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Will Pimlico be the next star of London’s housing market? (Financial Times)

Overseas buyers may prefer more opulent parts of the city but this well-located area has plenty of character and potential Pimlico is one of central London’s smaller neighbourhoods with a lot of upside. It has handsome garden squares bordered by stucco Regency façades and a Thames waterfront. It is close to the Palace of Westminster and the Tate Britain gallery. Yet it is overshadowed by its richer neighbours, Chelsea and Belgravia.

Although its architectural style is similar to that of Belgravia — it was designed by the same 19th-century master builder, Thomas Cubitt — Pimlico’s property prices have never reached the levels of prime central London, nor has it been on the radar of many wealthy foreign buyers.
“Everybody is waiting for Pimlico to be a star,” says Stuart Bailey, head of Knight Frank’s Belgravia, office, which covers Pimlico. “It’s just a five-minute walk from Belgravia but property is 40 to 50 per cent cheaper.”

At the top end of the market, a large, first-floor, garden square apartment in an attractive conservation area such as Warwick Square or Eccleston Square costs about £2,000 per sq ft. A flat in a similar building in Belgravia’s coveted Eaton Square may cost £4,000 per sq ft, says Bailey. He estimates the average price of a Pimlico flat is £1,400 to £1,500 per sq ft, while town houses are better value at about £1,200 per sq ft.
So why is Pimlico much cheaper than its neighbours and why aren’t buyers, who are balking at prime London prices, not moving in droves? Estate agents say it is down to the broad housing mix, which includes gentrified Regency and Victorian houses — many divided into flats — alongside once-seedy, postwar council estates and small hotels.

Many of the hotels have been smartened up and some of the flats in the council estates sold through right-to-buy schemes, but the neighbourhood lacks the architectural consistency and opulence of its neighbours that wealthy international buyers find attractive. Pimlico has stubbornly held on to part of its local character, including independent shops and the market on Tachbrook Street, much to the relief of many long-term residents.

A few Chinese investors, eyeing value in central London, are buying but the area holds little appeal for Russian or Middle East buyers, who prefer more traditional upmarket areas such as Knightsbridge, Mayfair and Belgravia. Instead, buyers are mostly British, followed by French and Italians, who are attracted to the spacious white stucco-style apartments, according to Chris Nicholls, sales manager at estate agents Marsh & Parsons.

One of these, a five-bedroom penthouse spanning two houses, with almost 3,000 sq ft and a roof terrace over the gardens at Warwick Square, is on the market with Knight Frank at £6.35m. In nearby Cambridge Street, where designer Laura Ashley once lived, a five-bedroom, double-fronted freehold Victorian house in need of some work is on sale for £2.85m with Chestertons.

Close to Westminster, Pimlico has had its share of political residents. Former prime minister Winston Churchill lived in Eccleston Square. Charles de Gaulle, as leader of Free France, also lived in the area, as did Oswald Mosley, founder of the British Union of Fascists.

Pimlico remains popular with politicians, according to Marsh & Parsons, which is tasked with finding rental homes for London-based MPs by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. Rental yields are pretty meagre: about 3 per cent.

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Not everyone wants Pimlico to be on must-buy lists. Edward Reeve, chairman of the Federation of Pimlico Residents Associations, who has lived in the area for 53 years, hopes it will not change. “It has a nice quiet village atmosphere, not frenetic like Chelsea and Belgravia but right in the centre of London,” he says.

Reeve keeps a careful eye on any “threats from [unsuitable] new developments”. One under close scrutiny is the proposed cycle and pedestrian bridge over the Thames between Nine Elms and Pimlico, which residents fear might destroy Pimlico Gardens, the green public square on the riverfront, and the quiet atmosphere of St George’s Square, where up to 18,000 cyclists and pedestrians pass through daily. “We are petitioning Westminster City Council in a move against it,” he says.

Others take a different view of pending change. Knight Frank is opening a new office in the area next year in the hope that Pimlico will indeed become a star. Many long-time residents, though, will be hoping the area remains in the wings.

(Financial Times – 19 December 2015)

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