House Hunting in London: A 17th-Century Church Tower With Updates

The British housing market that emerged from the initial pandemic lockdown is the strongest in years, though London is lagging.

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An Eight-Story Church Tower in London

$5.16 MILLION (3.75 MILLION BRITISH POUNDS)

This three-bedroom home is a converted 17th-century church tower near Fleet Street, in the heart of London. Designed by the acclaimed architect Sir Christopher Wren, the church was built in 1687 to replace an earlier Medieval church that was destroyed in London’s great fire of 1666; the steeple, made from Portland stone, was added in 1704.

Today, the 150-foot tower is all that remains of the building after it was destroyed in the German blitz bombing campaign of World War II. In 2000, the structure was approved for conversion to residential use, and the London-based architecture firm Boyarsky Murphy reinvented it as a private home, completing it in 2018.

The home’s 2,200 square feet of living space are creatively situated among eight floors. The stone steeple at the top overlooks nearby St. Paul’s Cathedral, Wren’s most famous creation. The building is Grade I listed, meaning it is of exceptional historical or architectural importance, and is also designated as an ancient monument. Those classifications don’t mean that the building can’t be changed at all, “but permissions and agreements must be sought from Historic England in advance,” said James Klonaris, head of prime appraisals for The Modern House, which has the listing. “It’s quite common in England.”

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Two double-height oak doors open to the foyer, with limestone flooring and a seating area. The home’s 2,200 square feet of living space are creatively situated among eight floors.Credit…Courtesy of The Modern House

A footpath off Newgate Street leads to the main entrance: two double-height oak doors with an arched window above. The foyer has limestone flooring and a seating area. At the rear, a dining area within a vault faces a floor-to-ceiling window looking out on a large rose garden. Laid out in what used to be the church’s nave, the garden is a public space maintained by the City of London Corporation.

A spiraling limestone staircase wrapped in glass winds upward from the foyer to the kitchen on a mezzanine level above. Custom designed to fit the narrow space, the kitchen has black granite counters, sleek white cabinetry and built-in, stainless-steel appliances. A breakfast nook faces an arched window overlooking the gardens.

The staircase continues to the library floor, which has tall windows on all sides and built-in oak shelving. An elevator provides access to the sleeping quarters above. (The building also retains its original stone turret staircase.)

Up another level are two small bedrooms, each with a shower room and a mezzanine-level study area facing a large oculus window. The primary suite takes up the next two floors. The main bedroom sits a floor above a large limestone bathroom with a soaking tub and a cedar-lined walk-in closet. It has windows all around and space for an office.

The living room is on the eighth floor. It is open at the top, providing a 50-foot view into the bell chamber. A second spiral staircase ascends to an internal deck with a glass floor and oak shelving, which serves as a small study. Another set of steps leads to the circular exterior viewing deck.

The property is within a five-minute walk of the River Thames. Also close are the Museum of London and the Barbican Centre, a sprawling performing-arts venue that is home to the London Symphony Orchestra. Two tube stations are nearby, and Heathrow Airport is about one hour by car. A new tube line opening next year will make the journey in 30 minutes from nearby Farringdon Station.

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The kitchen, on a mezzanine level, was custom designed to fit the narrow space. A breakfast nook overlooks gardens outside.Credit…Courtesy of The Modern House

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Upstairs, each of two small bedrooms has a shower room and a mezzanine-level study area facing an oculus window.Credit…Courtesy of The Modern House

Market Overview

The British housing market that emerged from the initial pandemic lockdown is the strongest in years, fueled by a stamp duty tax holiday, low interest rates, and a collective reassessment of quality of life, brokers said. (On July 19, Britain removed nearly all legal restrictions on social interactions, even as cases numbers continued to increase and Prime Minister Boris Johnson was forced to go into self-isolation after his government’s health secretary tested positive for Covid-19.)

