London Is the Latest Luxury Real Estate Hot Spot

A view of the London skyline from the Oceanic House.Sometimes a change of scenery is the only cure for the domestic blues, making a second home abroad a worthy investment. Consider the U.K.: After the Brexit vote last June, the pound dropped to a 30-year low, stirring interest in London real estate. That, combined with a slight dip in prices, has produced a 10 to 15 percent discount on luxury housing in London. “The market is very strong in London, even in the suburbs, but there are opportunities for buying,” says Susan Greenfield, an international real estate broker with New York–based Brown Harris Stevens.

Designed by architect John Nash, the Park Crescent townhouses offer bespoke interiors and access to eight acres of private gardens.Olivia Hsu Decker, cofounder of Tiburon-based Decker Bullock Sotheby’s, was recently scheduled to go to London with clients on a scouting trip for luxury residential property. “The British pound is low against the U.S. dollar, so we’re looking to buy full-service condos that are good value,” says Decker, who in 2012 purchased a two-bedroom unit of her own in The Lancasters on Hyde Park.

San Franciscans are accustomed to staggering prices, but central London may still induce sticker shock. To provide a sense of the ultra high-end market, private homes in London’s poshest neighborhoods—Mayfair, Knightsbridge and Belgravia are known as the “platinum triangle”—routinely sell upwards of $6,000 per square foot (the top two floors of the late designer Alexander McQueen’s house in Mayfair, for example, were renovated into a 1,790-square-foot penthouse currently on the market for $10.7 million).

Responding to the demand, luxury condominium development has taken off in the nearby commercial and retail districts. Among the glamorous new addresses is No. 1 Palace Street, next to Buckingham Palace. The 1861 Palace Hotel is being renovated into 72 units and 54 have already sold; still available at press time was a four-bedroom unit up for approximately $34 million. Also in Westminster is Oceanic House, the former headquarters of the White Star Line, the shipping firm known for the Titanic. Located near Trafalgar Square, the freshly restored 1906 building has seven units, including a penthouse priced at roughly $32 million. The architect of Buckingham Palace, John Nash, also designed the elegant Park Crescent, next to Regent’s Park in Marylebone. The historically significant semicircle of townhouses, dating from 1820, has been turned into 20 condominiums that enjoy access to eight acres of private parks. Pricing for the first phase of sales started at $5 million for a two-bedroom unit.

The landmark Palace Hotel's Buckingham Gate entrance.For contemporary high-rise living, consider The Stage, located in the hipster neighborhood of Shoreditch in London’s East End. The $1 billion mixed-use development, now under construction, is centered around a new one-acre public square featuring the sunken ruins of Shakespeare’s Curtain Theatre, dating from the year 1577. A 34-floor residential tower contains 412 units, with prices starting at $825,000 for a studio and going up to a yet-unannounced figure for the four-bedroom penthouses.

Despite increasing globalization, real estate transactions in every country are governed differently, and local knowledge of the area is indispensable. Agents with Sotheby’s and Pacific Union/Christie’s are able to refer clients to their London affiliates. McGuire, on the other hand, is an associate of Savills, a global real estate network that is headquartered in London. “We are all independent brokerages, so we can provide that extra level of client service,” says Lauren Bensigner, vice president of corporate services for McGuire. “We have personal relationships with our counterparts overseas, and custom-tailor our referrals based on our clients’ needs.”