Trevor Abrahmsohn: Basement Wars – Is This Really A Class War Between The ‘Haves’ And The ‘Have Nots’?

As night follows day, should we be wondering why there is now an explosion of basement planning applications amongst the cognoscenti in certain parts of London?

There is a mixture of driving forces here, all conspiring together, which have created this new ‘thirst’ for additional space by way of basement areas and here are some of the reasons why:

Basement hoardings are everywhere across Prime Central London. Source: The London Conversion Company

Residential property prices in the Capital have gone up relentlessly over time and, since land is scarce, digging a basement in an existing property is a relatively inexpensive way to create more usable, affordable living space or perhaps, heaven forbid, even make a profit?

Thanks to our former esteemed Chancellor’s draconian rises in Stamp Duty, the cost of moving is now so expensive (up to circa 15% + estate agents/solicitors fees) some homeowners are ‘staying put’ and choosing to extend/develop their properties by means of extensions, loft conversions and basements.

Can you blame them?

It normally costs circa £300 per foot² to build a basement yet it could add between £1000-£6000 per foot² to the value of the property, when complete. So it’s a ‘no brainer’, particularly as any gain is tax-free.

Abrahmsohn: Impressive basements are changing the landscape of London. Source: SpaceBasements

Basements are no longer dingy, dank areas of old, sometimes they create useful and desirable living areas that overshadow the rest of the accommodation above ground.

Invariably, the spaces flow better with greater ceiling heights, since the ability to design clear and uncluttered areas, is easier below ground than above. For some the privacy that the below ground space affords is irresistible.

By their very nature, basement accommodation is soundproof and secure and, therefore, if you wanted the trappings of luxury such as private cinema/disco/party room, or in fact, an indoor swimming pool/spa this would be perfectly possible. Some basements have sophisticated wine cellars with cigar smoking rooms and even rifle ranges or indoor golf academy areas.

Full size pools are commonplace in luxurious basement conversions. Source: Evening Standard

Basement construction happens underground and therefore the noise, dust and usual inconvenience of the building process is limited to the adjoining owners or the residents in the street, particularly after the soil has been removed at the beginning of the job.

In fact, it is now quite common to not only have an indoor car storage area, but this now extends to galleries for classic cars which become trophies of the ‘uber-rich’.

According to the press, Westminster Council wants to charge up to £8,000 or more, for planning consent for a basement area since even they have ‘cottoned-on’ to the game plan.

The boss: Trevor is CEO of Glentree and agent for the rich and famous

However, certain ‘left-leaning’ councils are using ecological arguments to halt this basement revolution and we all know that this is driven by the ‘politics of envy’ rather than anything else as it is only the middle to upper classes who will be affected by this.

It is now a war between the ‘have’ and ‘have nots’.

Abrahmsohn: George Osborne’s ‘shock and awe’ housing policies were ill-conceived. Source: Flickr

Frankly, I believe that councils should charge fully for the consents, and there should be more ‘live and let live’ attitude rather than the gratuitous interference which exists at the moment.

Maybe, our present Chancellor, Mr. Hammond needs to look again at the Stamp Duty levels which have skewered the market place, so significantly, to the detriment of homeowners and the Treasury alike. Mr. Osborne and his ‘shock and awe’ policies were ill-conceived in 2014 and all the more so now.

He has decimated the property market in London which is one of the driving forces for the Economy generally and, somewhat foolishly, gained nothing for it by means of increased tax revenues which has to be ‘folie de grandeur’.


Trevor Abrahmsohn is CEO and Founder of Glentree International, specialising in the luxury property markets in North London including some of the most expensive real estate in the world.

T: 020 8209 1149, M: 07831 339699, Twitter: @tsabrahmsohn or Joy Moon, M: 07964 287078, E: joy@joymoon.co.uk