For Some Home Buyers, It’s All About the Royal Backstory – The New York Times
LONDON — The three big things influencing a property’s desirability may indeed be “location, location, location,” but there is at least one other factor that can add extra allure: an engaging story.
A home’s link to a celebrity or a piece of history can make it more attractive, and one of the most popular stories is a royal connection.
“Even in countries where there is no longer a monarchy, a monarchical or royal association can still be meaningful,” said John Balmer, a London-based marketing expert who has pioneered academic work on the concept of the Crown’s being a “corporate heritage brand.”
“After all, even in republican France, the president still lives in a palace.”
Real estate agents throughout Europe say that buyers from across the globe can be swayed by knowing that a home was once owned or occupied by a royal or is close to a famous palace.
“It might be romance or history or just the celebrity factor, but people will definitely pay more for a home with a bit of royal magic to it,” said Nina Coulter, the director of residential development sales for Savills in London.
Right now, a little of that magic is available at properties such as a former home of French royalty overlooking the Seine, the Maltese villa where Queen Elizabeth lived as a young navy wife, and a central Berlin apartment complex beside the former imperial palace.
“A place with royal links tends to be in a premium position anyway, but that sort of heritage can demand an extra premium because it adds some soul and depth to the story of the home,” Ms. Coulter said.
The most powerful royal brand of all is the British monarchy, said Mr. Balmer, a professor of corporate marketing at Brunel University London.
Queen Elizabeth is “a celebrity brand name without parallel,” he said. She has “a brand proﬁle that adorns currencies and stamps from Australia to Vanuatu, a proﬁle that is truly global and is undeniably ubiquitous.”
And in marketing terms, her status as a “top-notch corporate heritage brand can directly or informally endorse not only products, services and corporations but also places that may confer distinctiveness and prestige.”
“Traditionally the aristocracy and the wealthy wished to be near the center of royal power,” he said, so an area like St. James’s in London still has some of the most fashionable shops and residences in the city.
A 2015 survey found that 43 percent of Londoners would consider paying more for a property just because it had a regal-sounding street name, like Royal Drive, King Place or Queen Crescent, even if there were no genuine royal connection to the property.
Susie Hollands, the founder of the French-based agency Vingt Paris, has no doubt why there has been sharp international interest in an 18th-century home south of Versailles that she is marketing.
The 26-acre Moulin de la Tuilerie was bought by Wallis Simpson in 1952 as a country retreat for herself and her husband, the former King Edward VIII, until his death two decades later. (The two were known as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor after King Edward abdicated in 1936 to marry Ms. Simpson.)
“Buyers are pretty savvy and will not pay a fortune just for a sort of celebrity hysteria, but there is certainly a lot more interest in this property because of the romance of its history with the Windsors,” Ms. Hollands said.
“We have had inquiries from the four corners of the globe, including some well-known names and people from France, Switzerland and America, as well as expat Brits,” she said.
The 18-bedroom estate is on sale for 6.5 million euros, or $7.3 million.
Buying into heritage
In London, the robes, banners and emblems for Edward VIII’s canceled coronation were made in a 370-year-old Covent Garden building that has recently been converted into four luxury apartments.
The workshop of the firm Toye, Kenning & Spencer was at 20 Great Queen Street from 1860 to 2013 where regalia was made for events including the coronations of George VI in 1937 and Elizabeth II in 1953 and the 1959 wedding and 1967 coronation of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, the shah of Iran.
Originally built as a townhouse in the 1640s, the building has been turned into three apartments with new glass-walled rear extensions, which are being marketed by Beauchamp Estates from 4,295,000 pounds, or about $5.4 million, and a penthouse on the fourth and fifth floors for £4,975,000.
Another London development clinging to its royal links is Regent’s Crescent, a curving terrace of grand homes on the edge of Regent’s Park that was conceived in 1812 by the architect John Nash as part of the prince regent’s plans to beautify central London.
Nash and the prince regent, who would become King George IV, wanted the terrace to form part of a complete circle like those they planned as Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Circus.
The financial drain of the Napoleonic Wars meant the third “circus” was never completed. But a brother of Napoléon, Count Joseph Bonaparte, became one of the well-heeled residents of the part that was built.
CIT, the developer, has leveled the western half of the semicircle to build a curving facade similar to Nash’s original design, featuring a grand colonnade with coupled Ionic columns and period-style doors, lanterns and chimneys.
Behind that facade will be 67 apartments selling for £2.9 million and up, and nine mews houses priced from £5.35 million.
The conservation organization English Heritage insisted on original design features such as having the principal rooms at the front of the building, and a walk through the construction site shows that it has also kept its grand Georgian proportions, with 14-foot-high ceilings on the first two levels.
