It’s a common complaint that all the best properties in London are being bought up by foreign, cash-rich investors, looking to tie their money up in our constantly expanding property market. But there is one section of the market that, until now, has remained largely untapped by foreign investment, a last bastion of British buyers: mews houses.
Typically, these old, 17th century stables are low-rise and back on to a small, cobbled back alley or side street. So why are British buyers going nuts for them?
“Across prime central London, there is a significant shortage of mews houses,” says Lochie Rankin from property company Lichfields. “Competition is fierce, particularly among traditionally-minded British buyers, and also Europeans. Generally, Russians and Middle Eastern buyers don’t wish to be seen to be buying properties that were previously used for servants or horses. However, as developers consistently improve on the style and the finish of mews houses, these perceptions are beginning to change.”
It’s true that the vast majority of mews houses started off as servants quarters, stables or coach houses for the grand, stately properties of Mayfair, Kensington and Belgravia. But to British buyers, they are a way to get more bang for your buck in prime central London. It’s a chance to own a house, freehold, and not have to pay huge annual service charges. It’s all about location, location, location after all.
“Mews houses make fantastic homes,” says Ben Wilson, director of luxury property developer Residence One. “Often situated on beautiful cobbled streets, they are typically very private and the seclusion of a mews offers a real sense of community in some of London’s most prestigious locations. Highly sought after for their unique features, including parking, they provide superior value over other homes in identical locations.”
Sounds like a great deal, so why aren’t they commanding the millions we’ve all come to expect for Georgian townhouses in central London? Well, while the heritage and quaint nature of mews are attractive to buyers, they also need rather a lot of work. Before developers get their hands on them, they can be rather small and dark inside.
There’s also not always a lot of space, either. Jo Eccles, director at property search agent Sourcing Property, describes them as “a bit like Marmite – buyers tend to love them or hate them. While they’re absolutely charming from the outside, they can be quite cramped inside.” Add to that odd period features, such as no windows out the back of the house (for fear servants could be spying on their masters) and you’ve got prices per square foot that are distinctly below average.
If a developer has got to a mews first, however, the possibilities are endless. Thanks to their innocuous status as stables, most of the aren’t listed so planning restrictions much more lenient than they would be with a townhouse of the same age. Subterranean dig-outs – where another floor is dug out of the basement – have been popular in prime central London for years now, but nowhere are they more beneficial than in a small mews house. After developers have added square footage, mews houses have soared up to £3,000psqft in some places.
Clever design tricks, such as skylights, mirrors and internal windows are all regularly used by designers to make mews houses more attractive to the contemporary eye.
“We are being asked more and more to redesign mews houses for developers and private clients,” says Laura Hammet, director of her own interior design and architectural firm.
“One of the most appealing qualities about them seems to be the hidden space behind their modest facade. As designers, we love working with mews houses because they are essentially white boxes with endless opportunities to reconfigure the layout and add features without restrictions.”