Brighton, known in Victorian times as the ‘London of the south coast’, is a modern, cosmopolitan town with a thriving nightlife and a youthful, bohemian atmosphere.
Property prices have rocketed in recent years as Londoners have realised that they can take advantage of the cheaper property and the superb, seaside location, and still commute to the capital, with the journey taking under one hour.
The architecture is spectacular, and the abundance of cafes, galleries, restaurants and museums gives Brighton a cosmopolitan, European feel. Hove, located to the west is considered Brighton’s more ‘genteel’ cousin and shares its wonderful sea views.
Originally a small fishing village called Brighthelmstone, Brighton came into its own during the Regency period towards the end of the 18th Century, when the Prince Regent ? later George IV ? fell in love with the area and relocated there. His legacy remains not only in the form of some fine examples of Regency architecture, but also in the form of the truly spectacular Royal Pavilion, designed by John Nash, and home to George IV throughout his reign.
The Pavilion, totally unique and encompassing architectural styles from around the globe, has been subject to a £10million in recent years and is now open to the public, who are no doubt left speechless not only by the exterior, but also the dramatic interior which was recreated during the restoration.
Architecturally, Brighton has taken influence from each era since the Regency. Victorian times gave the city much of its traditional ‘seaside town’ character, including both the West and Palace Piers. The Palace still stands as a tourist attraction today, but the West Pier, once a world-class entertainment venue hosting talents as diverse as Charlie Chaplin and Elgar, has now fallen into disrepair, following years of neglect and a series of recent inauspicious incidents.
Hove, a separate town located beyond the West Pier, is largely regarded as a quieter, more residential area. It has a slower pace, and less of the seaside resort character, but the same sea views and equally appealing architecture.
Culturally, Brighton is second only to the capital, with an abundance of restaurants, theatres, shops and galleries. The Theatre Royal, a beautiful, Grade II listed building dating back almost 200 years, stages all kinds of performance, from musicals to stand up comedy acts, while more offbeat shows can be taken in at the Komedia or at the Brighton Dome.
The artistic community also thrives, thanks to the excellent Brighton Museum and Art Gallery and its sister museum in Hove, as well as the Artists Gallery of Contemporary Modern Art, and the countless smaller independent galleries located throughout the city catering for every artistic taste.
Shopping in Brighton is a unique experience, from the Lanes’ brick-paved alleyways, lined with antique, jewellery and fashion shops, to the offbeat, bohemian atmosphere of the North Laine, and the artists’ studios on the seafront. After London, Brighton has the largest concentration of restaurants in the South East, and many of the best are located within the Lanes, serving, amongst other specialities, some of the country’s best seafood.
While Brighton is a busy, cosmopolitan city, those that venture just a few miles out from the centre will find that it is surrounded by the beautiful open countryside of the South Downs. Much of the landscape is made up of protected chalk grassland, which is now in severe decline due to the lack of sheep grazing. To the east is ‘1066 Country’, with its historical towns and buildings, such as Leeds Castle and the ‘Cinque Ports’.
The property market in Brighton has boomed in recent years at a faster pace than the rest of the country, due mainly to the fact that more and more Londoners are realising that they can find equally good properties in Brighton, while enjoying the benefits of its superb seafront location, and yet are still able to commute to the capital, with the journey taking less than one hour.
‘There will always be local movement of Brighton residents, as they upsize and move from house to house. However, over the past two to three years, the London market has pushed values up, as people come down and see that they can get an equally good property in a better location for a lower price,’ said Mark Welton from estate agents Mishon MacKay.
Character properties, mainly from the Regency and Victorian eras, make up the vast majority of Brighton’s buildings, and neutral houses that retain their period features are snapped up by buyers: ‘The more original features, such as fireplaces, sash windows and plaster cornicing, the better,’ said Alex Sheppard from estate agents Strutt & Parker.
Another sought after feature, which will inevitably add a considerable premium to any Brighton property, is a sea view. ‘Properties with a sea view will automatically carry a premium of at least £25,000,’ said Mr Sheppard.
While the market has stabilised in recent months, prices are still robust, and the most sought after areas are still enjoying heated activity. The Regency houses of Kemp Town, once home to Lewis Carroll, are highly desirable, as are the properties that line the town’s various squares, including Brunswick Square, Sussex Square, where past residents include Rudyard Kipling, and Marine Square on the seafront.
Mr Welton expects the market to pick up once again next year: ‘Values have fallen back a little, so now is a good time to be buying. However, next year will be different, as people want to move but are holding back until after Christmas and the New Year.’
‘Buyers are looking for more realistic prices, but the top end of the market seems less affected,’ said Mr Sheppard.
Located to the west of Brighton, Hove boasts equally good properties, but enjoys a slower pace of life a more space. As a result, and because it has more larger, detached properties with gardens, Hove attracts families or older buyers. Venturing further away from Brighton can also be rewarding, with homebuyers in smaller towns, such as Hurstpierpoint to the north or Rottingdean to the east, enjoying better value for money and good transport connections.
At the top end of the market, Brighton’s prices have still not yet reached London’s dizzying heights: ‘The top end of the market is at around £1.5million, which will buy a detached house in any of Brighton & Hove’s most sought after streets, such as Withdean Road, Dyke Road Avenue, or Tomdean Avenue,’ said Mr Welton.