The riverside suburb of Richmond, nine miles from central London on the south bank of the Thames, has a long record of attracting wealthy buyers. Edward Longshanks – King Edward I – moved his court to nearby Sheen in 1299 and, in 1501, Henry VII built Richmond Palace as a weekend retreat, with space for hunting, jousting and other sports.
“It was a kind of playground for royalty,” says Richard Marsh, of buying agents Property Vision. “Though it is very family-orientated now, it’s always been gentrified and the house prices you get here reflect that – so, too, does the market’s resilience.”
After the crash in 2008, prices for prime properties in Richmond – those priced at more than £1m – dropped 16.4 per cent to their low point in 2009, according to figures from Savills. Over the same period, nearby Fulham fell 25.4 per cent, Clapham 27 per cent and Putney 29.8 per cent. Luke Ellwood, of Knight Frank, says: “The principal reason for Richmond’s strong performance is that we attract a lot of families who buy a house, their family grows up in it, and they can keep it for 20 or 30 years. A lot of properties are locked away from the market for a long time, so you don’t get the drops that you see elsewhere.”
Richmond recouped all of its downturn losses by 2010, and since then prices have continued to rise, and are now about 30 per cent higher than their pre-crash peak, according to Savills.
However, while price rises have been consistently strong, agents have noticed that, since the downturn, the market has changed in other ways.
“We’ve definitely seen the buyer profile diversify quite a lot,” says Ellwood, “from a more traditional, British buyer, to one who may pop up from anywhere in the world.”
“There’s no real ‘typical buyer’ in Richmond any more,” says Marsh. “German families have for many years been attracted to the German School in nearby Petersham.
“There is a strong local market but also buyers from the Middle East and Russia who have been priced out of central London; and you see movie stars too – Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie rented a house a few years ago as it’s near Shepperton Studios.”
Prices in Richmond typically range from £500,000 for a one-bedroom flat near the town centre to about £2m to £4.5m for a four- or five-bedroom family home in a desirable street such as Richmond Hill, which has sought-after views of the river. Such a view, according to Savills’ Matthew Thompson, can add a premium of between 10 per cent and 20 per cent to the value of a home.
“People say the secret to being in Richmond is being on Richmond Hill,” says Marsh. “There are some lovely early-Victorian family homes there that always sell well.”
Savills is selling a two-bedroom apartment on Richmond Hill, with views of the river, for £1.69m.
The top of the hill has another draw for buyers, in the form of 2,500-acre Richmond Park, which has wild red and fallow deer roaming the grounds. Free and paid-for events are organised throughout the year for locals and visitors, such as the free guided tour of the park being offered this weekend.
On Queens Road, backing on to the park, Winkworth is selling a five-bedroom, detached house with an indoor pool and separate self-contained studio for £6.5m.
For Marsh, though, the real gems in Richmond are not the clusters of smart town houses on and around Richmond Hill but the individual homes that crop up now and again, such as The Old Garden, a newly built, 20,000 sq ft house set in more than three acres, designed by Quinlan Terry to look like a Palladian country mansion, that sold two years ago for more than £40m. Another example is Clarence House, a seven-bedroom property, which sold last year for more than £13m.
“Richard Attenborough’s old house, Old Friars, sold about two years ago and has now found itself back on the market,” says Marsh. “It is a wonderful house, looking over Richmond Green.”
Savills is marketing Old Friars, which is located on the edge of the Green – a 12-acre plot of recreational space surrounded by some of Richmond’s oldest houses. The property has 10 bedrooms in total – spread throughout the main house and the separate four-bedroom Beaver Lodge – as well as offices and a cinema building, and is on sale for £12.75m.
The only brake on the market in Richmond is the shortage of stock, according to Ellwood. “There are never enough houses coming to market,” he says.
“With protected land and the fact that a lot of the buildings have Grade I or Grade II-listed status, there’s not much opportunity to build many more.”
One development bucking the trend is the Quadrant, 18 newly converted one- and two-bedroom apartments near Richmond railway station, on sale for between £500,000 and £800,000.
Savills, which is marketing the apartments, says 12 have already been sold, split 50-50 between owner-occupiers and investors.
However, there could be another dark cloud on the horizon – and the reason why Savills predicts house prices in Richmond will achieve no growth over the next 12 months, something the local market hasn’t seen since 2009.
“The prime central [London] market has been doing very well but it is starting to slow a little, and our market here is directly connected to those buyers,” says Thompson.
“At the top of the food chain, if someone’s buying in central London, the chance of that seller potentially moving to us is very high. So, if that first purchase doesn’t happen for some reason, or if the market is cooling down, that could affect our market and probably will do in the next year or so.”
How to get a home in a royal park
Anyone wanting to feel like they have joined a royal hunting party of old, might wish to consider renting a lodge in one of the Crown’s London parks, be it Richmond, Hyde, Kensington Gardens, Greenwich, Regent’s or Bush.
They all have properties scattered throughout them that, in recent years, have been leased on the open market.
“We started the rental programme in 2007 to make better use of some of the old buildings we had – and to generate some income,” says Greg McErlean, director of programmes and projects for the Royal Parks, estimating that the annual profit made by the 20 rental lodges is in the region of £800,000.
“The lodges rent much like any other property,” says Matthew Hobbs, of Savills, the agency that controls their rental and management. “Residents need to be aware these are public places and you’re likely to get members of the public strolling through what is effectively your back garden first thing in the morning.”
The six lodges in Richmond Park rent for between £2,000 per calendar month (PCM) and more than £6,000 – although prices can go up to £12,500 PCM in Hyde Park. “Currently all the properties in Richmond are let,” says McErlean, “though we are just about to start refurbishing White Ash Lodge, which should come to the market next summer.”
This Grade II-listed, four-bedroom lodge dates from the 1730s and is one of the oldest in the park.
“Lodges get snapped up quickly,” says Hobbs, who thinks that at any one time he has a waiting list of about a dozen people keen to rent one.
Those lucky enough to sign a lease can be secretive too – a couple who spoke to the Financial Times about their three-bedroom lodge in Richmond Park wanted to remain anonymous. “We have lived here for only six weeks and love it,” the tenant says. “It’s like we’ve stumbled across a hidden gem that no one knows about. Now a lot of our friends are logging on to the parks’ website, looking to see if any others are available.”
At present, there is only one on the market: a three-bedroom lodge in Bushy Park, available through Savills for £3,500 per month.
The crime rate for Richmond upon Thames is much lower than the London average, with 55.56 offences per 1,000 inhabitants in the year ending March 2014, against the Metropolitan Police force area average of 84.18
The German School in nearby Petersham, Harrodian School in Barnes, together with King’s House School in Richmond, are all highly regarded institutions – and significant attractions for families
Richmond is on the District line of the London Underground, with Tube journeys to the City taking about 40 minutes
From the centre of Richmond, Twickenham Stadium – where the England rugby team play their home matches – is just a 10-minute drive away
What you can buy for . . .
£500,000 A small, one-bedroom flat near Richmond rail station
£2m A four-bedroom, terraced house near Richmond Park
£10m A six-bedroom, Grade II-listed, Georgian home near Richmond Green with views of the Thames
Photographs: Irek/4Corners; Banana Pancake/Alamy