Islington is a mix of gritty and grand, of council housing next to mansions, in a small borough of 200,000 residents just north of Westminster and the City of London. Yet it conforms to few of the popular preconceptions about the UK capital’s housing market.
First, its average house price growth over the past decade has been below many other central locations (84 per cent compared to, say, Westminster’s 105 per cent and Kensington and Chelsea’s 112 per cent, according to Savills estate agency).
Second, its residents are not typical Londoners. The local council says 53 per cent are below 35 years of age and only 16 per cent above 55. The 2011 census shows that 59.9 per cent of residents aged 16 and above are neither married, nor living in an informal relationship with someone, nor in a same-sex civil partnership – so it has the highest proportion of singletons not only in London but anywhere throughout England or Wales.
Third, and perhaps a function of the points above, Savills says Islington’s private rented sector has grown 72 per cent in the past decade.
Today 28 per cent of its 88,000 households privately rent; add to that the 44 per cent of homes owned or operated by the council or housing associations, and that leaves only about 25,000 homes – mostly apartments – in the owner-occupied sector.
Islington has also developed a cultural significance that extends well beyond its borders, through a fashionable shabby-chic image that has endured for three decades. Former British prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown planned their ascents to power in a now-defunct Islington restaurant; streetwise novels such as Nick Hornby’s About A Boy and Zoë Heller’s Notes On A Scandal are set there; and the modest 325-seat Almeida theatre stages plays starring renowned actors like Kevin Spacey and Juliette Binoche.
Islington’s excellent public transport links – there are two Underground stations, an overground rail hub and buses – make it an easy commute to major employment areas, with interchanges at Clerkenwell, Bank, St Paul’s, King’s Cross, St Pancras and the West End. “Upper Street is the most sought-after location for higher-end renters,” says Dan Saunders, manager at Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward, a lettings agency. “The south end attracts a younger group looking for newbuilds near Angel station. The north often consists of families looking for a Georgian or Victorian property near Highbury Fields.”
He says international rental demand is limited chiefly to students, mostly those at the nearby City University, London Metropolitan and the London School of Business and Finance. For these tenants, one-bedroom apartments priced at £320-£380 per week or two bedrooms at £400-£500 are the most popular.
There have been rent rises of up to 10 per cent in the past year and 25 per cent since 2008 for these mid-market properties but prices are stickier for three-bedroom or larger units.
The overseas demand so characteristic of the rest of central London is also missing in Islington’s sales market. “There’s no established international community and no international schools. There are some second-generation Italians and Russians but they’re not significant in number,” says Jazmin Atkins of Prime Purchase, a buying agency. But she says a new Collège Français Bilingue de Londres – recently opened in Kentish Town, west of Islington – may create significant French interest in the area for the first time.
In the meantime, estate agents rely on homegrown demand for their small stock of top-end properties. “Competitive bids can be as much as 18 per cent above a realistic asking price,” claims Daniel O’Brien of Hamptons International. His agency is selling a six-bedroom Victorian semi-detached villa on Highbury Hill, one of Islington’s grandest addresses, for £2.795m. In nearby Stoke Newington, a renovated five-bedroom home with modern landscaped garden is on sale through Knight Frank for £2,799,950. Islington has a relatively large number of contemporary homes too, including a four-bedroom townhouse marketed for £1.75m in what selling agent Chesterton Humberts calls a “secure gated mews” development close to Highbury Fields.
There are around 1,000 new-build private homes set for completion in the borough over the next two years according to London Residential Research, a consultancy that monitors London’s residential sector. “Prices of schemes under construction range from £476 to £1,307 per sq ft. Top-end developments, unsurprisingly, tend to be central [near Upper Street] or waterside [Regent’s Canal],” says LRR spokesman Nigel Evans.
Almost all these new units are flats, likely to be bought by barristers or solicitors working at nearby Holborn and Lincoln’s Inn, and bankers commuting to Canary Wharf and the City.
With many families reluctant to move in – Atkins blames “a lack of good secondary schools, the council estates and no easy car routes in and out of London” – the borough’s “youthful singleton” image seems set in stone. And that means Islington’s fashionable status looks set to survive for some years yet.
● In January 2013 there were 12.47 crimes per 1,000 residents, the third-highest rate of London’s 32 boroughs
● Islington is England’s most densely populated council area with 13,875 people per sq km (2.7 times the London average)
● The Land Registry says an average terraced house in Islington costs £973,496; the average price for an apartment is £423,696
● Roads to Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium are busy on match days
What you can buy for …
£500,000: A two-bedroom ground floor apartment in Highbury
£1m: A three-bedroom terraced house, a 10-minute walk from the Tube
£5m: A rare, restored eight-bedroom house overlooking Highbury Fields