London is back in its stride this week as the summer holiday season fades and the school year starts. For many, the return to work means a return to the daily commuter grind. One way of beating the hassle and expense of Tube, train or traffic is to become a walk-to-work commuter by living in a neighbourhood close to the office, or even using a “Boris bike”.
Apart from quality-of-life reasons, it often makes sound financial sense to buy in a lively business district where there is life after office hours — the investment potential is good because of steady demand.
The West End and the City are London’s main employment centres. Traditionally, the residential population in these places has been small, but increasingly, developers are carving out good-value homes in villagey central neighbourhoods such as Fitzrovia, a former rag trade district now popular with advertising agencies.
Also, regeneration is creating new white-collar areas in other parts of London. Usually, new office communities lead to better local amenities. Areas become more attractive places to live, encouraging developers to step in and build more homes, which boosts values, so it can pay to get in early.
Paddington, with its swish canalside office buildings and fast Heathrow link, has several thousand new homes. King’s Cross is getting 2,000 new homes plus four million square feet of office, retail and leisure space. Stratford, a mega enterprise zone boosted by the 2012 Olympics, will have more than 5,000 new homes. Redevelopment of White City is a new business address for west London, while Victoria is no longer just for civil servants.
“Midtown” — sandwiched between the Square Mile and Covent Garden — has been colonised by law and accountancy firms. Boutiques and pavement cafés are sprouting up alongside new homes. The Shard of Glass at London Bridge is poised to become a business hub in its own right. This will be Europe’s tallest skyscraper when completed in summer 2012, a “vertical village” of flats, offices, shops and hotel rooms.
“The number of walk-to-walk commuters has increased significantly since the terrorist bombings in July 2005. Personal safety, transport hassles and longer working hours are influencing property-buying decisions,” says Andrew Palmer, director of property consultant DTZ.
“A lot of people want a modest crashpad for weekdays. But there is growing demand for bigger and better apartments where people can properly set up home and feel part of the city. It’s a lifestyle thing.”
Clerkenwell in the city
Living in the Square Mile used to boil down to a Barbican apartment or a pied-à-terre in an outdated office conversion. No longer. Busy bankers can now buy a home at a swish new concierge scheme such as The Heron, a 36-storey black glass tower with 284 apartments due for completion in 2013. The lower floors will provide a new home for the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Prices from £450,000. Call estate agent Alan Selby on 020 7519 5900.
Even Clerkenwell-style lofts have arrived in the City. Tapestry Building, a Georgian warehouse built by the East India Company to store precious goods has been turned into 14 very tasteful apartments, on sale from September 23.
Interiors designed by architect Johnson Naylor mix modern finishes — ash floors and doors, glass walls — with the building’s listed fabric of vaulted timber ceilings, cast-iron columns, exposed brick and cargo doors. They are big apartments, ranging from 1,400 to 3,500sq ft, with an open-plan living space, concealed storage, walk-in wardrobes and utility room. Prices start at £1.4 million. Call 0845 474 1771.
The address is New Street, a pedestrianised lane that leads into Devonshire Square, an attractive courtyard office and retail complex. This is the eastern edge of the Square Mile, bordering colourful and vibrant Spitalfields, a convenient diversion from the pinstriped City proper. City values — no more than £1,000 a square foot — are still quite a bit lower than the best locations.
Frobisher Crescent is a refurbishment of an original Barbican block previously used as offices, with 69 new apartments priced from £390,000. Call Hamilton Brooks on 020 7606 8000.
Canary Wharf, with about 100,000 employees, is an expanding commercial centre. The local housing market has rebounded from the low point reached following the banking crisis nearly two years ago. Today, new apartments are typically about 20 per cent cheaper than the price developers sold them for “off-plan” at the peak of the boom. This price correction, together with renewed banking sector confidence, has triggered a fresh wave of buying.
Two decades after Canary Wharf arrived on the map as a business district, the area is finally maturing into an attractive residential neighbourhood. It caters mainly for singles and couples, though increasingly families are settling in Docklands. Schooling options are limited, but it is a relatively safe environment and the waterfront amenities make it a good place for children. Houses are scarce and tend to hold their value well.
The Landmark comprises two towers on Marsh Wall — 650 flats in total. Launching on September 25 is the East Tower. Prices from £260,000. Call King Sturge on 020 7078 7981.