UK market review - number 28, 2011
By Ruth Bloomfield
England's great medieval cathedrals are amongst its greatest architectural treasures. And the cities around them could well be the answer to a househunter's prayers.
From Canterbury to Chester to Chichester, these historic addresses tend to tick all the right boxes: romantic old towns with quirky shops and cafés, a rich stock of period housing, thriving communities, cracking transport links and league-table topping schools. They are also holding their own in a fluctuating property market.
"The thing about cathedral cities is not just that they have a long and illustrious history and architectural heritage," said Jamie Adam, director of the York office of Jackson-Stops & Staff. "But also that the infrastructure of the UK has built up around them."
There is also a huge range of property – in York you could choose between an elegant Georgian townhouse, for between £500,000 and £600,000, or a family-friendly five bedroomed house in the leafy suburb of Fulford for between £700,000 and £800,000.
Nigel Steele, who leads the Norwich office, says the city has plenty going for it as well as its two cathedrals: namely affordable period property and fabulous schools – Norwich High and Norwich School are amongst the top ten per cent in England.
He feels the 2011 market is static – but the best homes are still going to sealed bids. "The really good houses rarely come up because people don't move as regularly as they do closer to London," he said.
The smartest postcodes lie within the 'golden triangle' between Ipswich and Newmarket Roads, where a gracious six bedroomed Regency house in an acre of gardens could cost up to £1.5m. But you could pick up a four bedroomed house in the same area for around £450,000.
A regular contributor to the Sunday Times, The Times, London Evening Standard and Independent, Ruth Bloomfield was named National Freelance Journalist of the Year at the 2011 Property Press Awards.
A key benefit of a cathedral city is a – relative – immunity to price fluctuation. Charlie Lawson, director of Jackson-Stops & Staff in Exeter, said prices are now within five per cent of the 2007 peak – while nearby Plymouth still languishes ten per cent below.
And in Winchester, director Philip Blanchard believes prices have now crept back above 2007 levels.
There, you could choose from the timber framed Tudor cottages in the centre of the town, priced from around £300,000, or consider the Victorian properties in the popular suburb of St. Cross, which range from around £450,000 for a three bedroomed semi-detached up to £1.75m for a grand detached villa.
He suggests the cathedral city's charm lies in part in its compact size. "It is not some huge city divided by motorways" he said. Indeed, it is perhaps significant that a more appealing, more natural scale and proportion is a factor shared by all of the cathedral cities mentioned here – and many others.