In prime spots of North Yorkshire and Northumberland, the market looks buoyant this autumn, finds Arabella Youens.
Hanlith Hall near Skipton, North Yorkshire, stands in 2,000 acres of prime Dales countryside and, according to sales agent Tim Usherwood of Dacre, Son & Hartley, ‘is, from a sporting perspective, an absolute gem’. £3.5 million (01756 701010).
All eyes were on Yorkshire this summer as the first stage of the 101st Tour de France set off from the streets of Leeds, taking in some spectacular countryside before finishing in the spa town of Harrogate. According to Toby Milbank of Strutt & Parker’s Harrogate office (01423 706772), in recent months, there has been a kind of synergy between the choice of location for this first stage and the hotspots at the top end of the property market in Yorkshire. ‘Harrogate and York are the major centres of the north where the market is strongest and increasing confidence has spread out from them over the past six to nine months.’
Andrew Turner at the York office of Smiths Gore (01904 756303) is equally upbeat: ‘The York city market appears to be going from strength to strength. Wealthy downsizers and young retirees are relocating from rural areas to make the most of the cultural and leisure opportunities the city has to offer and, together with a less than two-hour rail link to London attracting buyers from the capital, this has resulted in strong demand for premium property.’ The knock-on effect has led to a growing number of period properties that were previously in commercial use and are now being launched on the market to be returned to domestic use. Mr Turner cites Knavesmire Manor as an example: ‘It has the potential to become one of the city’s finest properties and represents an ambitious project for someone looking to restore it to its former Regency glory.’
York has its excellent university, pretty cathedral and commutable— albeit for the extreme commuter—fast trains to London King’s Cross, but Harrogate arguably steals a march on the style catwalk. The refined spa town or, as it has been called, ‘tea- room Mecca’, is the sort of place that, according to some, people come to for the better air and good life. It recently merited the top spot in Rightmove’s rather nauseatingly named Happy at Home index. More significantly, perhaps, its style status was sealed in January this year when Rigby & Peller, corsetière to The Queen, opened its first northern store there. And, as if it wasn’t enough that the Yorkshire Dales are on its doorstep, the town is encircled by a big green lung called The Stray—a 200-acre ring of communal land.
All of this has contrived to put the town on the wider map of property buyers. According to Tim Waring, who heads up the Knight Frank Harrogate office (01423 535373), buyers are increasingly coming from beyond the county: ‘In 2010, 33% of our sales through Knight Frank Harrogate were to buyers from out- side Yorkshire. There was a year- on-year increase up to 40% in 2013 and for the year to date in 2014, the figure currently just exceeds 45%.’
Obviously, one of the major draws for southerners and British expatriates buying in Yorkshire is the benefit of the prices when compared to those of properties in the south. Mr Milbank believes you can get twice as much house for your money in Yorkshire compared to something on the market in the South-East.
Everyone agrees that the prospect of a mansion tax has cast its shadow on the top end of the market, ‘but it’s within this bracket that there are the best buying opportunities’, says Mr Milbank. ‘Prices have remained stubbornly static and it’s only now, seven years later, that we are seeing 2007 prices returning—in the southern counties, prices have doubled in that same period.’ Figures from the Savills office in York (01904 617821) echo this sentiment. ‘Prices generally are still about 15% below the top of the market and, while we have seen significant recovery in York, the villages are just beginning to show real signs of prices firming up,’ says Ben Pridden.
The recovery in rural house prices in Yorkshire is rather patchy and limited, according to Smiths Gore. ‘However, our experience is that good properties in prime village locations are selling well and our sale, earlier this year, of Greystones Farm in Harome, near Helmsley, is a good case in point,’ says Mr Turner. ‘The combination of a Grade II-listed farmhouse, stunning barns and about 17 acres, all in need of complete renovation and positioned right at the centre of the village, proved popular with affluent local and London buyers, with the village well-known outside the region for its proximity to the excellent Ampleforth College and not one but two destination gastro pubs. Following competitive interest, the property sold for considerably above its £745,000 guide price to a buyer from Hong Kong.’
Mr Pridden agrees that houses must be in a ‘good village’ to excite the current buyer’s interest. ‘Invariably, we’re finding people travelling up from London to take advantage of the huge differential in values. More people are buying rural homes in order to bring the children up in open countryside—the schools are a very important factor in this, as are local amenities. But it’s hard to find fully functioning villages that still have a good shop, pub and primary school—many of which have closed down in recent years.’
He cites Hovingham as one such village. Located in the Howardian Hills, the village is about 20 miles north of York and about six miles from Ampleforth College, as well as being close to the highly regarded Ryedale secondary school. Helperby is another ‘seriously good-looking village’, which is, according to Mr Pridden, ‘quintessentially English with charming period houses. And, although it has easy access to both Harrogate and York, it’s just far enough off the beaten track to be peaceful’.
What do the future months hold? According to Philip Proctor of Humberts in York (01904 611828), the current bounce in activity is expected to continue throughout the autumn. ‘Next year, there will, of course, be a general election and it’s anticipated that there will be something of a hiatus a month or so before May 7, so vendors would be wise to market their properties now or early in the new year.’
Move north and east to the wilds of Northumberland and you’ll find a similar story of expatriates heading home—not necessarily from overseas, but certainly from the southern counties. According to Sam Gibson of the Strutt & Parker offices in Morpeth (01670 516123), ‘we are seeing con- fidence returning to the North and the rise of the Geordie expatriate, who has often made money in the South and is returning home’.
This is backed up by Patrick Paton of the Smiths Gore office in Berwick- upon-Tweed (01289 333030): ‘The Northumberland market is not only attractive to a local audience, but to a national one also, with our last three properties going under offer to parties from the South.’ And the momentum keeps building. ‘We have sold double the number of houses compared to this time last year and have twice as much stock in the pipeline,’ adds Mr Paton.
Prices, according to Mr Gibson, are again reaching their 2007 level. This is particularly true in the area’s ‘hotspots’, of which the greatest is the coastal village of Bamburgh, sitting on what some proudly term the ‘Northumberland Riviera’. The village is set on one of the most dramatic stretches of coastline in Britain—miles of windswept beach are watched over by the imposing Bamburgh Castle. Proximity to the A1 makes the village popular with Yorkshire-based buyers on the lookout for a second home.
In fact, the entire coastline proves popular among many buyers, ‘stretching from Berwick in the north, heading south through Bamburgh Beadnell, Embleton, Newton-by-the- Sea and down’, says Lucinda Reed at Finest Properties (01434 622234). Her office recently put Westfield House in Longhoughton, minutes from the coast and Alnwick, on the market and it sold within days. ‘The area in and around Alnwick and Alnmouth is extremely popular due to its links south with the east-coast mainline,’ explains Mrs Reed.
Heading further inland, another area to look at is Corbridge, a charming town at the heart of the Tyne Valley within easy reach of Newcastle and what is affectionately known as the ‘Bond Street of the North’ for its array of boutique shops. ‘It’s only a short 45-minute drive to the beautiful scenery of the coast, much less than most people’s commute in London,’ adds Mrs Reed. And don’t overlook Berwick-upon-Tweed itself nor the market town of Wooler, recommends Mr Paton.