Hot Spot: Chelsea, London

A culture of bars, eateries and shops is popular in an area where homes command a premium
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"They tell you that you look wonderful even though you know you look like rubbish," Rebecca Read says in praise of her local shopkeepers. Ms Read, who lives in Belgravia, often shops near her office in Chelsea, where she earns her crust as an estate agent with Cluttons.

"They tell you that you look wonderful even though you know you look like rubbish," Rebecca Read says in praise of her local shopkeepers. Ms Read, who lives in Belgravia, often shops near her office in Chelsea, where she earns her crust as an estate agent with Cluttons.

"Chelsea still has local pockets of old-fashioned traders. Here at Chelsea Square we have a butcher, fishmonger, fruit and veg, hardware and chemist, and they all know you by name," she says.

At the opposite extreme are the large department stores, which serve an international as well as local clientele in an increasingly multi-national area.

Over the years Chelsea has attracted cliques. Yesterday, it was the Sloane Rangers. Today, it is the new wave of thirtysomething Europeans and Americans on short-term contracts with major City institutions on six-figure salaries. The Chelsea culture of bars, restaurants and shops is not dissimilar to their own," says Knight Frank's Paul Gransbury.

High demand for homes and limited supply seem to be chronic in Chelsea, and "even with the recent slowdown in the market, houses are still sufficiently scarce to command a premium", claims Stephen Copeman of Maskells.

"The situation today differs from property to property," says Mr Copeman. "A well-priced freehold family house in our area will still sell very strongly. For example, a 2,500sq ft house in Bramerton Street recently fetched £2m against a lower asking price of £1,950,000.

"But an attempt to sell an expensive but ordinary two-bedroom flat in the same area will be doomed to failure as, within that bracket, supply outstrips demand."

Ed Mead of Douglas & Gordon says: "The big houses have seen the biggest gain in the area, and what has tended to happen is that the expensive properties have just got that much more expensive."

The happiest people by far in Chelsea are those who have a parking space, even if they could have bought a house complete with a garage in other parts of the country for the same amount of money.

When the locals talk about catchment area in Chelsea, they are just as likely referring to motor vehicles as to schools. The best location is one that qualifies for a Kensington and Chelsea car permit. As Ms Read explains: "You can park in the largest area in central London. It is not split into zones as in Westminster."

The Low-Down

Transport

In addition to its collection of bus routes and several District Line stations, Chelsea now falls under the influence of the Jubilee Line. "The Jubilee Line extension has opened up central south-west London as a viable commuter location to Canary Wharf," says Neil Chegwidden, of Cluttons.

Prices

The most expensive flats have seven-digit price tags, but you can buy a basic, 11ft by 10ft studio for £120,000. A decent one-bed flat costs £250,000. Knight Frank says: "Houses start at £750,000 and a mere £3 to £4m might buy you a view of a garden square." A purpose-built artist studio with a galleried master bedroom on Glebe Place is asking £2m at Strutt & Parker.

Properties

There is a mix of period cottages, period conversions, mansion blocks and squares, artist studios, houseboats and converted churches.

Here be dragons

Flats at St George's Drayton Gardens cost £624,950 for two-beds and £854,950 for three. Off-street parking included. 020-7610 9693.

Off the rails

According to www.hometrack.co.uk, an SW3 property needed 18 viewings to sell in July and 32 in August. Cluttons says: "We are now left only with those serious about moving."

Crowded

Kensington and Chelsea leads London boroughs in population density, with more than 14,161 people per sq km. "The rentals market in central south-west London is currently the strongest across central London," Cluttons reports.

Estate agents

Cluttons; 020-7584 1771; Bective Davidson, 020-7589 6677; Strutt & Parker, 020-7235 9959; Knight Frank, 020-7824 8171; Douglas & Gordon, 020-7590 9500; Lane Fox, 020-7225 3866; Maskells, 020-7581 2216; Russell Simpson, 020-7225 0277.

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