Sultan Al-Nuami, from Abu Dhabi, has just got the keys to his three-bedroom penthouse apartment on Albermarle Street. There’s nothing unusual about a wealthy individual, originating from the Middle East, moving into Mayfair – whose 5,000 or so residents are drawn from 42 nationalities.
What sets him apart from the traditional Mayfair resident is his age. The Sultan, a student at Brunel University, is 20 years old. He is renting a flat above commercial premises for about £1,400 per week – or £220,000 for the full three-year term – just off Piccadilly. “I chose Mayfair because it’s very convenient and the shops and restaurants are a stone’s throw away,” says Sultan Al-Nuami. “The Mayfair vibe is so alive and it’s close to every location in London.”
He’s not alone in his newfound love for the maze of historic streets and grand squares between Park Lane, Piccadilly, Oxford Street and Regent Street. But although Mayfair is famous for occupying the most expensive spot on the Monopoly board, in recent years it has struggled to justify its lofty status.
Mayfair was born in the 1700s, when the politician and property developer Sir Richard Grosvenor was granted permission to build on Grosvenor Square. Construction started in 1721, as other families began to develop neighbouring areas such as Brook Street, Clarges Street and Hanover Street.
What was a downtrodden district suddenly became highly desirable, with dukes, earls and viscounts all moving to Grosvenor Square – turning it into the most fashionable address in London.
But the playground of Georgian and Victorian nobility began to lose its sparkle after the First World War, as the wealthy residents – many bankrupted by the war – moved out and commercial concerns began to move in. During the Second World War, more businesses fled from the City – and the bombs of the Luftwaffe – to the West End and by 1945 three quarters of the housing stock had been turned into offices.
“Traditionally it is an office-dominated area with a stale corporate environment,” says Camilla Dell, the founder of the property company Black Brick. “Next to Oxford Street and with good transport links, it was deemed a nice place to work but not a nice place to live.”
But that seems to be changing. According to a new report from the estate agent Wetherell, the area is again becoming a magnet for the young, fashionable and wealthy from all over the world.
The report shows that 60 per cent of the 5,100 people who live in the area permanently are from overseas. Of these, 64 per cent are aged between 20 and 44, with the majority living in lavish, serviced apartment blocks.
And, says Peter Wetherell, who has been selling properties in the area for 35 years, Mayfair is definitely getting younger. The proportion of residents aged between 25 and 44 had risen from 33 per cent in 2011 to 42 per cent in 2014. And the number of people renting is another indication of a younger crowd. Almost half the properties are privately let, compared with 26 per cent that are privately owned.
This split also reflects the nature of Mayfair’s housing stock. Most people live in purpose-built apartment blocks or former offices that have been converted into luxury flats – perfect for young couples or singletons.
“The housing stock is more suited for younger buyers,” says Camilla Dell. “Family buyers start their search in Mayfair – drawn to the illustrious address – but even the big houses in the neighbourhood do not have outside space. They just won’t get the big gardens available in Notting Hill, St John’s Wood or Hampstead Heath – which is inevitably where they end up.”
In fact, Mayfair is becoming a borough of extremes with either young, wealthy residents making homes there or older couples whose children have grown-up, downsizing to be near the West End, theatres and shops.
This is exactly the experience of the duo behind the Hanover Properties, an estate agent run by Richard Douglas and Alex Bourne, two former Foxtons employees.
“In the last week alone, we’ve had two buyers in their 20s, each looking to move into properties in the region of £10 million-£20 million in Mayfair for the same reason – the nightlife,” says Mr Douglas.
Their neighbours would now include celebrities such as the actresses Lindsay Lohan and Kiera Knightley and reality stars Mark-Francis Vandelli and Fredrik Ferrier, from Made in Chelsea, who have made their homes a mile or so to the east. There’s a glut of expensive restaurants and private members clubs, such as Nobu, Roka, Annabel’s, 5 Hertford Street, Loulou’s and The Arts Club. “It’s very different to, say, Knightsbridge, as it’s all so much more compact and accessible,” he adds.
Even the estate agents add a touch of glamour – both Mr Douglas and his business partner used to be television actors.
They had another client who sold his home in Mayfair to get away from the 24-hour party scene. “Having bought a place, he turned it into a great party home, removing a floor and creating a DJ booth. Now, married and with a baby, it’s entirely impractical and he’s in the process of moving,” says Mr Bourne.
Mayfair’s transformation from stuffy business district – where it was rare to see a light in the windows after dark – to the new party capital of the West End has been kick-started by the upward trend in house prices.
According to Alex Michelin, the chief executive of the developer, Finchatton, it was in the Nineties, when the residential properties became more expensive than commercial ones, that people started thinking of Mayfair as a place to live again.
Both Westminster City Council and the Grosvenor Estate, which owns much of the area, have been supportive of disused offices and commercial buildings being returned to residential use, he adds. Evidence of this can be found in the millions spent on the beautification of Mount Street, home to the celebrity hang-out Scott’s of Mayfair, and a parade of designer stores.
Only last, month the Qatari ruling family snapped up a six-storey Victorian town house on Mount Street for £40 million – one of the most expensive home sales in London so far this year – the Stamp Duty alone will cost £4.7 million.
While this sale underlined the dynasty’s desire to create a “Little Doha” in Mayfair, the area’s tradition as a centre for finance is also making it increasingly popular with young hedge fund and private equity executives who want to live near work.
This trend is highlighted in Peter Wetherell’s report, Who Lives in Mayfair, which paints a picture of single private wealth managers who work and play on their doorstep, and creatives and the self-employed who work from home.
Eleven per cent of the residents work remotely, 22 per cent commute on foot, while 46 per cent rent privately and 55 per cent live alone.
Mr Wetherell says: “Middle Eastern princes, bankers, wealth managers, commodity brokers, advertising directors and students from ultra-wealthy families are now typical Mayfair householders… they are bachelors and bachelorettes who want to live in a fun and lively resort-village with easy access to fashionable shopping, restaurants, bars and clubs.”
Despite the princely sum paid by Sultan Al-Nuami, research from the agent Knight Frank shows that this is not – “by some distance” – the highest amount paid by students and young renters in Mayfair.
“We have had several student applicants currently looking for properties up to £2,500 per week,” says Rahim Najak, the head of lettings for Knight Frank. “We also recently rented to an 18-year-old international student for £2,000 per week and have another student tenant who has been in the same property for several years at £3,200 per week,” he adds.
Both the sales and rental markets in Mayfair have boomed since the last housing market crash and property prices are now among the highest in the world, proof of the new surge in demand.
Over the 12 months to the end of March the average value reached £2,300 per square foot, an increase of 7.4 per cent from 2013, the Wetherell report shows.
More than nine out of 10 of all properties sold went for more than £1 million, and 28 per cent commanded a sales price of over £5 million – up 17 per cent rise from the previous year.
Even more telling of the Mayfair renaissance, the average price per square foot over the last 12 months was 39.5 per cent higher than the rest of central London.
The super-luxury condominium Clarges fetched £4,750 per sq ft last year, and it’s not even built yet. Although on the south side of Piccadilly, the development has been branded “Clarges Mayfair” to cash in on the new-found Mayfair cachet.
It all adds to the sense of history repeating itself. And Grosvenor Square, where it all began, is at the centre of it. There are several major developments under way there as Finchatton renovates the American Naval headquarters and the Indian developers Lodha convert the old Canadian Embassy into flats – turning the square once again into a playground for a very different kind of aristocracy from the one that first colonised the area three centuries ago.