With the price tag of Prime Central London properties featuring a terrifying number of zeros, exclusive areas such as Kensington, Chelsea, Knightsbridge and Belgravia are virtually out of reach for all but the world’s wealthiest people. This, however, is fuelling interest in some of the capital’s hitherto less fashionable, but now fast improving, central districts.
Formerly dowdy areas of London are smartening up and buyers are responding to the fact that transport links are fantastic (if you don’t want to walk everywhere, which you can), the architecture is appealing and there is still plenty of headroom for value growth. Top of the class for these buyers are Pimlico and Westminster and, just further north, Marylebone and Fitzrovia. ‘Prices in Fulham and Battersea are already hitting way over £1,000 per sq ft, but, thanks to its unfashionable status, prices in Pimlico haven’t reached those levels, outside of the very best properties,’ says Roarie Scarisbrick from Property Vision.
Located right on the edge of both Chelsea and Belgravia, Pimlico is extremely well connected-Victoria station is 10 minutes on foot and you can also easily walk to Chelsea, Hyde Park Corner and Piccadilly. The area has some lovely stucco-fronted period properties that might not have the square footage found on Eaton Square, but are still extremely livable. So why wasn’t Pimlico ever really fashionable? ‘Historically, there was never really a hub there,’ suggests Alex Leschellas from Douglas & Gordon.
The cappuccino test-the yardstick of glamorous living in the 21st century-remains to be passed, but this matters less when you consider that ‘you can buy a two-bedroom flat for less than £1 million, when it would be double that just a couple of streets away in Chelsea or Belgravia’. Without question, the smartest addresses are the two garden squares, Warwick Square and Ecclestone Square, which are quiet and beautiful and home to the largest properties: a one-bedroom flat can cost £700,000.
The most sought-after streets are the so-called ‘grid’ from St George’s Drive to Sutherland Street, and then the Moreton Triangle of Moreton Street, Moreton Terrace and Moreton Place.
‘People love Pimlico because it feels so authentic,’ says Mr Leschellas. Lots of business comes from firsttime buyers who still need to be in central London for work-or for play-and from Italians, who fall for the architecture.
Just over the artery of Vauxhall Bridge Road, Westminster has suffered a similar fate to Pimlico’s over the years, but a boom in smart newbuild sites and a Candy & Candy project on Chapter Street are attracting attention. Not to mention that there’s nowhere else in London where you can live within walking distance of the Royal Opera House, The National Gallery, both London Tates and the Royal Academy. ‘People will buy here for their families- Westminster School is just seconds away,’ notes Mr Scarisbrick. The rental opportunities are also excellent around Westminster, thanks to the constant ebb and flow of politicians and civil servants looking for a pied à terre. Nonetheless, prices don’t nudge much over the £1,000 per sq ft mark outside the historic properties around beautiful Smith Square.
There are very pretty mansion blocks to be found between Vincent Square and Victoria Street on Greencoat Place, and Marsham Street has some beautiful Art Deco flats that wouldn’t look out of place on Poirot. Both Westminster and Pimlico will also benefit from the ongoing regeneration
around Victoria-a small, local Waitrose on Victoria Street is a sign of things to come.
Having languished unloved through much of the latter half of the past century, Marylebone has finally come into its own. Madonna raised the temperature there when she bought a town house with Guy Ritchie in 2007 and the nurturing of independent, local businesses, such as The Ginger Pig butcher by the Howard de Walden estate, means that the area is now full of character. Properties are a combination of mansion blocks and converted period buildings.
Demand for this peaceful area, which is just minutes from Oxford Street and Regent’s Park and close to Paddington Station and Harley Street, refuses to let up. As a result, prices have continued to rise and, on the best streets, compete with Prime Central London. ‘On Montagu Square and Bryanston Square, there are some very good lateral flats that now easily achieve £2,000 per sq ft,’ says Mr Scarisbrick. ‘People make a positive choice to move to Marylebone,’ according to Adam Bishop from Hamptons International in Mayfair. ‘I’ve had plenty of buyers who could buy anywhere, but who chose to live there deliberately because they liked the feel of the area.’
Marylebone is full of young British couples who want to live somewhere ‘buzzy’, says Claire Reynolds from Savills, who opened an office there in September. ‘It was an obvious move for us: half of the business the Mayfair office was doing was in Marylebone and the research bears this out: in the years between 2005 and 2011, only Mayfair experienced more growth in the whole of London.’ Buyers are older couples downsizing from St John’s Wood and Hampstead, or parents looking to buy somewhere more fun than Mayfair, but still central. Another neglected part of the London property landscape that’s just beginning its journey is Fitzrovia.
Without a station of its own, the area sits on the other side of Regent’s Park, between Marylebone and Bloomsbury. Canny investors have already been buying properties here in anticipation of the Crossrail effect: research from Knight Frank confirms that prices had already risen 8% more than the rest of the central London market by last year. Fitzrovia will benefit from this uplift, but its natural charm attracts more than just those looking for a smart investment.
‘There is some very pretty Georgian architecture and it’s the last area with a W1 postcode that remains untapped,’ according to Jeremy James from Knight Frank. ‘For firsttime buyers and mid-term buyers, it’s an ideal location.’ The right brands are still falling into place, but this will follow soon, given the updated transport links and, in the meantime, Charlotte Street has a wonderful, Continental feel. Prices remain at about £1,000 per sq ft, but climb steeply for developments in the better locations.
This newly refurbished top floor maisonette on St George’s drive has just launched to the market. It has an open-plan kitchen/living room, two double bedrooms and two bathrooms (one en suite). Douglas & Gordon (020-7931 8200)
Fitzroy Place is a new residential square development for W1 with a concierge, residents’ club and private cinema. Savills is selling a three-bedroom, new-build apartment just moments from Warren Street. Savills (020-7409 8756)
This first floor flat in the former Westminster Hospital has three bedrooms and residents have access to parking, a gym, meeting rooms and a concierge. Knight Frank (020-7881 7722)
This two double bedroom apartment is in a small portered block on the corner of Portland Place and Devonshire Street. There is a third bedroom that could work as a child’s bedroom or a home office. Carter Jonas (020-7486 8866)