The pied-à-terre is a rather strange breed of property purchase: neither a proper home nor a straight-forward investment, it hovers somewhere between the two. Most experts agree that the most important thing to get right is the location-after that, you need to be as flexible as possible. ‘Everyone has a wish list when buying a pied-à-terre,’ says Guy Meacock of buying agents Prime Purchase. ‘But these days, when other asset classes have fallen away, people must view property as an investment and, therefore, look at the resale value of anything they buy to ensure it will appeal to a wide marketplace.’
By and large, there are two types of pied-à-terre buyer: those who are commuting to London during the week to work and want a place to hole up for three or four nights, and the inter-national jet-setter who is looking for a base in London. As a broad rule, the former want something that is conveniently located for ease of access to work and the country, which, in practice, can mean anywhere from central locations such as Chelsea and Mayfair to more practical solutions such as the Barbican and Wapping, and the latter want to be near the shops and the buzz of London-and, by that, they want Knightsbridge.
‘What makes an ideal pied-à-terre depends very much on perception,’ says Noel Flint, head of London residential for Knight Frank. ‘Small is beautiful in some eyes because it’s easy to keep. In other eyes, “small” is surprisingly large. We sold one house in Chelsea recently to buyers who just wanted somewhere to stay when they come to London to visit their children at university. They paid just over £11 million.’
The number of bedrooms for an overseas buyer often becomes irrelevant-‘they rarely need more than one and tend to use the others to store their clothes,’ says Mr Flint. However, for the domestic buyer, if the budget stretches, it’s sensible to go for a property with two bedrooms. ‘One often just thinks of buying a one-bedroom place,’ says Mr Meacock, ‘but a two-bedroom can be so much more useful for when you want the children to stay or in case you want to let it out in future.’
Other factors for the domestic buyer to take into consideration include buying on a ‘good floor’-basements are prefer-able to top-floor walk-ups. On this matter, Will Watson of Strutt & Parker is unequivocal: ‘I wouldn’t consider a flat on a high floor without a lift, as you will, no doubt, have a suitcase, and going up and down flights of stairs can become tiresome.’
Mr Watson also recommends finding somewhere that has access to communal gardens or that’s near a park. ‘Or, if that’s not possible,’ adds Mr Meacock, ‘at least buy something that overlooks greenery. If you’re used to rural views, it can be pretty depressing to look out on solid brick walls.’
Buildings with underground parking are particularly desirable, as are those that have a porter who can be there when you’re not to let tradesmen into the property or receive parcels on your behalf. But don’t forget to examine the service charges for the building. ‘You don’t want high outgoings for a year if you only use it a couple of times a week,’ says Mr Wilson.
Is this the perfect pied-à-terre?
For social cachet, as well as ease of access to London’s best-known shops, look no further than Pont Street, in the heart of Knightsbridge. The late-19th-century terrace features elaborate gables and angular bay windows all faced in red brick and terracotta in a style known as Pont Street Dutch, and is one of the smartest addresses in London. Characters in novels by Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford had their London bases there, but, today, it has a very international make-up.
This year, 60, Pont Street is being launched onto the market following a dramatic renovation that has turned the house from being split into several small flats into three spacious duplexes of two and three bedrooms. The light-filled apartments overlook the Scottish Presbyterian church to the front and Harrods (over the rooftops) to the rear. Majestically high ceilings, sleek kitchens and marble bathrooms complete the picture, and prices start at £4.5 million.
‘An apartment in 60, Pont Street compares favourably with other top London addresses such as One Hyde Park, and you’ll be spared the hefty annual service charges,’ says Richard Osborne-Young of Jones Lang LaSalle (020-7201 6699).
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