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Inside "Billionaires' Row": London's rotting derelict mansions.
January 31, 2014 11:32 AM   Subscribe

Homes are on the market for up to £65m but there are also 16 unoccupied mansions. More still are only used by their owners for short periods each year. Most of the properties on the most expensive part of the street are registered to companies in tax havens including the British Virgin Islands, Curacao, the Bahamas, Panama, and the Channel Islands, allowing international owners to avoid paying stamp duty on the purchase and to remain anonymous.
posted by Kitteh (64 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
...he argued against increasing taxes on unoccupied homes, which he said would be an "annoyance" that would make buyers choose Monte Carlo or Milan instead of London.

Point goes to Monte Carlo and Milan for convincing buys to trash London instead of their cities. Well played gentlemen. Well played.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:46 AM on January 31 [4 favorites]


"London's shortage of homes is so great that this feels immoral and dysfuctional. There are countless people in inadequate housing and here are homes on The Bishops Avenue that could be used."

My god, just imagine the shrill entitled outcry if any of the seized or repossessed properties were converted into homeless shelters. Although with so few residents the loudest wailers would likely be people who were trying to sell their properties nearby.
posted by elizardbits at 11:49 AM on January 31 [12 favorites]


What happened to the good old days when the aristocracy lived in rotting manor houses in the country or derelict hotels in the south of France?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:51 AM on January 31 [6 favorites]


So there's a housing shortage in London, and "people with no economic or cultural ties to the city will move out" is supposed to be a threat?
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:52 AM on January 31 [35 favorites]


Homes are on the market for up to £65m but there are also 16 unoccupied mansions. More still are only used by their owners for short periods each year. Most of the properties on the most expensive part of the street are registered to companies in tax havens including the British Virgin Islands, Curacao, the Bahamas, Panama, and the Channel Islands, allowing international owners to avoid paying stamp duty on the purchase and to remain anonymous.

Anyone see The Bling Ring?
posted by hal_c_on at 11:57 AM on January 31


Having read this just after reading George Monbiot's fantastic essay "the population myth" I am afraid the only reason we don't revolt is because we're fucking pansies.
posted by Jon_Evil at 11:59 AM on January 31 [14 favorites]


Anyone see The Bling Ring?

Did you look at the photos in the article? What are you planning to steal, mildew? Maybe corner the market in rotting owl carcasses?
posted by elizardbits at 12:01 PM on January 31 [15 favorites]


If anybody can walk out of one of those houses carrying an entire swimming pool, I say let them keep it.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:01 PM on January 31 [6 favorites]


Empty housing makes my blood boil. This street makes for a good news story, but there's plenty of perfectly serviceable housing that's unused, especially in the higher end property-as-investment areas.

Quite aside from fuelling yet another London-centric property boom and the inevitable crash, second (and third and fourth) homes in desirable country areas are driving out the locals and creating mid-week ghost towns. Go take a look at any village in the Cotswalds. I pity the poor bastards who want to live in the village they grew up in round there.

Housing is a god-damned social problem and I can't decide if the fuckwits in government continue to ignore this problem because of their idealogical felatio of capitalism, a pathetic, snivelling desire to help out their school friends and golf buddies or out of a pathological hatred of the poor.

Nothing will reduce the widen gulf in this country between rich and poor until that shower of fucking shits accept decent quality stable housing is a basic human right, something we've enjoyed since Ugg noticed he could keep dry whilst he slept if he went into a cave.

Turn everything empty for over two years to the council, tax the fuck out of anywhere you can't demonstrate is your primary property.
posted by fatfrank at 12:05 PM on January 31 [33 favorites]


The rich buying enormous houses so they can sit and rot then complaining people might actually want to tax them for it and threatening to take their "buying an enormous house to sit and rot" business elsewhere is such a breathtakingly good metaphor for the state of the world.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:05 PM on January 31 [88 favorites]


> I am afraid the only reason we don't revolt is because we're fucking pansies.

This book does an interesting job of explaining why most exploited populaces don't rebel.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:05 PM on January 31 [7 favorites]


Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish: "If anybody can walk out of one of those houses carrying an entire swimming pool, I say let them keep it."

Just you watch. Someone will go all Shawshank Redemption on it, and carry out handfuls of water in their pockets every day.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:08 PM on January 31 [4 favorites]


This book does an interesting job of explaining why most exploited populaces don't rebel.

So does this one.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 12:10 PM on January 31 [8 favorites]


What would happen if these havens were to suddenly be swallowed up by the ocean?
posted by Brocktoon at 12:10 PM on January 31


It's like the government hasn't heard of that broken window theory thing. Yes, it's a really classy place right now. When people start having to choose between the neighborhood in London where all the mansions are falling down and there are lower taxes, and a neighborhood elsewhere that's actually been kept up, guess where they're going to end up? This is terrible from a social justice point of view, obviously, but even from a common sense point of view, if the city wants to keep this neighborhood nice, it behooves it to keep it owner-occupied.