Marketed by both Knight Frank and Savills, the project has 1.5 acres of private gardens, access to eight acres of communal gardens, a cavernous 30-foot-high lobby and luxury hotel amenities such as a swimming pool, a spa, a cinema, a business center and underground parking.
Moreas Madani, a partner at Knight Frank, said that while many British customers have been attracted by the project’s back story, some wealthy clients from the United States and China have been even more intrigued.
For some customers “it’s like buying a piece of art,’’ he said. “They want a narrative behind it.”
To establish the royal narrative at the Clarence, a £22.5 million apartment in St. James’s House in the heart of London, one needs only to look out a window.
The neighboring St. James’s Palace, Britain’s most senior royal palace, was built for Henry VIII in the 16th century and still hosts many official functions and serves as the London residence of Princess Anne and Princess Beatrice.
Marketed by Knight Frank, the four-bedroom Clarence is at the top of the price range, but many more affordable developments have royal ties.
On the other side of St. James’s Park and Buckingham Palace is One Queen Anne’s Gate, a period building that has been split into 27 apartments at prices starting from £1.625 million for one bedroom, £3.5 million for two bedrooms and £4.35 million for three bedrooms.
It is no coincidence that the Savills brochure for the property highlights royal connections at every turn, including the creation of the interiors by the furniture maker David Armstrong-Jones, better known as Princess Margaret’s son, Viscount Linley.
“The family crest of master builder Thomas Cubitt — whose son became the first Baron Ashcombe — still sits above the entrance to One Queen Anne’s Gate,” the brochure notes. “His great-great-great-granddaughter, Camilla the Duchess of Cornwall, lives just a brisk walk away at Clarence House
Prestige for wealthy Chinese
An even brisker walk through St. James’s Park, Green Park and Hyde Park will take a potential buyer to two luxury projects that highlight their proximity to Kensington Palace, the birthplace of Queen Victoria and the last home of Princess Diana, which today hosts the London homes of her sons, William and Harry.
“Kensington Gardens is a very desirable area anyway, but there are a lot of people who get an extra buzz out of the idea of living close to Will and Kate,” said Victoria Garrett, the head of Asia-Pacific sales for Knight Frank, referring to Prince William and his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge.
“When Kate or Meghan wear a garment, it sells out straightaway, and there is a whole industry based on royal plates and cups, so this is the real estate version of that same cachet or fascination.” (Meghan is Meghan Markle, Prince Harry’s wife.)
China, Ms. Garrett said, has already proved a strong market for One Kensington Gardens, which is being marketed by Knight Frank.
The complex overlooks the palace gardens from Kensington Road, with 97 luxury apartments ranging from one to six bedrooms, priced from £3.35 million.
Just behind the palace, the Lancer Square project has 36 apartments and penthouses on the site of the former Kensington Barracks, which housed cavalry regiments.
Sitting in the Kensington Palace Conservation Area, Lancer Square has a courtyard “inspired by Kensington Gardens” and a spa, a swimming pool and treatment rooms. Prices have not been announced.
While Kensington Palace is the epitome of a modern working palace, France must look to the past for properties with royal connections.
The Hôtel Nicolaï, on the banks of the Seine and in the heart of the Marais district, is a redevelopment of a site that Charles V used to house his queen in the 14th century.
In 1676 the property on Quai des Célestins was rebuilt as a private mansion. The current four-story structure was completed in 1868 and is being split into 12 apartments.
The building has retained its white stone facade and ceiling-high windows, but a major renovation has brought the interior up to modern standards.
The gray slate roof replicates the original design. Many original features remain amid the new walls and floors, including exposed beams, metal handrails on the stairs and hand-painted ceiling decorations.
The Hôtel Nicolaï apartments are being offered with unfinished interiors.
Five of the apartments remain unsold at prices (including refurbishment) ranging from €1.68 million for a single bedroom and office, to €6.44 million for a 3-4 bedroom unit spread over the lower two floors.
“It’s a little weird, but having killed our own king, we still love royalty — look at any magazine stand in Paris, and we are obsessed with the royals of England and Monaco,” said Camille Letuve, a partner at Athena Advisers.
In Germany, where the kaiser’s rule was abolished in 1918, there is relatively little interest in his descendants, so a property with royal links will mainly be judged on its location and broader historical significance.
The Crown Prince’s Garden is a large new apartment complex next to the former residential palace of the Prussian kings and emperor in the heart of the Mitte district of Berlin. Its apartments are selling for between €5.5 million and €8.45 million.
Source: For Some Home Buyers, It’s All About the Royal Backstory – The New York Times