you’ll see cellars being dug out left, right and centre.
There is a limit to how far upwards you can enlarge a building but there’s no such restriction at the other end, in theory at least.
Last month I valued a house in London’s Chelsea Park Gardens where the owner was excavating not once but twice to form a basement and then a sub-basement.
Unfortunately for him, his house is situated right above the proposed Chelsea to Hackney underground line which, when built, will rumble just yards below his property.
But as construction on the line doesn’t begin until 2020 at the earliest, the owner wasn’t bothered.
Lower ground floor flats have always had a bad press. I even know of one niche but nevertheless active London-based private bank that will not accept them at all.
This is harsh because they aren’t all dark and dingy.
Typically, they can be worth as little as half of what an identically-sized flat in the same building at first-floor level could fetch.
Only last week I valued an unmodernised basement flat in Mayfair’s Half Moon Street for a bridging lender.
All the front windows were within a foot of a retaining wall. And as the Jubilee Line and Green Park underground station were both within feet of the flat, every two minutes it felt as though the world was ending.
I know of one niche but nactive London-based private bank that will not accept basement flats
Frankly, it could not have been much worse. But it was also cheap as chips.
As ever with property, it’s down to location. Some time ago I valued the basement flat at Candy and Candy’s development in Belgravia, which eventually gained a price tag in the millions. This flat had smooth stone floors that were self-vacuuming via a small gap at the bottom of the skirting board. A fine idea – until you drop your betting slip.
At the other end of the scale, in my formative years I went to see a lower ground floor flat in Mayfair’s Mount Street.
This flat was occupied by the now retired, but at the time still distinctly active, spokeswoman for and leading light in the English Collective of Prostitutes.
I say ’flat’ but in reality it was a collection of disused boiler rooms and store cupboards that the lady lived in, although searches eventually revealed that she didn’t actually own the property.
I can tell you, what I saw there shocked me profoundly. All the rooms were painted black and featured mirrors on the ceilings along with hooks and chains bolted to the walls.
It was a sophisticated London Tory politician’s dream come true. But to me, fresh down from Stoke, it was an eye-opener.
There she existed, ghost-like, emerging only in the hours of darkness – rather like the Phantom of the Opera.
And she had the gall to try to remortgage a property that wasn’t even hers. Got to give her credit, really.