House Hunting in London: Once a Dark Garage, Now an Airy Light Box


This three-bedroom home, converted over the past two years from an auto mechanic’s garage, is just down the street from Mile End Park in East London. The modern design incorporates below-ground and staggered levels to maximize the house’s 1,600 square feet of living space, with a central glass atrium that runs from top to bottom.

“It’s a clever design to bring light to the lower part of the building, so you don’t feel like you’re in a boat or something,” said Chloe Bliss, an agent with The Modern House, which has the listing.

The home’s brick facade is painted black, with sections of frosted glass above oak doors. The main entrance opens into the combined kitchen and dining area, which has a double-height ceiling, two skylights and polished concrete floors. The appliances and sink are built into the sleek cabinetry that runs the length of one wall.

An oak and black steel staircase leads up a half level to the living room, which has glass walls overlooking the kitchen on one end and the atrium on the other. It has a skylight, oak parquet floors and a linear frosted glass window to bring in more light. On the other side of the atrium is a bedroom (currently configured as an office) with an en suite bath. Stairs at the kitchen end of the living room lead to a small rooftop terrace.

The other two bedrooms, one with an en suite bath, are below the kitchen, situated on either side of a small courtyard at the base of the atrium. Another level below is a large “family bath” lined with polished concrete. It has a large walk-in shower, a trough sink and a soaking tub.

The property does not have a garden or dedicated parking space. There is a bike storage closet just inside the main entrance, Ms. Bliss said.

The once-industrial East London neighborhood has been undergoing regeneration for some time, Ms. Bliss said. This property is flanked by a builder’s supply shop on one side and homes undergoing redevelopment on the other. Two parks are within a block: The 79-acre Mile End Park, with its fitness center and stadium, climbing wall, skate park and children’s playground; and Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, a restored Victorian cemetery. Shops for necessities and casual restaurants reflecting the area’s ethnic diversity are within an easy walk, she said.

The property is about a 10-minute walk to the Mile End underground station; the ride to central London is about 15 minutes. Heathrow Airport is about 75 minutes by car, and 90 minutes by public transit.

After at least five years of flat or falling prices, due in large part to the economic tumult unleashed by its protracted withdrawal from the European Union, Britain began to see some encouraging signs in the housing market as 2020 began.

“Over the past three years, there has been a general slowdown in UK house price growth, driven mainly by a slowdown in the south and east of England, but there has been a pick-up in annual growth since December 2019,” according to a March 2020 report by the Office for National Statistics.

The average house price across England in March was 248,000 British pounds ($323,000), a 2.2 percent rise from March 2019. In London, prices grew by 4.7 percent year over year to an average of 486,000 pounds ($635,000) — the largest 12-month growth in the capital region since December 2016.

According to the report, the increased growth in London “may reflect a larger shift in the type of properties being sold than usual, with more sales of very high value properties.”

The report also notes that the national House Price Index would be “suspended until further notice” due to data volatility caused by pandemic-related disruptions. But real estate agents there report that London’s housing market has seen a surge in demand since England’s pandemic-induced prohibition on in-person real estate showings was lifted on May 12.

“There are a few things going on,” said Tom Bill, head of United Kingdom Residential Research for the property firm Knight Frank. “We have a degree of pent-up demand that’s been building for five or six years against the landscape of Brexit, tighter lending conditions, and an ever-changing tax landscape. Then the general election last December that elected a majority government released a lot of demand in January and February.”

While interest from international buyers dropped off during the lockdown, there were some “brave buyers” who used the moment to strike some discounted deals from afar, Mr. Gittins said.

“We put together some high-value deals for overseas buyers who were very familiar with the city and the types of properties,” he said.

More recently, Chestertons’s offices have seen a doubling of interest from Hong Kong buyers, many looking for a safe haven from the political unrest at home, he said.

“You own it for a set period of time — it could be very, very short or very, very long — and you have the right to extend that lease,” he said. “There are rules around that, and it’s complicated, so you definitely need very good legal expertise to walk you through that.”

English; pound sterling (1 pound = $1.31)


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