There is something terribly English about 15 Acacia Road, St John’s Wood, northwest London. Not just the street name but also the house – a red-brick edifice with a portico and sash windows. Rather suburban, in fact, and this is appropriate because locals and estate agents all describe St John’s Wood as the last suburb before central London – an area characterised by villas and wide, leafy streets.
Don’t be fooled. Number 15 might look unexceptional but with an asking price of £35m, it is in the property ionosphere that is prime London, a market buoyed by the influx of the famous and the foreigner.
Inside, every inch of its 10,500 sq ft conforms to the demands of the international buyer – the minimalist design, the leather-lined lift and all the toys: the pool, the gym, the play area and a cinema. Marketed by Beauchamp Estates, it is reminiscent of a hotel, spa and office suite all rolled together.
As Liam Bailey, head of residential research at the estate agent Knight Frank, explains: “Central London prices ended the year higher by 10.3 per cent compared to December 2009 with the market in St John’s Wood 40 per cent up on 2006. This strong demand has been underpinned by the weak pound, which amounts to a discount of 25 per cent against the dollar compared to the market peak in 2008.”
The price band with the strongest performance has been between £1m and £5m, so with average prices in St John’s Wood at £1,486,414, according to the site Home.co.uk, the area is bucking the national trend.
So popular has St John’s Wood proved over five or six years that the number of foreign buyers has risen to 60 per cent of the total, attracted to a suburb which is largely a conservation area with a mix of Regency, Palladian and nondescript 1970s townhouses. Once part of the Great Middlesex Forest, it was developed from the early 19th century onwards. It has a High Street as cosy and familiar as you would expect to find in, say, Godalming in Surrey, the streets are often wide and leafy and it butts on to Regent’s Park and Primrose Hill.
St John’s Wood has good transport links, including the Jubilee underground line direct to Canary Wharf and the express train service to Heathrow airport from Paddington, and it has national treasures on its doorstep such as Lord’s Cricket Ground and the zebra crossing on Abbey Road where hundreds gather every day to recreate the Beatles’ album cover.
The place is well served with prep schools such as Saint Christina’s for girls up to 11 (boys up to seven); Abercorn, a mixed school, and the boys-only Arnold House. Above all, it is the location of the American School which attracts many US buyers and renters to the district.
Rosy Khalastchy of Beauchamp Estates says: “Foreign buyers tend to look at Belgravia and Knightsbridge first, then come here. Everyone is well served by private hospitals, synagogues, mosques and churches. Of the US residents, 95 per cent send their children to the American School.”
According to Khalastchy, St John’s Wood can, roughly speaking, be divided into the east and west sides of Wellington Road. The most expensive street is Avenue Road, where prices range from £15m to £25m, but more affordable properties can be found in St Stephens Close and Avenue Close, where prices start at £2m.
The west side of Wellington Road has enviable roads such as Cavendish Avenue, Marlborough Place and tree-lined Hamilton Terrace. Many of the properties were broken into flats but are now being put back to their original grandeur. Few are more grand than 98 Hamilton Terrace – all 9,000 sq ft of it – with its orangerie, wine cellar, pool with bar and staff quarters – for an asking price of £17.75m.
More attainable at £1.195m are the two-bedroom flats on Chesterton Humberts’ books in the Yoo Building in nearby Hall Road.
If the area breaks naturally along the divide of the Wellington Road, some of the most sought-after properties are to the south, on Prince Albert Road. Most of the living here is in blocks of flats. Northgate mansions has good-sized rooms and can command prices between £2m and £3m. Park View, which has only six flats, is popular with foreign buyers who are prepared to pay £4.5m. The flats are big – 2,500 sq ft – and there is underground parking, but a service charge of £30,000 a year.
Undoubtedly, the shortage of supply has contributed to the steady rise in prices and apart from the planned demolition of the army barracks on Ordnance Hill, which has been the subject of a £700m bid by the enterprising Finchhatton outfit to build 133 homes, new developments are rare. One is Embassy Court on Wellington Road, where prices start at £3.5m for a three-bedroom flat.
“We have sold to long-term investors from the USA, Nigeria and Croatia,” says Rob Sonning of developers Londonewcastle. “London is the best city in the world to live with more wealth coming here now than 2006 because, with the chaos in Europe, people can park their pounds here and feel safe.”
“But what it means is the gap between rich and poor is greater than ever.”
● Lord’s Cricket Ground
● Access to parks and a feeling of space
● Easy Tube journey to the west end and Canary Wharf
● Eclectic architecture
● Heavy traffic on Wellington Road
● Property is expensive
● Limited shopping and average restaurants
Comparison of prices with five years ago: 40.1 per cent higher
Comparison of prices with one year ago: 4 per cent higher
What you can buy for
● £100,000: a 1970s studio flat in Grove Hall Court in need of renovation (£159,500)
● £1m: a three-bedroom flat on Abbey Road
Beauchamp Estates, +44 (0)20 7722 9793
Knight Frank, +44 (0)20 7586 2777
Chesterton Humberts, +44 (0)20 7286 4632
Embassy Court: www.embassycourtnw8.co.uk, through Aston Chase, +44 (0)20 7724 4724