Which I only say to point out that this doesn't even make sense from the point of view of the wealthy, who, if they want to preserve the value of their investments, really ought to be at least as concerned about the state of the neighborhood as your average HOA.
posted by Sequence at 12:12 PM on January 31 [2 favorites]


elizardbits: My god, just imagine the shrill entitled outcry if any of the seized or repossessed properties were converted into homeless shelters. Although with so few residents the loudest wailers would likely be people who were trying to sell their properties nearby.

Except the owners of said homes have pretty good access to the biggest megaphones around, the news media. Those wailers would quickly be heard 'round the world.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:14 PM on January 31


"Once you end people's right to buy something and do as they please with it you have a police state," he said.

I really thought wails of "sooooooooocialism" were limited to rich American whiners. I wonder if he's ever tried to sell Tom Perkins any London property?
posted by immlass at 12:16 PM on January 31


Jon_Evil: Having read this just after reading George Monbiot's fantastic essay "the population myth" I am afraid the only reason we don't revolt is because we're fucking pansies.

It's important to remember there's a difference between rioting and revolting. I was about to say "Hey, remember 2011? People took to the streets because of police actions! And then folks burned down a major distributor of independent music." What started as a revolt turned to general mayhem without direction.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:20 PM on January 31


"One of the things people love about this country is its freedom and liberal views. You can't start affecting what people do with their assets. That is sacrosanct."

In my city we have unoccupied houses. If they get run down to the point where the health department classifies them as a rodent harborage you are going to get billed, then liened, then friggin' siezed.
posted by bukvich at 12:25 PM on January 31 [13 favorites]


If they get run down to the point where the health department classifies them as a rodent harborage

Ah, I think you've hit upon a solution for what to do with all those cannibal rats on that ship that's been in the news lately.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:28 PM on January 31 [6 favorites]


Looks like there's still a possibility for adverse possession in Britain.

If so, there are mansions for the taking. Have at it, I say!
posted by mikeand1 at 12:28 PM on January 31 [2 favorites]


"Once you end people's right to buy something and do as they please with it you have a police state," he said.

Well, yes and no. The zoning of land and implementation of building codes do fall under broad "police powers," as "the basic right of governments to make laws and regulations for the benefit of their communities." Some people are still pissed off about all this, but they don't seem to appreciate the stability and comfort brought about by not having a feed lot and slaughter yard suddenly appear next to your home, or by the fact that there are minimal structural disasters related to earthquakes and heavy downpours, the like of which can devastate poorly designed buildings and communities. You can do even better by building to above basic building codes, but still those codes serve as a very valuable safety feature for communities. But I wouldn't classify zoning and building codes as de facto elements of a police state.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:28 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


You can't start affecting what people do with their assets.

I guess someone hasn't heard of taxes.
posted by elizardbits at 12:29 PM on January 31 [4 favorites]


"Once you end people's right to buy something and do as they please with it you have a police state,"

Um, zoning ordinances? What a dick.
posted by Devils Rancher at 12:31 PM on January 31 [4 favorites]


Did you look at the photos in the article? What are you planning to steal, mildew? Maybe corner the market in rotting owl carcasses?

You jest but I would not be at all surprised to learn that the UK's Royal Horticultural Society has a registered National Collection for mildew. England is magnificent that way.
posted by srboisvert at 12:33 PM on January 31 [4 favorites]


Typical MetaFilter stupidity. Didn't you even read the article? The real point here is made by Mr Andreas Panayitou, a property tycoon selling one of the empty mansions, Heath Hall, for £65m:

... increasing taxes on unoccupied homes, ... would be an "annoyance" that would make buyers choose Monte Carlo or Milan instead of London

In other words, if the government moves to artificially inflate the costs of £65 million abandoned houses - say, to £66 million or even £67 million - then these people who don't live in them will be FORCED to not live in another city instead. So Milan will be full of an absence of billionaires, rather than London. Is that really what you liberals want? Everyone know that non-existent billionaires in abandoned houses are the life-blood of an economy, and these guys are famous for not spending a PENNY over £65 million to not live in London.

Honestly, you people.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 12:40 PM on January 31 [66 favorites]


Just because someone may not come to the same conclusion that you did, does not mean that they did not read the article, or are 'stupid' as a consequence.

Honestly, you people. Belittling other's intelligence really isn't the way to go here.

