Property insider: Westminster, SW1
Westminster's world-famous, historic landmarks dominate London’s skyline, from the architectural masterpiece of Westminster Abbey, to the grandeur of the Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament.
The area is bordered by the Thames to the east and stretches down to Victoria station in the west. Parliament Square and St. James's Park are to the north and Vauxhall Bridge Road is both the boundary for the congestion charge and neighbouring Pimlico.
'Westminster's buy-to-let market is back with a vengeance'
Tucked away behind the major trunk roads is a secluded neighbourhood which residents have been enjoying for generations, moving between charming rows of terraces and cottages to handsome red-brick Victorian mansion blocks on elegant squares.
Vincent Square is a particular delight, overlooking Westminster School's 13 acres of inner-city green space (above), with tennis courts, four football pitches and a cricket pavilion.
There are many prized homes here that command premium prices, but estate agent Tom Prior, sales manager at Daniel Cobb in Westminster, says that the comparative good-value of properties available in this central London location means that a growing number of buy-to-let investors, international buyers and City types are discovering SW1 and its superb transport links.
Properties for sale in Westminster
Modern developments offer luxury living in portered blocks. Exciting new homes are planned throughout the area, such as the conversion of the former Magistrates Court on Horseferry Road and the redevelopment of Abel and Cleland House.
Ashley Gardens, Morpeth Mansions and Carlisle Place are grand, red-brick mansion blocks close to Victoria station offering spacious apartments with generous interiors and period features. Attractive, ex-local authority mansion blocks with improved communal areas are making popular rental investments.
Tucked away Victorian townhouses in Lord North Street, just off Smith Square, are within sight of Westminster Abbey. Vincent Square is a sought-after address and Smith Square is one of the finest local addresses where many VIPs have taken up residence. The former church is the focal point here and has been converted into a wonderful concert venue with a vaulted restaurant tucked away underneath. St John’s Garden is flanked by two popular residential blocks - St John’s and Westminster Green.
Who is buying here?
The buy-to-let market is back with a vengeance. Modern apartment blocks appeal to both international and British investors as they attract excellent long-term corporate and city tenants. There is huge demand for smart two-bedroom flats up to and around £1 million from City workers, who like the ease of the commute from Westminster to Canary Wharf via the Jubilee line. MPs tend to buy apartments in the Art Deco blocks around Marsham Street and Westminster Garden.
Given the diversity of buyers, investments in Westminster have proved strong throughout the downturn, with average sale prices rising up to 15-20 per cent since the 'peak' of 2007. Despite this, prices can still compare quite well to neighbouring Belgravia and other parts of central London.
What are the 'hottest' properties?
St. John's Buildings and 68 Vincent Square come with excellent building services. Westminster Gardens and Marsham Court are excellent value with many of these properties offering scope for refurbishment.
Demand is strong for the large two-bedroom flats that overlook the gardens at Westminster Green. Residents have a share of the freehold and excellent value for the service charges.
Where are the 'hidden gems'?
The streets around Smith Square, just south of Parliament Square, are hidden gems and properties are rarely available. Homes can still be purchased for between £1,000 a sq ft and £1,350 a sq ft, depending on the internal condition.
On the south side of St. James's Park there are exceptional townhouses with good proportions. Old Queen Street, Birdcage Walk and Queen Anne’s Gate are particularly sought after, although a prime house with views of St. James's Park will command £10 million-plus.
What are the best investment opportunities?
Some of the ex-local authority buildings are surprisingly handsome and represent good value. While recently-built developments command upwards of £1,000 a sq ft nearby, these can be bought in the same convenient location, but requiring refurbishment, for £500 a sq ft.
The red-brick buildings on Page Street and Regency Street are also popular with buy-to-let investors. Two-bedroom apartments have recently sold for £375,000 and can be rented out for £350-£400 a week, reflecting strong rental yields.
How is local parking?
Many of the modern developments have secure underground parking, with additional spaces available for residents to rent privately for about £50 a week. In the townhouse areas, permit parking is available but it does get difficult close to Victoria station.
What are service charges in the area like?
Many factors contribute to service charge. A smaller building will have less residents to share the costs. An older building will typically require more maintenance. The more employees and services within a development, the more expensive it will be. For a good two-bedroom flat of about 1,000sq ft, expect to pay anything from £3,000 to £8,000 a year, so it is a question worth asking.
What would be your “dream” home in this area?
Some Westminster penthouses have fabulous rooftop views towards Parliament, Whitehall and Battersea Power Station. But my dream home would have to be on or around Smith Square. Lord North Street has so much history and homes here have the backdrop of Westminster Abbey or St. John's Concert Hall. It is blissfully quiet and charming.
Tom Prior is the Sales Manager at Daniel Cobb in Westminster.