Last updated: March 17, 2012 2:06 am

UK property: schism among The Bishops

The Bishops Avenue in north London contains a mix of new-builds and classic designs, but high costs are consistent throughout

Long before high-profile developments such as One Hyde Park or the Bulgari residences were conceived, let alone built, The Bishops Avenue was a London address known chiefly for the wealth and status of its owners. Now its challenge is to compete with its contemporary rivals for the new breed of high net worth buyers demanding 21st-century homes in the UK capital.

The avenue is about five miles north of central London, beyond the jumbled layout of period homes in Hampstead Village. It fringes the rugged open space of Hampstead Heath, giving the location a semi-rural feel, yet The Bishops Avenue itself is a fiercely urban affair.

Most of its 66 property plots – ranging from two acres to over 10 acres – accommodate large single houses, although a growing number now contain small apartment blocks, meaning there are about 120 households with The Bishops Avenue address.

It has always had a reputation for affluent buyers. The first house on what was then an unmade road was commissioned by family members of the Tate & Lyle agribusiness giant in the 1920s and over the past 90 years it has forged a reputation as a home to new-moneyed celebrities and a status-conscious international clientele. The controversial Turkish Cypriot businessman Asil Nadir has a house there, as does the press magnate Richard Desmond and Nursultan Nazarbayev, president of Kazakhstan.

Many homes on the avenue are sold in the so-called grey market, characterised by private deals involving buying agents or sometimes directly between wealthy families. However, it is thought that at least five properties are now on sale. These include Jersey House, described by the selling agent as “an imposing newly-built ambassadorial residence” featuring eight bedroom suites, on the market at £39.95m, and the renowned Heath Hall, with its arts-and-craft style architecture, 14 bedrooms, parking for 20-plus cars – and £100m price tag (the former is listed with Knight Frank, Glentree Estates and Savills, the latter with Glentree Estates).

Heath Hall

Heath Hall: On sale for £100m

Price per square foot is not a foolproof guide in a location where values vary so much cheek-by-jowl, but costs in the avenue vary between about £1,600 per sq ft and £2,300 per sq ft.

Despite its high prices, The Bishops Avenue does not look like most enclaves for high net worth individuals. Bentleys, Rolls Royces and Maseratis are often left parked on the road, perilously close to passing traffic. There are no private street cleaning or waste collection services, giving the location a slightly unloved look on occasion.

In other words, property values may echo those of prime central London but this avenue is a far cry from the highly visible security, the subterranean parking and the hotel services offered by the latest top-end developments in Knightsbridge and Kensington.

“Buying in central London is fine if you want to shop in Sloane Square. But if you want a semi-rural lifestyle within walking distance of two golf courses, near top-class schools yet only a five minute’s helicopter journey to the City, nowhere will surpass The Bishops Avenue,” says Trevor Abrahamson, whose agency Glentree Estates has sold an estimated 300 properties throughout The Bishops Avenue over three decades.

The Bishops Avenue map

The typical high net worth owner uses a property on the avenue only occasionally, leading some to look almost unkempt. New owners also demolish and rebuild from scratch.

As a result it is hard to put an “average” price on The Bishops Avenue because each house tends to be strikingly different from the next. New developments sit next door to Arts and Crafts imitations from the 1930s, and you are never far away from another property being considered for demolition or upgrading.

“It’s difficult to categorise,” says Mark Pollack of Aston Chase, another estate agent dealing in The Bishops Avenue and nearby properties. “Some homes ask prices they’re frankly not worth. But because a few buyers really want this address, it’s possible someone will pay far above the true worth,” he says.

Other properties on sale include a 27,000 sq ft 12-bedroom, 10-bathroom house on a 1.8 acre plot at £45m and a four-bedroom, four-bathroom apartment with a pool on sale at £6.75m (through Knight Frank and Glentree Estates), plus a 6,500 sq ft house with six bedrooms and five bathrooms on a corner plot at £6.95m (through Knight Frank).

However, not everyone believes the allure of The Bishop’s Avenue is enduring. Jo Eccles, who runs central London buying agency Sourcing Property, recently acted for a client looking for a Hampstead home. “He was 35 and wanted something in Hampstead Village itself. He didn’t even mention the avenue. Why would he? He wanted something accessible, modern and stylish instead,” she says.

Her experience is echoed by other buying agents – some of whom say the ostentation of The Bishops Avenue now looks slightly dated.

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Buying guide

Pros

● Occupies a rare location bridging urban lifestyle and rural space

● Family friendly infrastructure with international schools nearby

● Opportunities to build homes from scratch with few planning constraints

Cons

● The address carries a reputation of ostentatious wealth

● It lacks the obvious security of a private road or one-site development

● Traffic between north London to the City can get congested

What you can buy for ...

£100,000 Half of a shared-ownership two-bedroom flat in nearby Finchley – you own 50 per cent and pay rent on the remainder to a housing association

£1m A small three-bedroom house or a two-bedroom apartment in Hampstead Garden Suburb

Contacts

● Aston Chase, www.astonchase.com

● Glentree Estates, www.glentree.co.uk

● Knight Frank, www.knightfrank.com

● Sourcing Property, www.sourcingproperty.co.uk

● Savills, www.savills.com

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