LONDON - Without an invitation from a resident, youre not even going to make it past the lobby of Londons most exclusive building. The barrage of dark-suited, grim-faced men standing at the entrance to the glass and steel One Hyde Park complex wont let you. If you have an invitation, theyll radio the buildings security to run a check and make sure that you are who you say you are. Only then may you proceed inside.
Bulletproof glass, panic rooms, iris recognition scanners in the elevators security here is as tight as in an embassy, and not without reason. After all, the owners of the 86 luxury apartments in this building are among the richest and most influential people in the world. Arab sheiks, Russian oligarchs, European billionaires, 22 nationalities are represented in the apartment complex overlooking Londons Hyde Park.
In its sales literature, the real estate developer Project Grande calls One Hyde Park the most expensive residential address in the world. And they proved it by selling a two-story penthouse for 136 million pounds (162 million euros) setting the world record for the most expensive home on the planet.
According to British media reports, the buyer is Rinat Akhmetov, the richest man in Ukraine -- with a fortune estimated at 12 billion euros. He is said to have invested a further 72 million euros furnishing the place.
What makes One Hyde Park so unique is first and foremost its location. The complex, comprised of four linked glass buildings, is on the south side of Londons best-known park, in the Knightsbridge area. Harrods department store, and the Serpentine and Saatchi art galleries are just a stones throw away. To the right of One Hyde Park is the five-star Mandarin Oriental hotel, which connects to the complex via an underground passageway. Project Grande has a service contract with the hotel: sixty-eight Mandarin Oriental employees tend exclusively to every wish emanating from residents of One Hyde Park, around the clock. Without leaving their apartment, they can ask a concierge to book theater tickets, send the Rolls Royce round, dispatch a housekeeper to clean the tub, or order a gourmet meal from the hotels signature restaurant Dinner by Heston Blumenthal.
Service is very important for our clients, says real estate agent Miles Wood of Savills, the London real estate company selling the flats. Buyers travel constantly, and One Hyde Park is one of many residences, he says. We have a sheik, for example, who already owns a house in London but used to stay at a hotel because he couldnt be bothered to do the house up.
An entire oak forest
In One Hyde Park, on the other hand, after a tiring long-distance flight, residents can order a meal or have a masseur come to their digs. And when pitching to younger prospective clients, Wood says he plays the party trump card: "I tell them how, at night, after clubbing they can spontaneously invite 20 or 30 friends round and keep on partying at home. Just one call, and room service will fill the champagne buckets. If that doesnt convince them, I give up, says Wood. He only lets journalists into the building very rarely, he says, because discretion is another of the main sales arguments. However, Woods made an exception for Die Welt and is leading me through the opulent complex.
Only the most precious materials were used in the construction, such as 15 types of marble, as well as wood from an entire oak forest. In the underground garage, the parking spaces are twice as big as normal ones adjusted to accommodate the Ferraris, Hummers and Bentleys. Other facilities included are a movie theater, a reception room that can hold up to 100 guests, a golf virtual course that simulates the worlds top greens, a fitness studio, a 120-meter ozone pool, a spa, a sauna, a squash court, and a wine cellar. What residents pay to use the facilities depends on the size of their apartment. Per square meter, services charges in the complex amount to around 179 euros a year. For a five-room apartment, that works out to 163,000 euros annually.
However, its unlikely that the shared facilities will be crowded any time soon, with sheiks and oligarchs getting in each others way. True, 68 of the 86 flats have been sold one year after the complex opened, but only three of those were registered as a primary residence. Our clients call the whole world home. They will spend winters at their ski chalet, summers on their yachts in Cannes or Sardinia, and the rest of the time in their homes in the Middle East, Russia or the United States, says estate agent Woods.
"Ghost town in the heart of London"
Because it is so empty, many British papers compare One Hyde Park to a ghost town in the heart of London. That doesnt however seem to bother its wealthy residents. In February 2012, the last remaining five-bedroom apartment was sold for 72 million euros.
For developer Project Grande, One Hyde Park is already a financial success. The joint venture of the British real estate firm CPC Group and the investment firm owned by Qatars Prime Minister has already taken in 1.79 billion euros, which covers their entire investment.
The project was a risky one, however, and was considered a potential financial disaster. In 2005, Project Grande took out a 1.38 billion euro loan. The London real estate market was booming at the time, but during construction the financial crisis erupted and the real estate bubble burst. Project Grande reacted courageously by ordering a temporary halt in sales of the apartments in 2009 -- to sit the crisis out and wait for prices to climb again.
The risky decision turned out to be the right one: in the past couple of years, luxury real estate in London has been experiencing a surprising boom. Prices for houses and flats in the ritziest parts of town rose by 14.5% in 2011. The so-called ultra-prime market --real estate priced at 17.9 million euros and above went up as much as 18.6%. The unexpected upturn is due primarily to the unrest in the Middle East, but also to the uncertainty about the future of the euro.
The London real estate market is seen as a safe haven for investments, explains Wood. One family even bought four apartments at One Hyde Park, and chances are good they will make a profitable investment. A recent independent study by the London real estate firm Knight Frank on the possible increase in value of One Hyde Park showed that by 2016 the price per square meter could have risen by a whopping 40%.
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Photo - One Hyde Park