At Caudwell, we’ve chosen the very best sites in the very best locations to deliver the finest residences in the world. You cannot build the finest residences in the world in a second-rate location on a second-rate site.
In 2007, when we set up the business, we began a painstaking search for the world’s best residential development sites. They were incredibly difficult to find! In the meantime, we spent a little over £100 million on our first commercial properties – all within the UK, but outside of the prime central areas.
We have now sold most of those commercial properties, and today all of our focus is on our three super prime projects: Audley Square in Mayfair, and Le Provençal and La Belle Etoile in the south of France.
At the end of 2021, there was a massive uplift of sales for the very best property in the best locations, but only in countries that are safe and stable. The UK is a prime location in itself because it’s politically and financially stable, and is seen globally as a very safe country – as is France, where there are long-standing democracies and safe financial environments.
At the top of this uplift, north of £10 million and £20 million a unit, there was a lot of pent up demand for a certain product: new-build, turnkey, lateral or duplex apartments rather than houses. During the shutdown, there was so much demand for our new builds in the south of France, that we were selling them via virtual tools. We have sold nearly all 88 apartments in Parc du Cap, our newly completed development on the Cap d’Antibes. This development has achieved the highest rate per square foot in the area, and that’s because we have not only met but exceeded our buyers’ expectations in every conceivable way, all in one place in a totally safe, secure, lock-up-and-leave environment.
In the UK, there is one prime central city and that’s London. And in London, there are three super-prime locations: Mayfair, Belgravia and Knightsbridge. Knightsbridge has, for a period of time, proudly held the top spot thanks to the Candy Brothers’ development One Hyde Park, which supplied exactly what the ultra high net worth buyers wanted. Historically, however, Mayfair has always been at the top. It’s even top on the Monopoly board!
Within these super-prime Central London neighbourhoods, there are even better areas. In the northeast of Mayfair, there is much more retail, restaurants, and bustle. While buyers want access to that, they do not necessarily want to live amongst it. The southwest of Mayfair, often called Mayfair village, is much more quiet and residential, and this is where our Audley Square site is located.
You could say that the whole of Mayfair is like a listed building because it is a conservation area and therefore very protected. Our Mayfair site, which was once a beautiful row of Georgian houses, was sadly destroyed by bombs in World War II. In the 60s, it was replaced by a concrete car park. So not only did we have the best location, but we had a site that the planners actually wanted to be redeveloped. Similarly in France, the once glitzy and glamorous Le Provençal hotel was in need of redevelopment as it had become completely derelict. We’re restoring this incredibly iconic, beautiful and protected building to its former glory and converting it into luxury apartments: we even have some of the original menus and crockery from the restaurants.
If you’ve got the best location, you can afford to do the best job with it, because you know that what you have is already inherently desirable. Selecting Robert A. M. Stern for Audley Square was a no-brainer for us given the sheer beauty of what he was able to produce, the neo-classical design and his status as probably the world’s top residential architect. In addition to the elegance, timelessness and beauty Stern brought to the project through his architecture, this is matched by the quality of the workmanship, including using the best stonemasons, carpenters and artisans.
Despite recent tax changes regarding acquisitions in London, if you buy property in prime central London and hold it for five years, compared with buying one in Hong Kong, New York or Singapore, which are also super prime locations, it is cheaper to buy in London.
In 2021, sales of properties greater than £10m in prime central London were predominantly from Europe (28%), within the UK itself (20%), and North America (11%). There were fewer international buyers than would be normal, especially from China, Asia and North America (these being the greatest distances to travel, and the most restricted during the pandemic). But I expect that the next 12 or 18 months will see an increase in demand from China – the number of Chinese billionaires is unbelievably high and growing – and Asia Pacific, where growth is absolutely massive.
There’s a very understandable concern that the heart of London becomes an empty shell, and we lose that diversity and vibrancy. We’re proud to go above what normal developers would do to prevent this from happening. We worked closely with Westminster Council to find a site for new affordable housing in Mayfair – 14 units on Farm Street – and completed this alongside a new street cleaning depot. In addition, we are spending a lot of money within the local vicinity – the pavements, public art – to try and beautify the area even more.
The role the property industry has to play in the UK’s economic recovery cannot be understated. It’s a phenomenal direct employer, but you also have all the people employed through the supply chains: the materials, lorries, cranes, diggers, trucks, and so on. And it also attracts a lot of investment into the UK. At Caudwell, we are also proud to sustain very traditional skills that would probably otherwise disappear, such as the finest stonemasonry, carpentry and gold leaf gilding. Looking ahead, I believe the property industry will face further day-to-day volatility, but underlying this, will be a strong positive, upward growth in volume – and I think in prices.