Crowd funding is driving demand for small new homes developments in London - and they're tempting buyers back to the city centre

Londoners who don’t want to be part of a giant regeneration scheme in the capital are buying into small developments that come with an appealing personal touch.

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The drive towards “small is beautiful” developments is being boosted by crowd funding, a form of financing that raises modest amounts of cash from thousands of individuals to provide a pool of money that builders can use.

Funding Circle, one of the new marketplace lending platforms, raised £100 million last year, helping to build more than 600 homes in the capital, including a seven-apartment scheme in Ealing by developer Uplift Property, which made use of a £2.1 million loan financed by 30,198 investors.

Typically, the schemes have fewer than 20 homes and appeal to buyers who want to be part of a community with more individuality. 

“They would rather be one of 10 than one of 100,” says Jamie Gunning, director of property consultant CBRE, which reports there are more such London projects than at any time in living memory.

​Developers and estate agents say discreet yet glamorous developments have more cachet and better resale values than larger projects. 


The "Great Inversion": city-centre living returns
The jump in the number of boutique homes is also linked to the revival of city-centre living. For 10 years, London has been undergoing a form of what American commentators call the “Great Inversion” — the return of people, housing and highly-paid jobs to city centres. 

Often, buyers work in the City or the creative sector. They are not first-time buyers, and include downsizers whose kids have flown the nest and who want to enjoy an interesting home and the London lifestyle.

Developers in this mould are not searching in the traditional rich enclaves for land, but turning to areas such as Westminster, Covent Garden and Holborn, sometimes with selling prices starting from £500,000. 


The Anello Building, Camden.  A former warehouse conversion of 22 apartment from £625,000. Agents: Hatton Real Estate and Aston Chase

Buyers who want bigger developments tend to have different needs and motives. The package of amenities on offer — such as a gym, spa, underground parking, on-site bars and eateries — is considered important by them, whereas small-site buyers tend to be more interested in the architecture  of a building and the quality of the  interior design. 

“We take on small, more complex sites that volume house builders are not interested in, to create highly individual homes,” says Richard Leslie, boss of niche developer Dukelease, which has a handful of projects under way in the West End. 

“Often the homes are above street-level shops. We select retailers to make sure there is a good fit with what residents want.”

From £2 million: flats at handsome Beau House in Jermyn Street, St James's, complete next year

Niche homes boom
Beau House
in Jermyn Street, St James’s, is named after Beau Brummell, the celebrated arbiter of men’s fashion in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The handsome building has an anonymous-looking entrance that opens into an opulent lobby, above which are eight apartments completing next year, priced from £2 million. 

Covent Garden’s numerous over-the-shop projects include The Tavistock, next to Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Here, an Edwardian office building has been split into four apartments, each with a lobby and lift access from the foyer. Prices from £3.5 million. Call CBRE on 020 7240 2255.

£3.5 million: The Tavistock, next to the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, has four flats in converted Edwardian offices

The Grays, in  Holborn’s legal zone, has 13 flats priced from £895,000. Call 020 7182 2394. 

“These buildings tend to attract owner-occupiers rather than buy-to-let investors,” says Matt Cobb of Hatton  Real Estate, which operates in City-fringe districts.

A crop of boutique projects includes a Victorian “weights and measures” warehouse in Rosebery Avenue, EC1, that is being split into eight high-ceiling apartments priced from £795,000, while a Camden pub conversion project, in Pakenham Street, has four apartments priced from £495,000. Call  020 7101 2020. 

“I looked at more than a dozen larger developments, but found them too overwhelming,” says Christine Jenkins, 40, a lawyer who lives in a 10-apartment block in Bermondsey. “I moved in about a year ago and have got to know all my neighbours — some have become friends.”

Character counts: period buildings with contemporary design
Jo Eccles, founder of property search agency Sourcing Property, says there is huge appetite for small developments. “Often they are listed period buildings and, when imaginatively refurbished, provide a wonderful mix of character and contemporary design,” she adds. “Usually, homes are bought by local people rather than sold at roadshows overseas to investors.”

The address One Highgate says everything about the status of this  boutique scheme of 15 homes on the slopes of north London. Big, lateral flats in a handsome red-brick mansion block with underground parking, a swimming pool and concierge cost from £1.6 million. Call 020 8458 7311.

£6.25 million: a three-bedroom apartment at One Highgate in N6, a boutique development of 15 flats. Through Savills (020 8012 3124)

St John’s Wood is an unblighted residential district with a high street full of cafés, boutiques and bistros bordering Regent’s Park. At 15 Grove End Road there are five apartments, each with a terrace. Arrive by car and, at the press of a button, the ground opens up to reveal a subterranean car park. Prices from £3,295,000. Call Savills on 020 3043 3600.

The Villas in nearby Maida Vale are eight modern townhouses clad in  mellow brick and bronze. Set behind artist-designed gates in a pretty courtyard, the homes have large roof terraces and basement media rooms. From £1,395,000. Call 020 7724 4724.

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