(FWIW, I didn't read the article, nor will I - I can't give two shits about rotting properties in London. However, conservatives calling liberals 'stupid' because of a differing opinion is not productive, and really gets my goat. Not helpful.)
posted by spinifex23 at 12:46 PM on January 31


quidnunc, sarcastic
posted by perhapses at 12:48 PM on January 31


spinifex23, my point is simple. If we force billionaires who don't live in London to start not living in Milan instead, then by definition they will be not-not living in London, and therefore they will not-not-not be living in Monte Carlo!!! Can you even imagine the costs of THAT??? Surely we should think of the billionaires for ONCE in our lives.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 12:49 PM on January 31 [18 favorites]


Didn't you even read the article?

Hey, if this thread doesn't shape up soon, I'll be forced not to read the article somewhere else instead. You can't start affecting what people do with their attention deficits. That is sacrosanct.
posted by RogerB at 12:53 PM on January 31 [33 favorites]


I have no quibble about those points. I don't care about those points. I have quibbles about you calling others stupid because they don't agree with you. Period.

But this is a derail, so I'm bowing out.
posted by spinifex23 at 12:54 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


I threw out a hint above.
posted by perhapses at 12:55 PM on January 31 [2 favorites]


it was a joke. a comment for the lols. oh my god.
posted by elizardbits at 12:55 PM on January 31 [20 favorites]


If you take anything that quidnunc says seriously, step back and re-evaluate.

(Except the call to cast a ballot for the quidnunc kid in the upcoming MetaFilter Elections. That is the only way to defend our precious freedoms.)
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:56 PM on January 31 [6 favorites]


This isn't the quidnunc kid I didn't vote for.
posted by Sequence at 12:57 PM on January 31 [12 favorites]


Yeah, I'm stepping away now. Sorry all, and the quidnunc kid. It just pushed a button, and I didn't see the sarcasm.
posted by spinifex23 at 12:59 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


I don't not trust nobody but the quidnunc kid to keep the unused Mefi user numbers unused.
posted by Iridic at 1:00 PM on January 31 [6 favorites]


The obvious question is why don't they hire a property manager, to keep the maintenance up. It would cost less than the loss from the water damage. My guess is these properties are insurance in case the Saudis ever had to flee their country (revolution, Iran, etc) they'd have a place to stay. Thus the block of them in a row for the whole family. If they did move to London the houses would be renovated anyway, maybe even rebuilt from scratch, so there is no reason to maintain them.
posted by stbalbach at 1:01 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


The obvious question is why don't they hire a property manager, to keep the maintenance up. It would cost less than the loss from the water damage.

Do you really need a better answer than "Because they're assholes."?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:03 PM on January 31 [3 favorites]


Oh spinifex23. I am sorry I trolled you there - I thought the ridiculousness of that comment would be a bit more obvious. I owe you a beer (or another beverage of your choice).
posted by the quidnunc kid at 1:03 PM on January 31 [17 favorites]


So this article is about 16 empty houses? The same article says we need 100,000 new houses a year. So what's the relevance of these 16 empty houses? Would a Daily Mail article about local council inefficiencies leading to 16 empty council houses be a savage indictment of state housing provision? No.

Second, I can't see much sense in keeping them up when you're selling to the super-rich: they'll want to gut it and do it in their style anyway when you eventually make a non-investment sale.

Finally, this article suggests that if you ever come to live in one of these houses, and you've used the offshore company wheeze to pay 0.5% stamp duty instead of 5%, you'll instead get whacked for massively-higher income tax (because you're getting a taxable benefit - a house).

I think the only solution to the housing imbalances in the UK is a massive state house-building program, paid for from general taxation and borrowing. This finger-pointing is irrelevant.
posted by alasdair at 1:04 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


Nah, it's completely OK. I don't read MeFi lots, and sometimes I can't tell. And, I'm exhausted from an intense Body Sculpting workout I did for an Anthropology paper. So, I'll just include this incident in the paper (without names, of course), and that will be payment enough :)
posted by spinifex23 at 1:06 PM on January 31


I liked the part in the video where they pan over the box of bullet proof glass marked "Fragile".

And can we have at least a grudging thumbs up to Boris Johnson for being on the right side of the question?

The obvious question is why don't they hire a property manager, to keep the maintenance up. It would cost less than the loss from the water damage.

Better yet, rent them out.
posted by IndigoJones at 1:07 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


Those properties would make for lovely cafeterias where one could feast on the flesh of the rich.
posted by planetesimal at 1:09 PM on January 31


"Go take a look at any village in the Cotswalds. I pity the poor bastards who want to live in the village they grew up in round there."

This is a serious problem in my (amazingly picturesque) home town in the south of England. I can't afford to move back home.
posted by idb at 1:12 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


I view extreme wealth as a societal/economic/ethical disease. Each billionaire/multi-millionaire is like a cancerous growth, or a blocked artery to the social organism.

