Rory Sutherland Rory Sutherland

To buy cheap art, buy architecture

Unlike every other form of art, brilliant architecture adds next to nothing in value

Of the 375,000 listed buildings in England only 2.5 per cent are Grade I. Half are churches; many are otherwise uninhabitable, such as Nelson’s Column or the Royal Opera House. There are perhaps only 2,500 Grade I listed buildings in England in which you can feasibly live: these include Buckingham Palace and the Sutherland gaff.

Eighteen years ago, when we had twins and decided to move out of London, my wife discovered a four-bedroom apartment in the roof of a Robert Adam house a mile outside the M25. To our astonishment, it was barely more expensive than ordinary housing of similar size nearby. I recently asked my neighbour, an economist, what premium we pay for the house’s architectural quality. ‘Between 0 and 5 per cent,’ he estimated.

What’s going on? Whereas a Picasso costs perhaps 100,000 times more than a same-size picture bought on the Bayswater Road, an Adam flat costs scarcely more than a boring, similar-sized flat nearby. It’s not a great advertisement for training as an architect, is it, when you can reach the towering heights of your profession yet fail to add 3 per cent to the value of what you build?

It wasn’t entirely by chance that we found our apartment. In rivalrous markets such as property it pays to cultivate eccentric tastes. So, as canny amateur decision-scientists, we had deliberately set out to invert the house-hunter’s decision tree by reversing the usual order of elimination. We put architecture at the top and left geography until last: Kent-Essex-Surrey-ish was as specific as we got.

When most people buy a house, the internet search order goes 1) narrowly define location 2) set the price band 3) choose between flat or attached/detached house 4) define number of bedrooms 5) bring in other parameters, such as garden.

Already a subscriber? Log in

Keep reading with a free trial

Subscribe and get your first month of online and app access for free. After that it’s just £1 a week.

There’s no commitment, you can cancel any time.


Unlock more articles



Don't miss out

Join the conversation with other Spectator readers. Subscribe to leave a comment.

Already a subscriber? Log in