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UK housing market

Marketplace Staff May 9, 2006


MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: The US housing market may be slowing a bit, but it’s still a seller’s market in Britain, thanks largely to super-rich buyers looking for prestige homes. But wealth does not always translate into good taste, as writer and commentator David Wells argues.

DAVID WELLS: From the outside, the grand houses of Britain would make builders of McMansions blush with embarrassment. But look inside, and you’d realize these homes represent the UK of the past. The floors creak, the windows leak, and there are no closets.

The British upper-crust says this is the way we’ve always lived and there’s nothing you can do about it. But there is. It’s called the future and it’s already upon them.

Indian industrialists, Russian oligarchs, soccer stars and hedge fund managers are buying up old homes. And these entrepreneurs aren’t afraid to shirk the status quo with their own statement of beauty.

They’re building the sorts of homes more likely to be found in Houston, Palm Beach, Beverly Hills or the Hamptons.

Consider Toprak Mansion. It’s a steal at $90 million. It looks as if its owner, a Turkish industrialist, was hoping to prove that being rich doesn’t mean having taste. But the house is not the most expensive on offer in the UK.

That honour would go to Updown Court in Surrey a place bigger than Buckingham Palace. For a mere $125 million, this hideous estate could be yours.

It looks like Aaron Spelling built the set of his latest soap opera in the English countryside. New money may be tasteless. But it’s entrepreneurial. It tears down old places and builds monsters with movie theatres and kitchens their owners might never use.

These remakes provide jobs for thousands of Eastern European men who make their way to London to do carpentry and plumbing. And these men might feel that one day, they too, can build themselves a huge and homely house once they realize the person who owns it didn’t inherit it by wont of being a Duke.

There’s nothing wrong with shaking the shackles of class by displaying homes that are crass. It may be hard on the eyes, but it’s good for the people.

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