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Kristy Noble Photography

Period drama: Why younger homebuyers are snapping up period properties

A new generation of home buyers are valuing rarity and uniqueness, finds Effect Magazine’s Anya Cooklin-Lofting, who speaks to the company leading efforts to address the trend

Named after the foremost 17th-century architect Inigo Jones, Inigo is a London real estate company founded by architectural journalists Matt Gibberd and Albert Hill to host property listings of specifically Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian homes (Inigo’s sister company The Modern House focuses on modern property listings from the inter-war period onwards).

And in just two years since launch, Inigo has captured the hearts of an overwhelmingly millennial audience, serving to reinforce the notion that young people love old houses; but more than that, Inigo’s success among 25–35-year-olds points to something more nuanced about rarity, uniqueness and self-expression.

“Inigo’s strong audience of younger buyers are far from sensitive to square footage, location and even the period of the property when it comes down to it,” says Tansy Butler-Biggs, Head of Sales at Inigo. “Instead,” she tells us, “the period is just one identifying factor, and buyers are almost singularly motivated by the discovery of rare finds at a broad range of price points.”

Inigo’s strong audience of younger buyers are far from sensitive to square footage, location and even the period… Instead, buyers are almost singularly motivated by the discovery of rare finds.

Tansy Butler-Biggs, Inigo

According to insights from Inigo’s database, many of its younger buyers carry out extensive research on the properties before they arrive at their viewings, and in some cases, make offers in advance. Recent sales in the age category stand between £300,000 and £2.3m ($362,000–$2.8m)

“Whatever it is at that makes a house special is different to every single buyer,” says Butler-Biggs. “It’s about not being too prescriptive with what you want because sometimes, you find your sense of self reflected in the bricks and mortar of a property you may never have ordinarily considered.”

The original features and historical details in this 1840s London house proved irresistible to its buyers (Photo courtesy of Inigo)

For Inigo’s buyers, there’s almost always a clincher – a novel architectural detail, for example, or notable provenance that gives a perfectly normal property viewing a semblance of romance, of locking eyes with an intriguing stranger across a room. “We sold a beautiful Grade II-listed mews house on Durham Row in London’s East End to a young buyer who was captivated by a distinctive detail, a listed staircase. They just had to have it,” says Butler-Biggs.

Or, there’s the story of the buyer who saw themselves in the decision made by a previous owner of an otherwise classic Georgian home on Belsize Lane in North London. They had commissioned some “really rather naughty” cornicing in one of the grand rooms: “The buyer appreciated and identified with the historic owner’s sense of humour and their cheeky approach to decorating,” says Butler-Biggs. The owners, past and present, were connected across centuries by an irreverent addition to a space that could be at once formal and refined, and joyfully subversive.

A 12th-century former church in Suffolk converted into a residential house in the 1980s on Inigo in Effect Magazine - Period properties
A 12th-century former church in Suffolk (interior at article head) was converted into a residential house in the 1980s, preserving the original features while introducing a contemporary staircase (Courtesy of Inigo; Photo: Kristy Noble)

It works both ways, though, and sellers want buyers that will protect the future of the buildings they’ve had the pleasure of inhabiting for long swathes of their lives. “Sellers tend to want to sell rare, special homes to rare, special buyers who share their values,” says Butler-Biggs. Preservation, bohemianism and non-conformism seem to crop up in the average Inigo seller’s search for the next worthy custodian. Achieving this sense of synergy, according to Inigo, is often more important to sellers than a better financial offer from another buyer. “These sellers see their homes as places to be,” says Butler-Biggs, “not so much as places to own, not just as assets.”

Butler-Biggs believes that the rhetoric around getting one’s foot on the property ladder is antiquated: “It treats these rare homes no better than it does the average crash pad, used for little other than putting your head down at the end of the day,” she says. For Inigo, the buying and selling of notable, distinct, rare homes has less to do with the transactional and the financial, although these considerations are implicit in the process, and more to do with homemaking and self-expression.

Instead, there is a broader sense among Inigo’s community of buyers and sellers of period homes that those who are lucky enough to live in such special buildings function as custodians of the property in its long life – a life that has and will outlast your own. “Young people are redefining what it is to buy a home,” says Butler-Biggs, “and today’s young inhabitants are increasingly aware and appreciative of the fact they’re joining the story of their home quite a few chapters down the line.” For Inigo’s sales team, what buyers should be chasing is that ‘could I really have this?’ feeling.

In light of the long arc of history in these properties, to what extent does Butler-Biggs believe one can ever have a sense of true ownership  beyond a signature on the deeds? “It’s ridiculous to think you could ever really own a house built in the 15th-century,” she says. “We are each mere pieces in the history of these wonderful buildings. You’re just allowed to live in it for a while.” And so the appetite endures, with Inigo at the forefront of a distinct market delivering to curious, creative and daring young buyers. “It’s so easy to sell a home,” says Butler-Biggs, “but so hard to fall deeply in love with one. That’s what drives us to facilitate the sales of these entirely unique properties.” Just be prepared to pass the staircases, cornicing – and keys – into the hands of the next worthy custodian. 

Read more: Property / Real Estate | Interiors | History | London | Vintage | Antiques I Design | Restoration