Creating Luxury in London’s Undervalued Neighborhoods

LONDON — Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi is not your typical London property developer.

For one thing, he started his own property and design business, Banda, when he was just 23, and in the 12 years since, he has carried out some of the most interesting high-end projects in the city.

He has firm ideas about how to find and maximize value in a market that has been knocked off balance since the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Oh, and he is also rumored to be marrying into the British royal family some time soon.

Since last year, Mr. Mozzi has been dating 31-year-old Princess Beatrice of York, ninth in line to the throne.

When I suggest to Mr. Mozzi after a tour of his latest project, a 15-unit development in Notting Hill, that there is likely to be great interest in his personal life, he is determined to keep the discussion focused on his business.

“I agree with you. I don’t think I am the average developer,” he said. “I think what Banda does is unique. There is certainly no one else of my age doing things like this in London. I actually don’t think anyone in London is doing a project that is as high a quality as this and at such a good price.”

Mr. Mozzi’s Notting Hill project, 13-19 Leinster Square, embodies his strategy of creating carefully designed homes for wealthy clients in areas slightly outside the most prestigious and expensive parts of London and selling them to people who intend to live in them, rather than to investors.

CreditBanda Property

Built in the 1850s as a row of vertical townhouses, the Leinster Square properties were converted decades ago into a four-star hotel. Banda has spent the last five years turning the properties into eight large single-level apartments, five maisonettes and two penthouses with sunken roof terraces. They will go on sale this month for 5.9 million to 9.9 million pounds, or roughly $7 million to $12 million.

Large single-level apartments are extremely rare in Notting Hill, and the rebuilt apartments come with access to a locked private garden square like the one featured in the film “Notting Hill.”

Banda’s strategy is based on Mr. Mozzi’s belief that top-end London buyers have begun to challenge the tyranny of the elite postal code.

He is convinced that clients are more willing nowadays to consider an apartment in Fulham or the less prestigious parts of Notting Hill rather than insisting on Belgravia and Mayfair, as long as the apartment itself delivers a “wow” factor at prices well below those of the most elite areas.

“Buyers have become less area-specific and more apartment-specific,” he said. “That sort of micro-location, where people come in and say, ‘I have to live in this one place,’ is less prevalent now.

“People are now coming to the London market with £5 million or £8 million to play with, and they don’t just say, ‘Show me apartments in Notting Hill,’ they say, ‘Show me what I can get for my money, and I will make a decision about money, value and area, once you show me.’”


CreditBanda Property

“For this project,” he said, “we are going to see buyers who come in and they have looked in Mayfair and St John’s Wood and Little Venice and Chelsea, and they think, ‘I love what is happening in that Mayfair development, but it’s £5k or £6k ($6,100 to $7,300) a square foot.’

“Then they come here and say, ‘Wow, I wasn’t expecting this, and the quality is better or as high and the specification is as high but it’s at half the price.’”

Known as Edo, Mr. Mozzi is the son of an Italian count, Alessandro Mapelli Mozzi, who holds dual British and Italian citizenship. But as solely a British citizen, Mr. Mozzi is not eligible for his father’s title.

His parents separated when he was young, and it was Mr. Mozzi’s mother, Nikki Williams-Ellis, whose career as an executive in commercial real estate inspired an early interest in property.

“I spent my childhood being dragged around to see sites,” he said. “This was before Google Maps, so if you were interested in a building in Manchester or a shed in Milton Keynes, you had to go and see it.”

After attending the elite Radley College in England, he studied politics at Edinburgh University.

“I knew I wanted to be in property prior to going to university,” he said. “I just didn’t want to go and do a property degree, so I did a masters in politics.


CreditBanda Property

“I used my holidays to do 10 to 15 internships with developers and property banks and legal firms and agencies, so I felt I had the big picture of the property sector.”

Mr. Mozzi was particularly attracted to residential property projects.

