There’s a lot to love about the district of Notting Hill in west London. Portobello Road with its colourfully-painted facades hosts the world’s largest antique market. The exuberant Notting Hill carnival is as close to a Rio vibe as the UK will ever get. And of course, the streets of Notting Hill were the setting for that classic 1990s rom-com of the same name, starring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts. But if you like the idea of owning a property in Notting Hill, be aware that the average price paid last year was over two million pounds. Even a tiny studio flat could cost you £350,000!
It was only quite recently that property in Notting Hill became so sought after. In the 19th century, the district was home to poor workers from the local pottery factories and pig farms. Living conditions there were tough, with overcrowding and poor sanitation. It’s hard to believe that today some one-bedroom flats on Pottery Lane are selling for almost one million pounds. As late as the 1960s, some areas of Notting Hill were still classed as slums. In fact, Notting Hill’s Portland Road is often used as a textbook example of the phenomenon known as ‘super-gentrification’. Back in the 1960s, most residents of Portland Road were working class. Today, the people living there are mainly wealthy bankers and business people. Some properties on the street are worth one hundred and fifty times more than they were fifty years ago. And as the ultra rich move in, local people have to move out.
One of the things that often surprises visitors to London is that rich and poor areas of the city can be so close together. Notting Hill is a district within the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the wealthiest of all London’s thirty-two boroughs. The super-posh district of Knightsbridge, with its luxury stores such as Harrods, forms part of the same borough. But there are deprived areas within the borough, too. The remains of Grenfell Tower, the council block that was destroyed by fire in 2017 with the loss of seventy-two lives, still stand just a few streets away from Notting Hill.
With the property market in Notting Hill (and all across London) booming, property websites are full of misleading advertisements that make even the smallest and most basic property sound like a palace. And these days, it’s not just when buying a property or renting long-term that we need to be careful about misleading descriptions. Now that more and more of us are using home renting and exchange sites like AirBnB, it’s important to understand what the language used to describe properties might really mean. So, let’s take a look behind some of the euphemisms.
Location, location, location
Many property experts will tell you that location is the most important factor when choosing a property. So what do estate agents and AirBnB hosts do to promote properties that aren’t in such a great location? Well, there are plenty of options. As we’ve already mentioned, upmarket areas of London quite often stand right next to more deprived areas. So, for example, a property near Grenfell Tower might be advertised as being located in Notting Hill “borders”, meaning ‘on the edge of’ or ‘near’ Notting Hill. Another option for being vague about location is to say “within walking distance of”, instead of giving precise distances. For example, “within walking distance of the city centre” could mean that the centre is several kilometres away.
If you’re trying to convince someone to buy or rent a 25m2 studio flat for an extortionate price, it’s a good idea not to call that flat ‘tiny’. ‘Cosy’ is a common way to suggest small but in a good way —who needs all that extra space anyway? A ‘compact’ property is probably even tinier than a ‘cosy’ one. And ‘easy-to maintain’ may just mean there isn’t much space to keep clean. A ‘pièd-a-terre’ is a fancy way to describe a tiny flat, usually in the city centre. In the past, the implication was that the owner of the pièd-a-terre (or ‘pad’ for short) would have another bigger property outside the city. Now it just means they have a tiny flat. The most upmarket euphemism for ‘small’ is ‘bijou’. In French it means ‘jew
el’, but in English ‘bijou’ (‘bijoux’ plural) is used as an adjective to describe something small but beautifully made. When it appears in a property ad, be warned that it probably just means ‘small’.