Who knows the inside track on Britain's prime addresses? The long-standing local agents – of course – so each week we pin a different one down for an insider's walk around their manor.
This week: Charlie Smith, Sotheby International Realty's London office
Where: The gilded pavements of London's Mayfair
A drizzly day makes it tricky to look up without water dribbling down your neck. But Charlie Smith nevertheless implores me to raise my chin.
"Most people can't be bothered to lift their face skywards, so in London they are missing out on some of the world's best architecture," he says. And as 97.5% of Charlie's clients are from overseas and buy property in Mayfair worth on average £7 million, he thinks it's well worth them looking up to the heavens.
Our Mayfair tour starts not on the pavement, but inside Sotheby's New Bond Street auction rooms where a Giacometti sculpture recently sold for over £65 million. As well as pointing out that you get a great lobster sandwich in the café, Charlie outlines plans for property exhibitions here, because "contemporary property can be aligned with contemporary art".
Bright-eyed Charlie, who looks younger than his 40 years, steers me round to Berkeley Square, where he is selling a £6.5 million penthouse (pictured right and below) once owned by Christian Candy, one half of high-end developing partnership Candy and Candy; the men behind multi-million pound pads at One Hyde Park, Knightsbridge and Cadogan Place.
Candy sold the penthouse to a Russian but Charlie is acting for the current owner, an Italian, who wants the lease extended and more garage space - presumably for his Maserati. "There's a wonderful view of the old London plane trees and sculptures in the square," Charlie says, returning to his art theme.
On to nearby Mount Street where, such is the opulence, living above a shop means perching atop the Porsche Centre rather than choking on greasy odours from the local chippie. "Overseas buyers don't mind living over a retail unit as much as the English, who hate busy streets, while foreigners like nipping downstairs for a latte."
Mayfair's famous residents are more likely to be in the Forbes 400 rich list than on the glossy pages of Hello magazine – with the exception of Madonna's-ex Guy Ritchie, who runs The Punchbowl pub. But overall residents here prefer understated affluence rather than flashy shows of opulence.
"A well-known Irish businessman lives there and the richest guy in New Zealand's over here," he mysteriously indicates as we stroll along Charles Street. However, Charlie will attach a name to a fine early Edwardian house (pictured below) that measures 11,000-square feet with planning permission to take it up to 16,000. It was owned by headline-grabbing Austrian Cevdet Caner, the man at the centre of Germany's biggest real-estate insolvency in 15 years when his company Level One went bust last year.
"It's been done in an immaculate Germanic kind of way and the house connects to the mews behind. It is back on the market at £20 million."
One thing Charlie wants to see more of is large Friends-style apartments. "The area is crying out for a sophisticated building like The Knightsbridge."
One place that fits the bill is Grosvenor Square's American Embassy, which local residents were relieved recently to hear is to be vacated and, Charlie is sorry to hear, may be turned into a hotel rather than flats. We gaze up at its chunky edifice and concede it would benefit from another storey – or in other words it's a bit squat.
Charlie reckons the property, which is worth £4,000 a square foot, knocked 25 per cent off the value of the square's homes when the Americans barricaded themselves in during the 1960s. So things are looking up - way up - in Mayfair.
Mayfair's famous residents are more likely to be in the Forbes 400 rich list than on the glossy pages of Hello magazine – with the exception of Madonna's-ex Guy Ritchie, who runs The Punchbowl pub.