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Why Hollywood has come to Sonning…
George Clooney Buys in London Commuter Belt
The A-List American film star George Clooney and his wife, human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin, have recently chosen a £10 million grade II listed manor house in Sonning to augment their international property portfolio (Stamp Duty £1,113,750). Although George and Alma probably won’t be joining the regular commuter to London there are many other wealthy property owners who do take advantage of the existing high-speed rail links to Paddington from nearby Twyford (33 minutes) and Reading (27 minutes).
The coming Crossrail link is likely to have a greater long-term impact on the local property market than the short-term spike in interest resulting from the Clooney’s purchase in Sonning but nevertheless it is interesting to ponder on the factors that attracted the Clooney’s to this area in preference to any other. As regular international travellers, proximity to Heathrow Airport will have been a strong factor (the M4 Motorway is nearby and runs past Heathrow on its route into central London). The Clooney’s might also be reassured that there is an existing community of entrepreneurs, company owners, industrial moguls, lawyers and leading members of the entertainment industry happy to invest in the band of local properties selling at £5million plus. Other international investors are also keen to buy into the area with much interest from China (balancing the recent decline in interest from Russia) and recent sales to wealthy buyers from the Middle East. Sonning itself is a pretty Thames-side village with good amenities, a thriving theatre and high-quality restaurants and hotels.
As any commuter knows a quick route to Paddington is only one step in the journey to work as getting across the city can often take as long as and sometimes longer than the trip to the Capital itself. Planners and designers of the £15bn Crossrail project (running from Reading, via Twyford, to Shenfield in Essex and due for completion in 2018) promise that their route will slash journey times to Heathrow Airport, London’s West End, the City and the financial centres in and around Canary Wharf. A journey from Twyford to Tottenham Court Road (West End) is projected to take 50 minutes whilst the time to get to Liverpool Street (for the City) will reduce from around 90 to just 55 minutes. As journey times tumble so house prices are expected to rise. Property experts are expecting the addition of Crossrail stations at Reading and Twyford to become a driving force in the local property markets over the next couple of years.
Sonning is just one of the many attractive villages that are clustered in the pretty area of countryside stretching from Reading to Maidenhead. Many villages straddle the River Thames and boast the traditional country pub and thatched cottages. Proximity to high-quality independent schools such as Coat, Reading Blue Coat, Queens Anne and Lambrook are an additional attraction. Villages such as Wargrave, Waltham St Lawrence, Littlewick Green, Knowl Hill and Twyford itself have all proven popular with property buyers in the past which has driven property values up. Values in the area have increased by around 10% over the past 12 months and a review of prices on Zoopla indicates that the average price of a village property in and around the Wargrave area is already around the £700,000 mark (and around at least £100,000 higher in and around Sonning). There are many properties across the region now nudging the £2,000,000 mark and those with better amenities well above £5,000,000.
There are a couple of issues that could depress the market. One is the impact of Stamp Duty – as prices head above the £925,000 mark so the rate of duty for the tranche of the price above that amount doubles to 10% and above £1.5million rises again to 12%. There is also the potential threat that Labour will introduce a “mansion tax” on properties above £2million should they come to power after the General Election in May. This could add an annual tax charge of £3000 for homes in the £2-£3 million bracket. Local property experts have noticed a slow-down in activity around the £2 million plus mark as potential buyers hold off pending the outcome of the election and some sellers are also deferring coming to market hoping that there will be a greater number of prospective buyers if Labour are unsuccessful.
Any market depends on the balance between supply and demand. The indications are that the demand for properties in this area will continue to increase as the Crossrail link comes nearer to completion but the impact of a Labour success in May could slow that demand and dampen price increases at least in the short-term. If Labour are not returned to power expect a short-term surge in demand from prospective buyers who have been holding off will come into the market.