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  1. Property
August 28, 2013

When a super-basement turns out to be a super-pain

By Spear's

When is enough enough? The recent reports that a hedge funder is spending £4 million building a subterranean complex in his Holland Park house have been picked up, with a certain amount of relish, by the press. The local council has struck him, according to reports, with an £825,000 fee which will go towards social housing. Why so little, I ask.

The fashion for the super-wealthy in London to increase their square footage by digging precipitously close to the water table, inflicting untold aggravation and disturbance on their neighbours, has become increasingly prevalent in the last ten years.

In 2001 there were 13 applications for sub-basements in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea (the prime area for such epicurean digging) while in 2012 there were 307. If I were a better mathematician I could tell you the exact percentile increase that represents, but even my non-numerical brain can state that it’s significant.

And what occurs in these cavernous spaces underground? Inevitably they’re given over to the ubiquitous ‘media room’ (which comprises a very large flat screen TV), treatment area, indoor lap-pool where you swim against a jet-stream, gym and, if enough natural light can be funneled from above ground, staff accommodation.

Black holes

In my role as a purchasing agent I’ve seen these rooms in their varying different configurations and each is pretty much as depressing as the other and each as under-used. Once the novelty of descending twenty feet underground to your ‘cinema room’ to sit alone in your Virgin Atlantic Upper-Class airline seat, complete with reclining knobs, has worn off, people find they’d rather watch their preferred box set in their sitting room or bedroom – sacrificing screen size for intimacy.

As for the gyms, the lonely hedge-fund wife – isolated enough from reality – prefers the human interaction offered at the newly opened Equinox in High Street Kensington (conveniently close to Whole Foods for some organic shopping) than treadmilling in splendid isolation at home. These vast spaces quickly become redundant though when remembered the owners congratulate themselves on increasing the value of their property.

Here’s the rub though. Buyers are becoming increasingly savvy to pricing per square foot depending on where and what the square footage is. As with the excavations pounds per square foot has dominated market values, or the illusion has.

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No longer – I have clients who actively don’t want to buy a house with subterranean space and those who do have come to value it at a figure that is less than its cost value. Time has marched on and like the emperor’s new clothes, those rich enough to contemplate such houses have seen enough indoor swimming pools and media rooms to realise how on the way to obsolete they are.

So, having seen more mole-compounds than I’d care to, I’d ask those who think of building them a) to think about how much they’ll really use them, factoring that into the aggravation to benefit equation (renting elsewhere for two years, infuriating your neighbours); and b) to consider that if you think you’re going to make money on adding that sort of square footage, you most likely won’t.

Read more from Sebastian Gibson

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