June 24, 2011 10:03 pm

Home is where the Heath is

As early as the 18th century, Hampstead was the destination of choice for those seeking pleasure, rest and repose in north London. Now, 300 years later, very little has changed. Residents may no longer go there for the healing waters that once brought the area fame as a spa town but they do still come to escape the frenetic city centre.

Hampstead’s inhabitants include celebrities, footballers, industrialists and oligarchs, and its properties are varied enough to suit both old and modern tastes. At its heart is a historic village of listed cottages and grand townhouses; on its northerly edges are new mansions with large gardens, staff quarters and sweeping driveways.

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Its main attraction is undoubtedly the Heath. With 790 acres of woodland, formal grounds and fields, it is a rural haven and arguably the most desirable of all London’s outdoor spaces. Kite-fliers congregate at the top of Parliament Hill; walkers take in panoramic views over the city; wild-swimmers gather at the bathing ponds; and bird-watchers go in search of the ring-necked parakeets that have bred in the area.

“Hampstead has always been an almost unique spot in the world in terms of metropolises,” says Trevor Abrahmsohn of Glentree estate agents, who has been selling property in the area since the 1970s. “You can still have two or three acres or, in some cases, 11 acres, and yet live 15 minutes from the West End. And it will cost a third of the price you’ll pay in Knightsbridge or Kensington or Mayfair.”

Hampstead house prices

Nibs Lakhani, a director at Goldschmidt & Howland estate agents, says the average buyer registering with the agency has a budget of around £3m, and properties at that price are selling quickly. “Recently we put a house on the market for £2.5m. We had 46 viewers in 10 days and seven offers above the guide price.” At the top end of the market, properties priced nearer £15m or more are also moving, although Lakhani says top-price houses often change hands quietly with little or no publicity.

Lakhani says £2m will buy you a townhouse with a small garden, five floors and 1,600-1,800 sq ft, “if you’re lucky”. Goldschmidt & Howland are selling a Georgian house on Hampstead Grove, a few minutes’ walk from the heart of the village, for £2.5m. It has three bedrooms and numerous period features. If that isn’t big enough, they are selling a large arts-and-crafts house on Well Walk for £13.5m. It has four floors, a billiards room, a music room, a library, a half-acre garden and off-street parking.

There is a big international community – including many French and American families – but they are less transient than in other parts of London. “You get areas like Kensington and Chelsea where it is international but people come for two or three years,” says Lakhani. “Most people here tend to stay. You don’t move from here to another part of London.”

Map of Hampstead

Although Hampstead village is fairly busy in the evenings – in summer, al fresco eating is de rigueur – there is little nightlife. “Bars around here that had late licences received complaints,” says Lakhani. “It is not that kind of area. Young people really can’t afford to live here. A one-bedroom flat probably costs £400,000 to £500,000.”

Instead of bars, there are historic pubs: the Spaniards Inn, a drinking haunt of Keats and Byron, built around 1585, where Dick Turpin’s father was the landlord; the Holly Bush, which until recently still had gas-lamps, and the Wells Tavern, on one of the prettiest roads in Hampstead village.

While English buyers are usually drawn to the historic village, with its designer boutiques and cafés, the outer areas of Hampstead are popular with overseas buyers, particularly from Russia and the Middle East. “The English who understand it and love it for what it is will pay a premium for old Hampstead,” Abrahmsohn says. “In Kenwood you get better value because you get more land for the same money. You won’t get a Middle Eastern purchaser or an Indian purchaser buying in old Hampstead because they want some clout for their buck. They will buy in Kenwood, where you can get the carriage drive, the neo-Georgian look and majestic proportions.”

The more northerly areas such as Kenwood and Hampstead Garden Suburb have long been popular with English industrialists such as George Sainsbury and Billy Butlin, who both lived on The Bishops Avenue, often nicknamed “Millionaires’ Row”. “We are selling a property in The Bishops Avenue that was the former home of the Lyle family of Tate & Lyle,” Abrahmsohn says. The area has long been associated with celebrities. Elizabeth Taylor was born in Wildwood Road and in the 1970s Ringo Starr bought a house on Compton Avenue, the road that Lulu lived on for many years.

Houses outside the main village lack period features but make up for it in bling. Compton Lodge on Compton Avenue is on the market with Glentree and Knight Frank for £13.95m. The buyer will get more than 8,000 sq ft, Philippe Starck bathrooms, a wine cellar and a separate gym complex that could also be used for staff quarters.

Yet for some, the charm of the village is irresistible. Vanessa Pinto moved to England from South Africa more than 10 years ago. She and her partner recently bought a Victorian house in old Hampstead. “I like the quirkiness,” she says, “and we can cross over the road into the Heath.”

Pinto herself does not have children but finds the large number of families “appealing”. “It is quite a settled area,” she says. She, too, plans to stay in Hampstead: “The greenery and the air are the big draw. It feels healthier. It feels comfortable and homely.”

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Buying guide

Pros

● Beautiful historic houses

● Green spaces and woodland of the Heath

Cons

● Flooded with tourists in summer

● Parking in the village is difficult

What you can buy for

£220,000 upwards: a studio flat

£1m: a three-bedroom garden apartment

Contacts

Glentree, tel: +44 (0)20 8458 7311; www.glentree.co.uk

Goldschmidt & Howland, tel: +44 (0)20 7435 4404; www.gh.co.uk

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