Kingston upon Thames has a dual identity. Its leafy streets are home to some of Britain’s most expensive properties, but it is a measure of the area’s low profile that the majority of people know the London borough not for its housing, but for its shops.
Kingston’s centre – dominated by Bentalls department store – includes 500 shops, from large department stores to small independent traders. Together, they attract about 20m visitors per year – 10 per cent of them from overseas – according to Kingston’s chamber of commerce.
Shoppers spend more in this retail centre than in than in any other part of southeast England aside from London’s West End. The shops have a substantial physical and economic impact on Kingston, which is 10 miles southwest of central London and is one of the capital’s smallest boroughs with only 165,000 residents.
Most locals live in a housing market dominated by small two- and three-bedroom terraced and semi-detached houses, many Victorian, selling for £350,000 to £600,000 depending on proximity to the Thames and the railway station. This market has performed well with prices rising by more than 14 per cent in the past year, according to the Land Registry.
A very different market exists in the matrix of private streets and gated communities just east of Kingston’s shopping quarter. Here, houses are up to 15,000 sq ft in size on plots ranging from a third of an acre to two acres. Homes in this area cost between £2m and £15m to buy, or up to £25,000 a month to rent. Bulldozers and builders’ skips identify where older homes are being demolished to make way for new mansions.
“It’s like prime central London but with even larger houses, much more outside space, fewer planning constraints and an infrastructure that’s good for families and for privacy,” says Dominic Pasqua, head of the local office of estate agent Knight Frank. Pasqua has worked the Kingston sales market for eight years and says three specific locations attract high-end buyers.
First, there is Coombe, including the Coombe Hill estate, where some homes overlook one of the two prestigious local golf courses. Second, there are the streets backing on to Richmond Park, one of the largest open spaces and horseriding areas in Greater London. And, third, the properties on and near to Kingston Hill.
In reality, all the homes in these addresses sit within a square mile or so of the prestigious KT2 postcode. They attract roughly the same price per sq ft and each location has seen significant capital appreciation even during the downturn. “There’s a 7,000 sq ft house in Coombe which sold in 2008 for £3.7m. It’s been kept immaculately with no significant changes and I’ve just valued it at £6m. It may get more when it eventually comes on sale,” says Pasqua.
The market for this enclave – which has had international buyers for more than 30 years, initially from the Middle East, but now also from Scandinavia, North America and Europe – has not been problem-free. Properties over £2m sold poorly in 2012 after stamp duty increases – “but that’s changed as confidence has improved,” says Pasqua. He says interest in properties below £2m is now “raging” while sales between £2m and £4m are improving. Buyers for homes north of £4m, however, can still be hard to find.
Richard Marsh, of the buying agency Property Vision, says high-end sales are slow because, unlike other prime markets, there is typically plenty of stock. Pockets of central London often have only a handful of homes but website Primelocation lists more than 30 Kingston homes on sale above £2m, many marketed with multiple agencies.
“You could buy a plot with a 1920s property to knock down and rebuild for £2m to £3m. Some £5m should buy a sizeable family home of over 5,500 sq ft. There are also a handful of new-build, 15,000 sq ft houses, that are finished or still under construction, sitting on plots of half an acre or less with asking prices between £10m and £15m,” says Marsh.
Coomtata, a newly built 12,000 sq ft, seven-bedroom house with an indoor pool is on sale with Chesterton Humberts and Knight Frank for £8.95m. Fernbank, a six-bedroom, 8,300 sq ft property being built by Octagon Homes, is being offered by Knight Frank for £6.75m. Kylemore House is a six-bedroom, 8,800 sq ft new-build, with an indoor pool, gym and guest flat. It is on sale with Savills and Coombe Residential for £8.5m.
Local agents insist these prices represent good value, as they are up to 40 per cent cheaper than comparable homes in prime central London, where gardens are a rarity, and about 25 per cent less than homes in neighbouring Wimbledon and Richmond.
However, unlike Kingston, both Richmond and Wimbledon possess many well-preserved large period homes. And, critically, both have the fashionable intimate village feel lacking in Kingston itself, where global retail brands and private estates dominate. “£800 per sq ft is average for high-end in Kingston. The same houses in Wimbledon and Richmond average £1,000 per sq ft,” says Chris Firth of Chesterton Humberts.
In addition to lower prices, buyers are also attracted to Kingston because of its schools. Independent Rokeby and Holy Cross prep schools and Marymount International School sit inside Coombe Hill estate. The area’s accessibility is also appealing: it is a 50-minute drive to Gatwick airport and slightly less to Heathrow, using the A3 and M25, while frequent trains to Waterloo station in central London take just over 30 minutes.
However, as values have appreciated, public transport has become less important to buyers, says Knight Frank’s Dominic Pasqua.
“Increasingly, residents have their own drivers, taking them to the City or airport at 5am,” he says. “That’s the kind of place Kingston has become in recent years. It’s really something of a success story.”
● 754 crimes were reported in Kingston in December 2013, of which a third involved antisocial behaviour and 6 per cent were burglaries
● Homes near busy roads can struggle to sell because of the noise
● Kingston council is set to spend £30m on improving cycling facilities
What you can buy for . . .
£1m: A four-bedroom, detached house with garden in north Kingston
£4m: A 4,000 sq ft house to modernise or demolish and rebuild
£8m: A 10,000 sq ft high-spec home with about an acre of land