The first six months of 2021 were the busiest for sales transactions ever recorded by Rightmove, a leading property website. The company reported this week that the average asking price of properties coming to market reached a record high of 338,447 British pounds ($466,000) 3in June, the fourth consecutive month of record averages.

“The stamp-duty tax holiday has shaped the market this year more than anything else,” said Tom Bill, head of UK residential research at brokerage Knight Frank.

For roughly the past year, the first 500,000 pounds ($688,000) on a home purchase were exempt from the graduated tax, which ranges from 2 to 12 percent of the purchase price. The “tax holiday” expired June 30, but an extension, with a lower threshold, is ongoing. Mr. Bill said he expected the exemption to have the greatest impact at the lower end of the market, but even affluent buyers rushed to get deals done in prime central London in June, with Knight Frank recording a record number of transactions.

“It set the tempo across all price brackets,” he said.

The average sale price in England was 271,000 British pounds ($373,000) as of May, a 9.7 percent increase over the previous year, according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics. London had the highest average house price of any region, at 498,000 pounds ($685,000), but the lowest annual price growth, at 5.2 percent.

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The library floor has tall windows on all sides and built-in oak shelving. An elevator provides access to the sleeping quarters above. Credit…Courtesy of The Modern House

“It has been more difficult for London,” said Tim Bannister, Rightmove’s director of property data. “The social and cultural and entertainment aspects that were a big draw were put on hold, as well as the need for proximity to workplace.”

Typically, about 65 percent of property inquiries on Rightmove by buyers living in London are for properties within the city, Mr. Bannister said. As of June, that percentage had dropped to 44 percent. Meanwhile, South West England, known for its picturesque coastal communities, overtook London as the most searched locale on the website.

Nevertheless, the historically desirable sections of London, including Islington, Highbury, Notting Hill and Hampstead, continue to draw a premium, Mr. Klonaris said.

“Across the board, London may not be doing quite as well as the rest of the country, but there are areas where we can’t get enough stock and the price hike has been massive,” he said. “People are willing to pay well over asking.”

Despite the elimination of Covid restrictions this week, Britain’s borders remain closed to travelers from “red list” countries. Travelers from “amber list” countries, including the United States, no longer have to quarantine upon arrival if they are fully vaccinated.

Who Buys in London

Britain’s pandemic-related travel restrictions have resulted in a “marked downturn” in international buyers, Mr. Bill said: “They haven’t wanted to come here and quarantine, and then possibly have to quarantine when they go back.”

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The living room, on the eighth floor, is open at the top, providing a 50-foot view into the bell chamber. A spiral staircase leads to an internal deck with a glass floor and oak shelving, which serves as a small study.Credit…Courtesy of The Modern House

But given the strong domestic market, and the return to price growth in prime central London, when international buyers do return, “they won’t find a market that’s struggled in their absence,” he said.

Mr. Klonaris said most of his agency’s international buyers these days are based in Britain, although they do have some Americans looking from afar.

Buying Basics

There are no restrictions on foreign buyers in England. Buyers and sellers use their own solicitors to process the transaction.

Buyers pay a surcharge of 3 percent of the purchase price if the property is a second home.

The agent’s commission, typically 2 to 3 percent in London, is paid by the seller.

Websites

City of London: london.gov.uk

St. Paul’s Cathedral: stpauls.co.uk/history-collections/history

Britain tourism: visitbritain.com

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The main suite takes up two floors. The bedroom sits a floor above a large limestone bathroom with a soaking tub and a cedar-lined walk-in closet.Credit…Courtesy of The Modern House

Languages and Currency

English: pound sterling (1 pound = $1.38)

Taxes and Fees

The first 250,000 pounds ($345,000) on a home purchase will continue to be exempt from stamp duty tax through Sept. 30. After that, the threshold is set to revert to the usual 125,000 pounds ($172,000).

Annual council taxes on this home are 2,018 pounds ($2,765).

Contact

Corey Hemingway, The Modern House, 011-44-020-3795-5920; themodernhouse.com

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