Buy in Boston or New York for a heady hit of American culture
Two of the closest US cities to London are also two of America's finest. New York and Boston are within seven hours of the UK and provide a heady hit of American culture wrapped in an easy familiarity.
The US was the first western economy to head into recession in 2006 and appears to be leading the way out of it, with its property market tentatively showing the first signs of recovery. House prices have risen for six consecutive months according to the Case-Shiller Index, now up 3.6 per cent since the same time last year, while HSBC claims that the US offers property-buying Britons the best value for money worldwide at present.
Classy Boston claims some of the finest brains in America, as the home to 60 top-flight universities and colleges, including Harvard. The economy thrives on education, healthcare, life sciences and hi-tech industries.
Logan airport, 15 minutes from the centre, is the entry point to New England with skiing in Vermont, sailing in Cape Cod and the beaches along Maine's coastline. Its history as the birthplace of the American Revolution and its vibrant arts and design scene make upmarket Boston a delight on its own. It's a handsome city with more Victorian homes than anywhere outside London, and gorgeous red-brick townhouses are threaded through the compact city centre.
"Boston is cleaner and less overwhelming than New York," says Judy Pagano of Gibson Sotheby's Realty. "It has distinct village-style neighbourhoods, buildings are lower so you get better sunlight everywhere and there is so much greenery."
The elegant townhouses of Back Bay and Beacon Hill are Boston's finest and priciest, where apartments start from £248,660 and whole houses from £1.87 million. A two-bedroom ground-floor apartment in South End in an old brownstone house with monthly service and heating charges of £136 is £301,500 while a two-bedroom 1,695sq ft first-floor apartment with high ceilings on leafy Commonwealth Avenue in the heart of Back Bay is £867,200 — both through Gibson.
In Midtown, new apartments at the contemporary W Residences with wide city views start from £1.09 million for 1,800sq ft through Christies associate Otis & Ahearn.
"Vacancy rates for rental property in Boston are under four per cent and rents have risen by 10 per cent for each of the past two years," says Robert Byrne of Otis & Ahearn. "It's generally cheaper to buy than rent, which is why property prices have recovered so well compared with elsewhere in the country."
Getting there: Boston's Logan airport is just 15 minutes from the city centre. The Acela Express high-speed train links Boston to New York in three hours.
Where to stay: check out kiwicollection.com for a selection of Boston hotels.
What to do: Boston has a symphony orchestra, a ballet company and opera house as well as several world-class museums and galleries. It's also home to two of the US's bestknown sports teams — the Red Sox and the New England Patriots.
New York's tall storeys
With space at a premium, New York will always struggle to provide enough new housing, which helps its property market weather financial storms better than most US cities. Yet with property prices still 8.8 per cent below their 2006 highs, and rental yields of 6.9 per cent possible, this is clearly a good time to consider buying in Manhattan.
"New York seems to have underperformed," says Yolande Barnes of Savills. "International buyers come from South America, the Middle East and China though in nothing like the volume seen in London. Overall, this is a market where wealthy Americans buy."
It's not an easy market for foreigners to enter, however. The majority of apartments and almost all pre-war buildings in New York are run as co-ops — where owners buy shares in the corporation that owns the building. This can make them less expensive than condominium apartments (which are closer to our leasehold property) but prospective buyers must be approved by the board of directors — an often lengthy and frustrating process requiring full financial disclosure. Foreigners are regularly refused permission to buy and even Madonna was turned down when she applied to buy in a particularly fancy New York co-op.
Barnes says: "Buyers must also watch out for ongoing management costs and local taxes which can dilute yields dramatically. It's important to look at net — not gross — yields."
The prime areas of Upper West and East Side encircling Central Park remain the priciest with penthouses in One57, currently under construction and set to be New York's tallest residential building, reaching £59 million. A good two-bedroom apartment nearby costs about £1.8 million while further south in East Village, Stribling has a two-bedroom 1,100sq ft duplex with views of the Empire State Building for £932,000.
The former no-go areas of Tribeca, Chelsea and West Village now have some of New York's coolest residents. New buildings beside the Hudson River have impressive facilities: gyms, pools and even climbing walls. Expect to pay from £932,400 for a one-bedroom flat there, says Rebecca Mason of Stribling, while in East Village a one-bedroom flat with doorman and a gym is £596,750.
* Stribling: 020 7016 3740; savills.co.uk/abroad
* Otis & Ahearn: 00 1 617 267 3500; otisahearn.com
* Gibson Sotheby's Realty: 00 1 617 257 2431; gibsonsothebysrealty.com