Standing on black and white steps – chequered like her Chanel handbag – Helen Schweitzer poses elegantly on a London doorstep to capture the winning photograph for her Instagram page. Fellow Insta fiend, Chantal Mallett, prefers the pastel patchwork and blossoming wisteria of a nearby Notting Hill street for her bridal couture feed. While Luisa Hille models a classical stone gatepost, soaking up the sunshine, as her legs dangle on the wall of a multi-million-pound, sea-green home. The front-step selfie is a phenomenon that grew with social media in an era when few can afford to buy the actual lifestyle.
“Your backdrop is important because it gives out a subliminal message to the audience that you’re pitching to – just as pop videos do,” said Henry Pryor, an estate agent. Schweitzer is typical of the trend – young and beautiful. Scroll down her online feed and the German blogger appears outside another London property, this time nestled in a thick coat, leaning on the railing of a Barbie-pink home. In a third shot, the 20-year-old brunette dances through a cobbled mews – where homes top a million pounds ($1.3 million) – with a retro, red moped to the rear. Schweitzer is not alone in property stalking.
Thousands flock to the west London area of Notting Hill – one of Britain’s priciest postcodes – to seek out colorful facades to elevate and enliven their social media. “Notting Hill is actually my favorite area in London. The homes are the prettiest,” the blogger, with more than 1,000 followers, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “A lot of rich people live there, which is why the area is very clean and pretty.” Pryor – who sources homes for the rich, famous and “plain hard working” – said modeling top property connoted success. “There is something very aspirational, very safe and traditional about being photographed in Kensington and Chelsea.”
The trend of ‘borrowing’ backdrops for social media irks some home owners, while others say the mostly young photographers are just living a dream they will never afford. Schweitzer, who posts five to 20 lifestyle pictures a month as an unpaid hobby, said she had never received complaints but sympathized with owners whose iconic homes are photo-bombarded. “I can imagine that people get annoyed if hundreds of people take pictures in front of your door,” she said.
When resident Gabriele bought her Notting Hill home in 2006, she was unaware it had featured in the hit romantic film ‘Love Actually’. She soon found out when a regular weekend “selfie brigade” crammed her sidewalk lining up for a front-door shot. “Some days it’s ok, as long as they ask nicely, and other days you just want to shoot them,” said Gabriele, who preferred to keep her full identity private. Her front door won fame in the 2003 Richard Curtis movie featuring Hugh Grant and a series of romantic entanglements between Keira Knightley, Colin Firth and Emma Thompson.
On a sunny Saturday, her home draws up to 200 camera-phone wielding visitors, seeking the bright pink backdrop of her property for their online feeds, she said. “We are the most Instagrammed house in Notting Hill.” The hashtag #NottingHill had close to 1.2 million posts on the Instagram platform, with doorsteps a recurring theme.
Some snap-happy visitors want more than a quick shot. Gabriele said she had witnessed an Indian wedding and multiple marriage proposals on her stoop. Often models bring multiple outfit changes or even pose on her bike. “It beggars belief,” she said. Her area is already one of London’s richest, lined with elegant stucco houses owned by bankers, oligarchs and celebrities. Yet according to agent Pryor, a property known from television shows or hit films could potentially increase its visibility and add a price premium of up to 10 percent on sale.
Sympathy or cynicism?
The price of the average house in London has increased from 11 times the average income in 2009 to 17 times the average income today, according to the thinktank Centre for Cities. “It has become increasingly difficult for young people to get on the property ladder without support,” said Anthony Breach, analyst at Centre for Cities.
“Younger people are now paying the price of London’s housing shortage in both higher house prices and higher rents,” he said. An average house in Notting Hill costs just over two million pounds ($2.55 million) according to real estate agent Foxtons, up from about 392,000 pounds ($500,000) two decades ago.
A single Londoner hoping to buy a property would need at least 15 years to save for a deposit, according to recent data published by real estate agents, Hamptons International. Nor is the selfie doorstep phenomenon limited to London. Multicolored Rue Cremieux in Paris is a dream for fashion shoots and Instagram fiends alike, its once modest worker cottages now among the city’s most expensive properties. Exposed to yoga poses and rap video shoots, owners have tired of the adulation and formed an association to ask the city to close the picturesque road to non-residents on weekends and evenings so they can regain some privacy.
The city told local press it would aim for a viable solution but it was difficult to restrict access to public roads. Gabriele has instead deployed strategic olive trees to deter uninvited guests and set up a donation box urging contributions of a pound ($1.30) per camera to local homeless charities. Despite the crowds outside her front windows, Gabriele said she would not move. “I love my house and I love living here.”-Reuters