You might think Hampstead Village doesn’t really need another bakery. When the Belgian chain Le Pain Quotidien opened on the high street earlier this year, there was already a branch of French patisserie group Paul down the road in one direction, and Gail’s Artisan Bakery just moments away in the other.
Yet, according to one local resident, all three bakeries are “mobbed, all day, every day”, which may have something to do with the rise in French residents in NW3 over the past few years, since the private Collège Français Bilingue de Londres opened in nearby Kentish Town in 2011.
One agent, Simon Power, a partner at Knight Frank, who has worked in the area for about 16 years, estimates 15 per cent of his buyers are now from France, while research from estate agency Savills shows 28 per cent of the Hampstead market for properties priced up to £1m is made up of buyers from western Europe.
“For the past two to three years we’ve had a lot of French tenants in this part of north London. But in the past six to nine months, they’ve suddenly started buying. They were coming to London anyway, because of the more favourable tax regime [a 75 per cent income tax on high earners was a key election pledge when President François Hollande took office in France in 2012] but the French school has been a big draw to this area.”
It doesn’t hurt, of course, that Hampstead, just beneath the 800-acre Hampstead Heath – which features three bathing ponds, for men, women and one mixed – is one of the most desirable locations in the capital. It may not be a global status symbol in the same way as Chelsea or Mayfair, but for many, the area offers a village lifestyle within striking distance of the City: leafy, peaceful streets with rows of Georgian cottages and splendid Regency houses, as well as Edwardian and Victorian stock, and some modern developments.
Former Hampstead residents include John Keats and John Constable, and throughout the 20th century the area attracted well-heeled members of the intelligentsia. Novelist Evelyn Waugh is said to have walked up the hill from Golders Green to post his letters in the village so they bore a more prestigious Hampstead postmark. Today, creative types would struggle to afford much – a two-bedroom flat could easily set you back more than £1m – but a cultured, bohemian air remains.
Many of the most expensive streets are those close to the high street, north of the Tube station: Greenaway Gardens, Redington Road and Templewood Avenue, for instance.
Knight Frank and Aston Chase are selling a stunning Georgian house just moments from the high street and the heath for £6.5m. The six-bedroom property on Elm Row is the home of Lord Mitchell, senior business adviser in the House of Lords, and was once home to Sir Henry Cole, founder of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Away from the village, the French influx is causing a push southeast towards Kentish Town, where the school is making streets near the South End Green loop more popular. “I suspect this will become a French enclave in time,” says Power.
One of the appeals of Hampstead over somewhere with more bling, such as Mayfair, is its high percentage of owner-occupiers. Savills notes that 71 per cent of properties are registered as a main residence rather than a second home or investment property. In Mayfair the figure is 37 per cent.
In general, the property market in Hampstead did not suffer the same fluctuations as other parts of London in the downturn, says local agent Mark Pollack, of Aston Chase.
Research from Savills shows that prime property prices have grown 44.5 per cent over the past five years. However, the so-called “super-prime” market has cooled significantly and there are now few transactions between £10m and £20m.
Meanwhile, homes on The Bishops Avenue, or “Billionaires’ Row”, have made headlines – with expensive properties bought as investments laying empty for years – and vendors struggled to sell. Knight Frank has had Heath Hall, a 27,000 sq ft, 14-bedroom Edwardian mansion on The Bishops Avenue, with a price of £65m, on its books for more than a year.
“Sometimes we’ve found ourselves almost having to invent room definitions when there are so many extra ones. We once sold a house with a ‘sushi bar room’,” says Power.
Yet, tastes are changing. “We’ve noticed less interest in huge houses,” says Pollack. “Because valuation became based on square feet, buyers once looked to add space to their properties above all else. But space is less important. People want a villagey feel, with patisseries, schools and views. In Hampstead Village, most things have barely changed for a century, and that’s what gives it its magic.”
● Prime property prices in Hampstead are forecast to rise 6 per cent this year, according to Savills
● Crime has fallen 22 per cent in Hampstead over the past three years, according to the Metropolitan Police
● Hampstead is 15 minutes on the Tube from Leicester Square, in the capital’s theatre district
What you can buy for …
£500,000 A one-bedroom flat in a Victorian terrace or 1930s block
£1m-£2m A three-bedroom cottage or large apartment in a sought-after street such as Redington Road
£10m-plus A detached home with seven bedrooms or more, possibly including a sushi bar room
Photograph: Jeremy Hoare/Alamy