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Can't afford Belgravia? London's wealthy flock to 'cheaper' real estate in St. James

A boy walks past a floral crown in St James's Park in central London in 2012. Property investors are finding plenty of reasons to invest in the area.

Olivia Harris/Reuters

Few people can boast having a view of a royal palace from their bedroom window. But whoever buys the master suite of the Grade II-listed development at 88 St James's Street can claim just that.

Overlooking the gates to St James's Palace, the master suite will offer its owners the chance to watch the "changing of the guard" and catch an occasional glimpse of Her Majesty.

The super-prime apartments, developed by Caraeno and The Carlyle Group and due to come on to the market in 2015, will include on-site parking, a spa and five-star concierge services. It is one of a few high-end developments springing up in St James's in response to growing interest from wealthy U.K. buyers and the international market.

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At the heart of London's clubland, St James's has traditionally been defined by its four corners – Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Green Park and Buckingham Palace. But this month it will take centre stage with celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the Queen's coronation.

"The coronation celebrations are attracting people to the area," says Richard Dalton, director in Savills' Sloane Street office. "St James's heritage is linked with the Royal Family and the area is quintessentially English – with its parks and elegant buildings. This appeals to a lot of potential buyers from around the world."

St James's Palace has been a royal residence since its completion in the 1530s and it remains the sovereign's official residence, although Buckingham Palace has served this purpose since Queen Victoria came to the throne. Many of the established shops around St James's are distinctly British, from Fortnum & Mason to the cheesemonger Paxton and Whitfield and barber and perfumer Geo. F. Trumper.

Charles McDowell, a prime London property consultant who buys and sells properties valued at more than £5-million ($6.78-million) says St James's was traditionally seen as being on the fringes of prime central London, but agrees that it is now becoming a destination in its own right.

This is partly because prices are cheaper than surrounding areas. "In most cases, properties are under £2,000 ($2,713) per square foot which is rather reasonable in comparison to neighbouring areas of Belgravia and Mayfair," he says.

McDowell adds that while traditional prime addresses are still sought after, streets on the periphery of St James's, like Victoria Street, are undergoing huge changes that in time will change buyer perceptions, making it appear more attractive and an emerging hotspot for investment over the next few years.

"The Queen Anne-style of architecture is charming and is usually favoured by Middle Eastern buyers, in particular the Qataris who have bought up swaths of Queen Anne's Gate. In terms of stock, buyers can take their pick of apartments or large houses," said McDowell.

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Others also believe the area is ripe for investment. "In line with the other station hubs of London, the St James's Park area was left behind by its surrounding neighbours in terms of residential pricing," said Caspar Harvard Walls, partner at Black Brick, buying agents.

"This is partly due to the commercial developments that left some of the remaining period stock marooned and lacking a real centre with the relevant infrastructure or residential village-type atmosphere.

"Excellent communication links added to low prices will prove very attractive to some, however we feel that it will be an investor-driven market rather than owner-occupier one. Those buyers in search of a home will probably still head for Pimlico, where an established village feel and residential community already exists."

Prices could start to rise with the Crown Estate – which owns almost all the freehold for Regent Street and 50 per cent of the buildings in St James's – set to spend £500-million redeveloping this conservation area.

One of its redevelopments, St James's Gateway, includes 11 residential apartments at 15 Jermyn Street and five apartments at 20 Jermyn Street. As part of the redevelopment, a section of the original Portland façade has been retained, while the modern elements have been designed by Eric Parry Architects.

WA Ellis and Strutt & Parker are marketing the properties, and prices at 20 Jermyn Street start from £1.6-million for a one-bedroom apartment and from £3.95-million for the two to three-bedroom units.

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"What's interesting about St James's is that you have a dominant landlord – the Crown Estate – and they are investing in the area," says Justin Gaze, head of residential development at Knight Frank. "What we can see from the experience in other areas is that this kind of investment tends to benefit the area greatly."

Other new developments in the area include The Penthouse, a refurbished apartment with porter, direct lift access and roof terrace offering panoramic views over St James's Park and the central London skyline. It is being marketed by Savills at £32.5-million.

Meanwhile, Knight Frank is offering a one-bedroom apartment on St James's Street for £800,000 and Whitehall Court, a three-bedroom Victorian property, for £6.75-million.

Rachel Thompson, associate in The Buying Solution's London team, says St James's has traditionally been the domain of the archetypal Englishman, mainly using flats as his London pied-à-terre during the week.

"In many ways, it still has this feel, but each year there is an increased demand from the international buyer," she says. "What many wealthy individuals like about St James's is not only the history, but that it is extremely discreet. The residential buildings tend to be down backwaters that many wouldn't even know existed or have any reason to go to in the first place."

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