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September 21, 2012 9:35 pm
People across the world may well recognise the word “Harrow” but it is likely that most will not associate it with the north-west London borough of that name.
Instead they will think of Harrow School, considered to be the one of best private educational institutions in the UK and universally called just “Harrow”. Yet despite the prestige of the school – it sits in the most desirable part of the borough and has educated 20 royal princes and a king over five centuries – the area today has a highly mixed housing market.
There are two small hubs of top-end housing close to the school. At the crest of Harrow on the Hill, a conservation area dominated by the school’s buildings and sitting 400ft above sea level, there is a small matrix of streets known to locals as the Village. This is characterised by Victorian cottages and villas, usually extended over the decades. Some of its white-walled, black-beamed buildings now operate as bustling tea rooms, restaurants, pubs or fashionable shops. A four-bedroom terraced house here is on sale through Wilson Hawkins for £1.095m.
Nearby are two other preferred locations for wealthy buyers: a private gated road called Mount Park and nearby South Hill. Here there are larger houses, typically built in the 20th century, detached with substantial grounds and more privacy than in the Village. Wilson Hawkins and Savills are jointly marketing a 4,000 sq ft six-bedroom home with two roof terraces and large lawns for £1.75m.
Mount Park and South Hill, like the Village, are about 13 miles north-west of central London and 17 miles from Canary Wharf. Driving these routes involves crossing several of the capital’s busiest areas so Harrow’s commuters rely heavily on the Underground, which typically reaches Westminster in 30 minutes and Canary Wharf in 50 minutes. The 11-mile drive to Heathrow takes half an hour.
Around these high-priced centres are more mixed locations, such as middle-class Pinner and Hatch End, but also far less affluent spots such as South Harrow and Wealdstone. Prices vary considerably – you can pay £3m-plus for the largest houses at Harrow on the Hill while a three-bedroom home two miles away at Wealdstone could cost less than £300,000 – but agents claim that the whole borough benefits from sharing Harrow School’s name.
“There’s definitely kudos surrounding the area. The boarding school’s status and image does have an effect on the market – and more widely than just Harrow on the Hill,” says Robert O’Rourke of agency Bairstow Eves.
“During the influx of Hong Kong Chinese investment buyers in the late 1990s, many were attracted because they had heard of Harrow School,” says Stephen Woodward of Woodward Estate Agents. “Beautiful buildings, residences with first-class educationalists and school fields and other open areas give local property special appeal.”
Savills agent Kane Lennon grew up in the area and studied at Harrow School. He says that because the institution has fee-paying boarding boys only, there is no frenzied buying by parents insisting on living within a specific catchment area. However, he says the school still has an impact: “It owns so many buildings across Harrow on the Hill that this sharply reduces the number that are in traditional residential use, so keeping supply down and values up, irrespective of wider market conditions.”
He believes today’s values at Harrow on the Hill are at least as strong as in the pre-downturn peak of 2007, while some agents suggest prices may even be 10 per cent higher. “Even the lower-cost Victorian cottages are highly sought after as a stepping stone to larger homes for those who are ‘pre-family’,” says Woodward.
Most agents report growing numbers of international buyers. But Lennon says the paucity of large homes with grounds in the immediate vicinity of Harrow on the Hill forces many affluent purchasers to look three miles further north-west to Northwood in the adjoining borough of Hillingdon.
“Northwood is substantially more expensive. Whereas at Harrow on the Hill you might pay £375 to £400 per square foot for a large property in good condition, in Northwood you would typically pay up to £475 or exceptionally much, much more,” he says.
Northwood is leafier than Harrow on the Hill with a semi-rural feel. It is close to the green belt of largely undeveloped land circling Greater London and is near the M25 orbital motorway.
In Northwood’s Oxhey Drive South, considered one of its most exclusive addresses, Savills is marketing a six-bedroom house built in 2001 on almost half an acre, on a private gated road: its asking price is £3.25m. Nearby is another modern house, built in mock-Georgian style, with eight bedrooms and half an acre of grounds, selling through Robsons for £5m.
Yet despite the affluence of parts of north-west London, and limited supply in Harrow, in recent weeks “new instructions to the market have been somewhat slow”, says Kamal Makwana of Winkworth. Woodward claims buyers, too, are “drawing breath”, with demand for homes over £1m down on 2010 and 2011.
Agents admit that even buyers who are unaffected by mortgage shortages have only fragile confidence in the housing market and may wait until 2013 for their next move. Even a world-famous name cannot buck every aspect of a recession.
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