Rich home-buyers opt for squalor with a twist

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The Independent Online
Gritty, urban living - complete with graffiti and discarded syringes - has become a hit with homebuyers, adding value to apartment blocks in neighbourhoods once viewed as the roughest in town.

Rather than enjoy leafy suburbia, young, rich buyers are turning to seedy surroundings.

"The more raw the environment, the more fashionable it is," explains Roger Zogolovitch, the architect and developer responsible for the Battegg project, a block of loft-style apartments in Battersea, southwest London, that will be designed to look like a warehouse or industrial depot.

Mr Zogolovitch, in common with other developers in the larger British cities, has found there is no need to be defensive about a neighbourhood.

In fact, the grittier, the better.

Geoff Marsh, a property analyst with London Property Research, rejoices in the trend. He sees it as the end of a "suburban mentality" in housing. "At last this has been defeated by the appeal of what might be called 'adrenaline living', and by the attractions of being able to walk to work," he says.

"People are now happy to buy in a fairly rough place like Kings Cross in London, or in tougher parts of Glasgow. To me the idea of living in Surbiton was always much worse anyway."

Mr Marsh concedes that in practice most people do not walk to work, but they do value not having to commute miles.

In August the singer Madonna paid pounds 4.5m for a penthouse in one of the least picturesque areas of New York. Living in the kind of street that most people would not be happy to walk down alone has become the way to prove you are a native.

A stone's throw from some of Kings Cross's seamiest streets, the architect Tchaik Chassay is offering apartments in his Ice Wharf development frompounds 175,000 for a two-bedroom flat up to pounds 400,000 for a penthouse. More than half have been sold.

"Fulham is out and small houses are finally being regarded as yuk," says Chassay. "It seems incredible that it has taken so long for people to realise that the Victorian semi that everyone wanted is actually quite horrible."

"I know Kings Cross is seedy in places, particularly across the road from our development, but I would consider living there because of the view across the city and over the canals."

This mix of urban squalor plus something a bit pretty to look at is crucial. Roger Zogolovitch's location uses the same ploy.

"The Battegg will have a view of the gasometer and the railway line on one side and yet of Battersea Park on the other." Punters will be wooed with up-market facilities near by. The Battegg will have a health club and delicatessen hidden under railway arches.

"A loft represents another chunk in that lifestyle. It is a generational thing and part of this idea of 24-hour living.

"These trends take a long time to come through. Someone like Andrew Logan, the sculptor, was in the vanguard of the movement into Smithfield in the late 1970s.

"It can take 20 or 25 years before an area like Smithfield is considered by the wider public."

Living on the edge is still appreciated only by a small sector.

"Lots of rich people are still buying what might be called 'pastel shades' properties, with beige walls and chintz curtains," says Geoff Marsh.

"The old rule still applies. It is still location, location, location. It is just that location means different things to different people."