CITY PADS HIT THE SPOT
Love it or hate it, the Barbican is still where buyers want to be, says Cheryl Markosky
With mortgage lenders imposing stricter terms for those wanting to buy urban apartments – typically only 75 per cent loan-to-value mortgages, compared with 90 per cent for houses – you would be forgiven for thinking this could spell the end for city pied-à-terres. But some urban bolt-holes are managing to hold their own. Despite a glut of unsold flats elsewhere (notably some northern cities where values have been halved), one place that is weathering the storm is the Barbican in the City of London. This modernist estate does have what might be described as the Marmite factor – you either love or hate the uncompromising concrete architecture – but there is a constant demand from Barbican fans happy to pay for these Sixties homes. The problem is that it is not easy for admirers to get their hands on them, as the estate comprises only a couple of thousand flats, which change hands infrequently. All of which makes the recent arrival on the market of 69 apartments – studios, one-, two-and threebedroom – in the estate’s Frobisher Crescent very welcome news. Formerly the home of the City University business school, permission was granted to convert offices in this Grade II listed block into new homes. Fifteen apartments have already sold and viewing is brisk, says Antony Crovella, sales and marketing director for United House Developments, which carried out the conversion. Such metropolitan gems do not come cheap, however. Expect to pay £380,000 for a studio with a flip-down bed, and up to £1.87million for a three-bedroom duplex. But some Barbican residents are not put off by the high sums and are trading in their current flats for these newly-restored versions. “Although there was a lot of negotiating with English Heritage, broadly we have been able to achieve what we wanted internally,” Crovella says. The end result echoes the original aesthetic, and money has certainly been expended, with reclaimed hardwood smoked oak floors, specially commissioned door furniture to match the much-coveted brushed steel originals, refurbished windows and glossy new bathrooms. Gemma Fowler, a 34-year-old MBA student at the University of Winchester and an ardent fan of the Barbican, has bought a three-bedroom apartment for just over £1million with the rest of her family. Gemma, together with her mother Ann, stepfather John and brother Ben, 22, will use this as her London base. “It is central, iconic and a great central point where we can all gather,” Gemma explains. “In the current economic climate, property is as good an investment as any and the Barbican is always spectacular when it comes to rental returns.” Currently, weekly rents range from about £185-£370 for a studio, £350£595 for a one-bedroom apartment, £400-£475 for two bedrooms, and £525-£645 for a three-bedroom apartment.
London calling: Frobisher Crescent offers the rare chance to buy a flat at the Barbican, something Gemma Fowler, above right, has taken advantage of
Gemma, like many buyers of Barbican homes, has a strong affinity with the Square Mile’s most famous neighbourhood. “My mum was born in Bow and my grandfather went to school in Lamb’s Passage. I went to the City of London School for Girls for eight years and my brother went to the City of London School. As a family, we have always had strong links here.” The Fowlers’ apartment will be ready in March and Gemma insists: “We will all be here to celebrate Christmas 2010. I’m overjoyed we have bought our fantasy in concrete, as this is the only place I feel I