Knightsbridge: Losing its charm or adapting to change?

Knightsbridge, the epitome of luxury and exclusivity in London, has long been synonymous with affluence and a vibrant social scene. However, in recent months, there has been conjecture about whether this prestigious neighbourhood has lost its charm.

Will Watson, our Head of London, recently featured in the Financial Times commenting that ‘Knightsbridge is not the bullseye of prime central London that it used to be’ and predicted that ‘prices could drop more this year’. 

His article sparked a flurry of social media comments from our followers saying Knightsbridge ‘is no longer the English enclave that it once was’, ‘it has lost its identity’ and ‘it has become a boring part of town’.

So, what exactly is going on in SW1X? Will, who has worked in the prime central London market for over 20 years, shares his top insights.

The rise of new hotspots

As Knightsbridge remains a globally renowned London beacon for real estate, other areas in London have caught up and emerged as new hotspots for luxury living and investment.

While Hyde Park offers a green oasis in the heart of the city, green spaces within Knightsbridge itself are limited. This lack of greenery can be a downside for nature lovers or those seeking a more private garden.

Although demand for pied-à-terre apartments in Knightsbridge remains strong, younger families, including clients we’ve had from the Middle East – where Knightsbridge has always been their preferred location – are looking to buy houses with a wider footprint in the greener areas of Notting Hill, Kensington or Holland Park.

It depends on where in Knightsbridge

To say Knightsbridge is ‘boring’ or has ‘lost its appeal’ is an overstatement. Geographically, Knightsbridge is barely 1.5km wide, 600m deep and sandwiched between Hyde Park, South Kensington, Chelsea and Belgravia. However, even in this relatively small territory, there are a range of quarters, each with its own identity and community. For example, the West Side of Knightsbridge heading towards South Kensington has a very different feel compared with the North Belgravia border.

For many, the Cadogan Estate is one of the most sought-after areas in central London. Close to some of London’s most exclusive retail outlets, excellent schools and access to gardens, tennis courts, and children’s play areas. Others point to the Pavilion Road area as being much more villagey and gentrified, near private members’ clubs, exclusive gyms, and coffee shops.

Undoubtedly, the retail landscape in the area has evolved. Iconic department stores like Harrods and Harvey Nichols have maintained their status as shopping destinations, but the rise of online shopping has impacted foot traffic and sales. Covid also contributed to a perceived lack of buzz, where international buyers have been slow to return after the pandemic.

High cost of renovations

Walking around Knightsbridge, one gets to experience a glorious mix of Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian architecture. However, the houses are often tall and thin. Gardens tend to be patio style, and parking is difficult.

Many properties in Knightsbridge are dated and require refurbishing due to how long they have been in the same ownership. The cost of renovating is high, and with the time it takes to carry out one of these projects, we’re just not seeing an appetite from our clients wanting to take on such a lengthy refurbishment.

Buyers looking for a refurbished property have been looking more to Mayfair where a broader selection of super-prime developments featuring purpose-built modern designs with concierge and hotel-style amenities exist. The demand for these schemes for the turnkey option has been particularly high since Covid.

It is important to stress that Knightsbridge might not be as popular as it once was, for family houses in particular, but these trends tend to be cyclical and generational by nature. In the future, I would expect a new cohort of buyers to focus back in on the area, ultimately down to its central location and world renowned address.

Now could be an excellent time to buy

For a location on the map that is so central, close to many excellent amenities, and Hyde Park, 2024 could be the year to secure a good deal in Knightsbridge.

In January,  we acquired a property in Knightsbridge for our client paying 18% less than the vendor acquired the property for in 2013.  Given the uncertainty that 2024 holds, we are confident of more opportunities to buy in Knightsbridge at prices well below the peak of 2013.

There is evidence that conditions in the wider property market are becoming positive, and inflation is falling faster than expected. So, while Knightsbridge may have faced its share of challenges and changes, it remains a symbol of luxury and cachet in London. Its ability to adapt to evolving trends while preserving its heritage will determine whether it can reclaim its status as one of the world’s most exclusive neighbourhoods. 

If you need help with your prime central London search, don’t hesitate to contact The Buying Solution, and we’d be delighted to discuss your requirements.

Outlook on the prime central London market this autumn

It goes without saying that the last year of uncertainty amid interest rate hikes has had an instrumental impact on the real estate market. Whilst we expect the interest rate to have finally hit its peak, here is our outlook on the buying market and the shift we’re seeing in prime central London.

In a period that is traditionally one of the busiest times of the year, as we enter the autumn market, we are optimistic that London stock levels will improve, and this will continue for the remainder of 2023 into 2024. Whilst we expect house prices to further reduce elsewhere in the country, the average sale price of London prime properties has shown resilience throughout the past year, and we expect this to continue.