“I have always been interested in how design can create emotion and sort of change your feelings,” he said. “I didn’t feel that there was very good design in the residential real estate sector.

“So I felt I could take designs from other European countries but also from individual residences and apartments in London and then make that work in a multiunit capacity, where we were doing five, 10, 15 units.”

While still at university, he persuaded investors to back him in buying Fulham townhouses and converting them into apartments. And after graduation, he started Banda, eventually taking on two partners.

“I was very young — 22 or 23 — when I started, and then there was a collapse in the financial markets in 2008-09, and no bank or funder was going to lend me a huge amount of money to do residential development,” he said.

“So the business very quickly transformed, and we built a private client business, helping clients to buy properties and do project management, planning and construction, and then we started building a design practice where we could help on architecture and interiors.”


CreditBanda Property

That private client business has since been combined with a series of Banda’s own property developments, in which the 14-employee firm has specialized in converting nonresidential buildings into apartments.

A turning point was the conversion of a derelict bakery in the Battersea area into eight flats in a project called Parkgate House.

“What we were able to do was create, in a slightly secondary location, a new market,” he said. “Nothing like that had been done. That location had been done as small two-bedroom flats, and we were going to create three-bedroom apartments that were 2,500 to 4,000 square feet.

“We gave them all a car park, they all had 3.5-to-4.5-meter ceilings and large terraces, and what we found, once we had finished, was that buyers in established markets in Chelsea and Mayfair were able to sell their homes and buy our large lateral apartments at a third of the price.”

“And they were prepared to come to a slightly less-established location because the product was so much better,” he went on.

“We finished that project in 2013, and all the apartments sold within a day to owner-occupiers who still live in that building.”


CreditBanda Property

Guiding a reporter through a completed three-bedroom apartment at Leinster Square, Mr. Mozzi pointed out that the specifications for the master bedroom and bathroom are higher than those for the spare bedrooms, as many of his buyers are in their 50s and 60s who have downsized from family homes and use the extra bedrooms for occasional visitors.

The master bedroom suite occupies almost a third of the whole apartment and sits at the front of the property to take advantage of the abundant sunlight and views across the garden square.

It has its own central hallway, antique mirrored cupboards and “his and hers” dressing rooms, which feature a burgundy Rosso Levanto marble dressing table, which will be part of a bespoke furniture range soon to be introduced by Banda Design Studio.

The master bathroom has a double walk-in shower, a free-standing bath and tarnished brass fixtures.

“Quality matters so much to owner-occupiers,” Mr. Mozzi said, “and they have got to be able to walk in here and think, ‘I can see myself living here.’ If you walk into a flat that has been built for investors you say, ‘Well, there are only three cupboards. Where will I put my storage?’”

The 2,705-square-foot model unit is finished with high-end light fittings, furniture and artworks that can be bought with the apartment, including two bronze sculptures by Mr. Mozzi’s stepfather, David Williams-Ellis, the sculptor who created the bronze D-Day statue that was unveiled in Normandy in June.

Mr. Mozzi acknowledges that the fall of the British pound since the Brexit referendum has dented market confidence and made it tougher to buy materials abroad and recruit foreign workers, but he insists that confidence is starting to recover, despite the looming Oct. 31 deadline for Britain to leave the European Union.

Knight Frank’s Hyde Park office, which covers the Leinster Square area, says that in the year to June 2019, the number of new prospective buyers on its books rose by 14 percent and it conducted 18 percent more viewings than the previous year.

“People are now saying maybe this is the opportunity to come back and buy in London,” Mr. Mozzi said.

“Investors will sit back and see what happens in London, rather than sign off two months before Brexit, but an owner-occupier can turn around and say, ‘You know what, the market is down 20 percent, the currency is also down, this is staggeringly cheaper than it was four or five years ago, so I’m going to get back in now or I might miss my opportunity.’”

Published at Mon, 02 Sep 2019 07:29:10 +0000