Mention the north west, and up until recently people thought of ugly industrialised landscape, poverty and unemployment. However over the past few years the area has been reinventing itself almost by stealth, and as it emerges from its 1990s chrysalis, people are starting to view it through very different eyes.
And as it becomes increasingly obvious that the area between Manchester and Carlisle has undergone something of a facelift, the property market has of course responded accordingly.
Evidence is mounting of a frenzy taking place to acquire property before prices go through the proverbial roof, with estate agents telling stories of buyers from London ringing up blind and purchasing desirable properties from city centre waterside dwellings in Liverpool to large country houses in Lancashire.
The Nationwide House Price Index for the third quarter of 2003 is a testament to the increasing value of properties in the north west, with prices rising in the area between 25% and 40% and this trend is fully expected to continue.
‘The problem before was always that people would drive up from London on the M6 and see the industrialisation of the areas around Manchester and Liverpool, and look straight to the Lake District and Scotland,’ says Mark Fogden from Smiths Gore. ‘Wheras in fact the north west has some of the most beautiful landscape in the country.
‘We are finding that there is now an increasing demand for the right property,’ he continues.
‘Property with land is really at a premium as well, due to the lack of houses with large amounts of land, and people are prepared to pay for it.’
‘In terms of trends in the area we cover, there is no sign of a slowdown and every indication that people are looking to buy here more and more, as they can still get more for their money than they would in the south east; but this will not be the case for long if this continues.’
Common past perceptions of the north west also featured concerns about the distance from London, which automatically marked the area out as undesirable for businessmen who conducted much of their affairs in the capital. However, with Manchester airport on average 40 minutes drive, and the M6 and the M4, two of the main thoroughfares in the country, on your doorstep, domestic and international travel is not a problem.
Carlisle airport is also set to expand the hours and frequency of its flights, incoming and outgoing, and let’s face it: the west coast mainline can’t possibly stay as bad as it is forever.
Urban regeneration has been a large feature of the rethinking of the north west; and this has had the effect of driving up prices within and without city limits.
Manchester and Liverpool have overcome their stigma of downtrodden urban wastelands through a combination of investment and good PR.
Both the Commonwealth Games, held in Manchester last year, and the announcement that Liverpool is to be the European City of Culture in 2007 have both contributed to the image of these cities as places where creativity and development sit side by side.
Also, tellingly, Coutts is opening a branch in Liverpool. Research conducted for the bank found that the number of potential millionaires in the city has jumped in the past year by 44%, and could soon be putting Cheshire to shame.
But prices in the centres of both cities have rocketed in recent years, as people realise that quality of life can be higher than that of the south east, as the commuter belt spreads its net ever wider round London and journey times increase due to the overburdened train systems around the capital.
In contrast travel in and around both Manchester and Liverpool is easy.
Mr Fogden thinks that the previous failure to attract people outside to buy there was that sellers were not publicising properties nationally. ‘We’re bringing the national approach to the area. There is lots of property here of national importance, and we’ve been staggered by the interest we have managed to generate from outside buyers, and are hoping to build on this,’ he says.
‘We see it as a definite potential growth area for our business, and we haven’t anything on our books under £1m. If you are up here, you have to present property well for a national market, and doing this has made an enormous difference.’
And buyers from all over the country are starting to show interest. ‘We are having increasing interest from areas like Oxfordshire where people are selling up and buying something of much better quality here, but which also has comparable communications and travel opportunities,’ says Alick Grieve from Cluttons in Carlisle.
So it seems that urban regeneration and the ensuing changing public perceptions of an area where a few years ago you ‘couldn’t give property away’ have all had their knock on effect.
Quality top end property is unquestionably rising in price there, and as the publicity attracted by this part of England grows, it would be a crime not to consider snapping up a bargain while it is still possible.
From quality of life to quality of housing, the consensus seems to be that one would be pushed to find a better investment.