There is greater demand than usual from clients for turn-key properties – the appetite for ‘projects’ is low, so clients looking for a recently refurbished property in prime central London could really benefit from a buying agent. Often, we get access to these properties before they hit the open market and given that demand is outstripping supply, gaining that advantage will be crucial to being able to get the right property, in the right area at the right price.

We’ve also seen an increased demand for pied-à-terre properties in the capital as the shift to more permanent hybrid working patterns continues. I recently acted for a US client who was looking for a pied-à-terre. We helped them purchase an apartment in Knightsbridge’s most sought-after garden square address, right in the heart of the action, meeting their needs and giving them the perfect home from home. 

We’re also seeing a higher than average number of clients who currently rent but are deciding to buy. Unsurprisingly, rising rent prices in London are pushing some buyers to consider the trade-off between paying rent or buying a property and absorb the Stamp Duty – especially if they intend to extend their stay in London. Regarding other London hotspots, Marylebone, Chelsea, and Notting Hill continue to be popular choices amongst my client base, but London villages are also desirable. Locations like Wimbledon, Clapham, Barnes and Chiswick offer clients a short commute to the office with plenty of family activities on their doorstep.

As buying specialists, our local knowledge is critical if a buyer is searching for something particular. We can target specific houses. If the buyers are looking in a defined area, we will often already know the houses; if we don’t, we make approaches.

Buoying the stock levels for the rest of the year are those facing re-mortgaging who will assess their options on whether to hold on to a large family house, downsize or sell a second property. Add to this the uncertainty of a general election in 2024 and the Labour Party proposing to charge VAT on independent school fees, we may see vendors choosing to leave London in search of areas with excellent grammar schools.

In conclusion, with London and prime central London readying for a busy Q4, getting the right advice and expertise from an experienced buying agent is a wise decision. Get in touch with me here if you would like to carry on the conversation.

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Will Watson speaks to Melissa York of The Times on why Turkish buyers are purchasing property in prime London postcodes.

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What are wealthy USA buyers looking for when purchasing a house in London?

I recently visited clients in New York to discuss opportunities and investments in the prime central London market.

The Buying Solution had a record year in 2022, our 19th year of business, and an important part of our success is overseas UHNW buyers from North America.

When I arrived in New York, it was clear that the City had undergone a significant transformation with many new buildings, parks, and other public spaces. For example, the Hudson Yards development, which opened in 2019, added a massive new complex of offices, residences, shops, and restaurants to the City’s west side. New York City has also seen improvements in transportation in recent years, with the expansion of bike lanes and the introduction of bike-sharing programs and new subway stations.

During my trip, I documented five key areas that USA buyers are considering when purchasing a house in London:

The market is in their favour

USA buyers can expect to pay less for a property in London compared with a few years ago. With stamp duty increases, Brexit and COVID, the average price for a property in central London is currently about 20 per cent below its peak in 2014. Also, in currency terms, the dollar is still relatively strong. However, buyers must act quickly to take advantage of the exchange rate.

London’s energy and culture

In a recent Financial Times article, I met with a wealthy buyer in Chiltern Firehouse – a restaurant and hotel in Marylebone. His family office was advising him to buy in Switzerland or Italy, but he sat with me, and the place was busy and vibrant. He said, “This is why I want to come to London. I may pay more tax, but life is for living”. He was right. London’s energy is difficult to beat – therefore, a move from New York to London means that a buyer does not experience a culture shock when they arrive – there is plenty to keep the family occupied. The food & beverage scene in London is second to none.

Discretion & safety

Privacy and security are top concerns for wealthy USA buyers, so features such as gated entrances, security patrols and ample outdoor lighting are some of the most essential. London is one of the safest cities in the world but security is still a concern and we have an excellent professional network to ensure our clients are comfortable with their new surroundings.

Design features

London is a design capital and is, therefore ideal for buyers looking for homes with unique architectural features, high-end finishes, and top-of-the-line appliances. In addition, design features like swimming pools, home theatres, wine cellars, private gyms, home technology and elevators feature heavily in London houses. Therefore, the types of properties desired by UHNW individuals can be found in London, if they are using the right buying agency.

Education & schools

The education system in London is strong and accommodates overseas students at both undergraduate and graduate levels. It is relatively easy to relocate to London with children of all ages and expect them to hit the ground running with their educational goals. We can also advise clients on which locations in London offer the most popular schools and then what that local housing market looks like.  

If you want to learn more about The Buying Solution and how we work with overseas buyers, please drop me a line.