As the great and the good have descended on Chelsea this week for the annual flower show, the streets of this well-heeled south-west London neighbourhood have been transformed by colourful floral displays.
The theme of the Chelsea in Bloom festival, now drawing to a close, is “flowers on film”. A Jurassic Park-inspired T-Rex has been planted in Sloane Square, an enormous gold Oscars statuette is on Pavilion Road, and there are floral tributes to Mary Poppins and The Lion King.
Unlike the plants, however, the housing market in Chelsea has been wilting recently. Rising interest rates have damped activity and the number of property sales in the first three months of this year was 31 per cent below the same period last year, according to LonRes, which tracks the prime
property market — though it remained 11 per cent up on the average between 2015 and 2019.
Prices in this area, sandwiched between South Kensington and the Thames, are attractive compared with other exclusive parts of the capital. Homes in the Chelsea postcodes of SW3 and SW10 average £1,554 a sq ft, below the £1,740 for prime central London, LonRes says, although this figure masks a significant divergence between flats and houses. The Covid race for space helped drive the value of houses in Chelsea to a new record of £2,005 a sq ft in 2022 (although this has since slipped back to £1,868). Flats average £1,435 a sq ft, 11 per cent below the 2014 peak.
Much of the recent growth in the price of houses has been driven by families as there are excellent schools in the area, says Matthew Morton-Smith, of Savills estate agency. “It also has a village feel in central London and Covid has highlighted the importance of living in a neighbourhood and having local cafés and shops,” he adds.
Chelsea’s community feel was key for Cheryl Muller and her financier husband, who bought a duplex flat with a roof terrace in one of Chelsea’s red-brick mansion blocks late last year. The couple, who are from New York, rented in Chelsea during the pandemic and benefited from the strength of the dollar against the pound when they bought in the wake of the calamitous “mini” Budget last September.
“We didn’t buy a bargain,” she says. “What attracted us to Chelsea were conveniences such as the King’s Road and Battersea Park across the river . . . It is also a beautiful neighbourhood architecturally and has a real community, where they know you at the butcher and the fishmonger.”
The shops in Chelsea have been steadily improving. Following on from the redevelopment of Duke of York Square, in recent years Cadogan Estates, Chelsea’s largest landlord, has embarked on a £500mn modernisation project, which includes redeveloping the King’s Road — once the epicentre of the Swinging Sixties — installing a new Curzon cinema, new shops and a rooftop bar.
Cadogan has also created a new shopping street, Pavilion Road — this has a European café culture feel and is home to independent stores such as a butcher, fishmonger, baker, cheesemonger and grocer. In March, the landowner began a £46mn, two-year pedestrian-friendly makeover to Sloane Street, which links Sloane Square to Knightsbridge.
British and European buyers have long dominated here, although the weakness of sterling against the dollar prompted a spike in US purchasers, such as the Mullers. Last year, the proportion of sales in SW3 to US buyers by Hamptons estate agency rose by 8 percentage points to 12 per cent, the highest figure since at least 2011, with many Americans looking for second homes.
“Demand from buyers dropped at the end of 2022 but we have seen them return this year, keen to buy something at the right price,” says Robert Green, of John D Wood & Co estate agency.
Purchasers can find a wide range of property types, from grand crescents and garden squares to old merchants’ houses and artists’ studios, with prices from £500,000 upwards. Sales to landlords have dropped in recent years and, as interest rates have risen, cash has become king — 75 per cent of the buyers currently looking for homes in Chelsea with estate agency Marsh and Parsons are cash purchasers.
The most desirable flats are closer to Sloane Square in the red-brick Cadogan Square and Cadogan Gardens. Markham and Carlyle Squares are popular for family houses, as is Mallord Street, while Rokstone estate agency recently sold a house in Chelsea Park Gardens for just under £11mn and one in Mulberry Walk for £16mn — both were bought by European families.
Further west, heading into SW10, you’ll find the largest, most prestigious houses on The Boltons, The Little Boltons, Gilston Road and Tregunter Road. Many of these benefited from the old Kensington & Chelsea planning laws so houses with basements command a premium, with prices ranging from £10mn with no basement to around £30mn fully dug, according to Henry Sherwood of The Buying Agents.
New-builds are scarce. The most notable are Chelsea Barracks, on the fringes of Chelsea — its latest phase, 9 Mulberry Square, is due to complete in the first quarter of next year — and The Glebe, a former school site just south of the King’s Road. Prices for The Glebe’s seven luxury apartments and two private villas start at £27.7mn and four of the homes have sold, all to Europeans, with the smaller villa going for £75mn, according to Guy Meacock, of Prime Purchase. “A house going for north of £3,500 per sq ft is not unheard of in Chelsea, but it was still a keynote sale,” he says.
Edward Horswell and his wife Nona moved to a five-bedroom house near Sloane Square in 2001 for the convenient location close to both central
London and their daughters’ school.
“There’s a great lifestyle here and some really good restaurants — you can go for a morning coffee at one of the outdoor tables and still be sitting there at 9 o’clock at night,” says Horswell, who owns The Sladmore Gallery. “The atmosphere during the flower show is unbeatable.”
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