We can attempt to create a system where the chi is (free!) and balanced and flows throughout the social organism, or continue down this destructive path...
posted by nikoniko at 1:13 PM on January 31 [9 favorites]


We can attempt to create a system where the chi is (free!) and balanced and flows throughout the social organism, or continue down this destructive path...

or we could use science based western medicine and use chemo-therapy to eradicate the ills.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:17 PM on January 31 [4 favorites]


Santa Barbara my hometown is in a similar position wrt housing. It's bad enough that police, firefighters and nurses can't actually live there, and have to commute 40-60 miles into town. This became a problem a few years back, when the two routes into town were blocked by mudslides. So in the long term, at least for Santa Barbara, it's going to be a self-correcting problem.
posted by happyroach at 1:34 PM on January 31


Weirdly I ran down this street the other day.

A few of the properties look like they're being converted to apartments; there was plenty of building contractors and awnings around.

The houses that don't look derelict have big expensive looking gates, fences and CCTV. I'd sorta hate to be that wealthy and that paranoid (though I'll give it a go if you have a spare billion $ to give me)

The highlights of the street are rush hour traffic heading up towards Kenwood and the white Rolls Royce Phantom that must be on some extreme air bag suspension as its body is sat about 2" from the ground.

If, like me, you like expensive car spotting, or expensive house spotting, then its well worth a jog down this street.
posted by 13twelve at 2:23 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


Did you look at the photos in the article? What are you planning to steal, mildew? Maybe corner the market in rotting owl carcasses?

You're outta the crew. You're gonna be so jelly when we make bank from high end bidet fixtures.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:25 PM on January 31 [2 favorites]


So in the long term, at least for Santa Barbara, it's going to be a self-correcting problem.

Chilling comment. Commendable.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:31 PM on January 31 [1 favorite]


I can understand where all these Saudi princes and Russian oligarchs are coming from. They are paying good money not to live in London.
posted by surrendering monkey at 3:19 PM on January 31


so projected rise in high-end London property prices every year > depreciation of high-end London property prices every year due to complete neglect, even to catastrophic levels?
posted by Bwithh at 3:48 PM on January 31


so projected rise in high-end London property prices every year > depreciation of high-end London property prices every year due to complete neglect, even to catastrophic levels?

I believe this is what we call a bubble.
posted by immlass at 4:08 PM on January 31


which he said would be an "annoyance" that would make buyers choose Monte Carlo or Milan instead of London.

Well, if the owners are spending their time at their other homes in places like Monte Carlo or Milan, and they're not paying taxes on the London homes, it sounds like they already have chosen Monte Carlo or Milan instead of London.

London's just kicking them tax-free housing on the off chance they decide to grace London with their presence.
posted by Sara C. at 4:29 PM on January 31 [5 favorites]


The British government is certainly staying on top of the situation, having just outlawed residential squatting in 2012, setting draconian fines and prison terms for anyone who dares to occupy vacant properties.
posted by islander at 4:39 PM on January 31


The stamp tax seems like a terrible idea. It seems like London would be better served by eliminating this tax at transfer and relying only on an annual tax as a percentage of assessed market value.
posted by humanfont at 5:27 PM on January 31


"so projected rise in high-end London property prices every year > depreciation of high-end London property prices every year due to complete neglect, even to catastrophic levels?"

It seems that absent owners are selling to new absent owners, so the condition of the property is nearly irrelevant. If anybody bothered to do an inspection some of the mansions might even be condemned.
posted by Kevin Street at 6:15 PM on January 31


So are these just escape hatches for when rich people need to get the hell out of Saudi Arabia?
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 6:29 PM on January 31


Yeah, sounds like it, and obviously we really want exiled despots to come and live in leafy North London boroughs. Someone should get the tourist board onto that.
posted by Ned G at 6:59 PM on January 31


a row of 10 mansions worth £73m which have stood largely unused since they were bought between 1989 and 1993 ... now derelict properties

I'm sorry; what is it that makes them worth £73m? Stone walls? Location? Land value? Look like bulldozer fodder on the inside. (Or is it that one of them is worth £65m?)
posted by Twang at 7:27 PM on January 31


The British government is certainly staying on top of the situation, having just outlawed residential squatting

Well, that explains that.

At least 120 bedrooms are empty in the vacant properties.

But it's okay. You just screw over everyone in public housing for having too many rooms, Westminster.
posted by Mezentian at 8:58 PM on January 31 [3 favorites]


MetaFilter: FWIW, I didn't read the article, nor will I.

Count me in favour of increasing taxes on absentee owners of property over a certain value.
posted by modernnomad at 12:37 AM on February 1


Jeez, don't you guys have arsonists in the UK like we do in the USA? Devil's Night UK might be something to consider. "He who burns down the most valuable abandoned mansion wins" is the motto as I understand it. Or not (Hi NSA!).
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 3:23 AM on February 1


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