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London Property Market 23 December 2015

How do you solve the Downton dilemma

Christmas Day 2015 sees the last ever episode of ITV's beloved Downton Abbey, when millions will tune in to catch a final glimpse into the life of luxury lived by the Crawleys, with real-life Highclere Castle in Hampshire standing in for the titular Yorkshire pile. Between its sprawling grounds and extensive array of butlers, valets and kitchen staff, it boggles the mind to think of the daily costs of running such a household. As the Earl of Grantham would attest, the expenses can quickly soar.

But what about a townhouse in London? By the mid-19th century, the urbanisation of Britain was in full swing. In the tide of the industrial boom, London continued to blossom as a centre of business and finance, as well as a thriving hub of culture and nightlife. In this time many wealthy families like the Crawleys purchased lavish pieds-a-terre in the cosmopolitan capital, mainly in areas like Belgravia, Mayfair and St James's. Later on, from about the 1920s and 30s onwards, as the cost of maintaining the country houses became too expensive, many aristocrats gave up the country life and relocated permanently to the city. Will we see a spin-off series of Downton focusing on the younger generations of Crawleys as they make their way through society life in London in the shadow of the Second World War? Now, from the vantage point of the eco-conscious 21st-century, we compare the ups and downs of living it up in lavish London with running a real-life Downton Abbey.


According to research by Aviva, the Downton Abbey household might use a whopping 5,120 litres of water a day. This is the equivalent of 64 baths full of water, coming to an annual water bill of around £3,800 a year, and that's before taking into account the water needed to maintain its sprawling gardens. One of the crowning attractions of living in London's Belgravia area is its beautiful collection of private squares and gardens built to provide green and open space for its residents. According to the Water Services Regulation Authority, the average water bill in London comes in at £319. While this may vary from property to property, many of London's most elite city properties have no garden of their own, which certainly keeps the costs lower than their rural counterparts, especially the mighty country estates with formal gardens, parklands and tenanted farms to keep up.


According to Laura Shack from the National Trust, the consumption of a property similar to Highclere Castle would be £50,000 in oil and £35,000 in electricity. Meanwhile, it's estimated that energy bills in the average London mansion generally come in at around £20,000 a year. Another important energy factor to consider is transport, with most London residents living within a short commute to their work, schools, or nearest shopping hub. In fact, according to TFL, 46% of London households do not own a car, potentially saving vast costs when it comes to fuel energy consumption.


The old "slab" system of Stamp Duty was removed by George Osborne in December 2014, and means that all homes with a purchase price over £925,001 now pays a proportionately higher rate of Stamp Duty. As of April 2016, a 3% surcharge will apply to all second home and buy-to-let purchases over £40,000. To find out exactly how much Stamp Duty you would pay if you are thinking of buying your own Downton Abbey, or London townhouse for that matter, both now and after April 2016, click here. Thankfully for modern-day Downton Abbey owners, the Mansion Tax, conceived of in the final days of the last Labour government but never implemented, seems consigned to the dustbin of history since the Conservatives' majority at the last General Election in May 2015.

The verdict

It ultimately means those who pay, for example, £10 million or more for properties can expect to pay more than £2,000 in council tax, £20,000 on utility bills, roughly £20,000 on cleaning, and £67,250 on insurance costs, not to mention the excessive costs for security, housekeeping and gardening which these properties would be subject to. Sounds like selling the country pile and moving permanently to London sounds like a wise choice, which is possible why so many families like the Crawleys did exactly that!