James Max

Can Somerset gazump the Cotswolds?

Can Somerset gazump the Cotswolds?
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Life is peaceful there. Go west, in the open air. So sang the Village People and subsequently the Pet Shop Boys. They had a point as according to Rightmove, Bruton in Somerset is the top country hotspot for home buyers. With a 122 per cent increase in the number of house sales over the past 12 months and a rise in asking prices of 19 per cent, has the market already moved too far to make it a good investment proposition? And is there anything on the market worth buying?

With London’s average property prices at £630k for a flat, £678k on average and £962k for a terraced house, an average house price in Bruton of £365k looks relatively attractive. The London market is also in the midst of a post-lockdown rebound with deals for top-end properties in Kensington and Chelsea surging by 80 per cent. With the market again on the side of Londoners looking to relocate, now could well be the time to sell. But what can you get for your money and can you really consider somewhere so far away from London?

If you do want to go west shouldn’t we address the elephant in the room? Aren’t the Cotswolds a more convenient option? The answer is still yes, if you have all the money in the world. But with average house prices at £450k and family properties even more expensive, you’ll need to be more creative if it’s space that you’re looking for. 

So why Somerset? The countryside is second to none and less sanitised in places than the Cotswolds. Of course we all know about the orchards but there are the rolling Mendip and Quantock hills and the 69 miles of sheltered coastline. The neighbouring cities of Bath and Bristol arguably form enough of a cultural hub to compensate for what you might lose by leaving London and period properties abound. The Cotswolds - for all its charms - is simply not far enough away from the capital to warrant much of a cultural scene of its own. And if it's the Soho House vibe you're after, there’s always Somerset's Babington House with its 18 acres, two swimming pools and variety of outdoor pursuits.

Time will tell whether home working becomes an established norm but, if you're commuting back to London for two days a week you could do far worse than the 1 hour 40 minute train journey from Bristol or 1 hour 22 minutes from Bath.

The longer the pandemic restrictions have been in place, the more restless we have become. Some markets have seen virtually all their stock snapped up. There’s very little in Bruton itself worth considering, just look around though and you will find some lovely properties.

Bristol

Brandon Hill, Bristol

If you feel you must live in a city, then why not choose the tenth largest in the UK? Bristol. Historically built on trade it now has a population around half a million with a range of attractions and architecture to match its rich heritage. Science, media and the arts all boast flourishing job markets here and you may find with hub-working it’s a home from home.

Then there’s the property prices; you could find a rather splendid town house for your two bed London rabbit hutch. With average prices at just under £350k, there’s quite a choice. To the south of the city, in Whitchurch, north Somerset, at just over the average price, £360k will get you a charming two bed cottage and outside space too. Dipping into Bristol itself, you can find a 3000 square foot doer-upper for £770k with a view of the Clifton Suspension Bridge. If you have £1.5 million to spend, why not go for a house with over 4,300 square foot of accommodation, barns and stabling of over 5,450 sq ft, 3 acres of and the opportunity to purchase a 3 acre paddock. And there’s a separate orchard too.

If you’re determined to live in the city centre, you’ll find period properties with off-street parking and gardens for a lot less than you’d pay in London. £1.2 million will buy you a grand residence that, with a little tweaking here and there, will make a fabulous family home.

Beyond Bristol, there are two other strong options with enough amenities to ensure your departure from London isn't too much of a shock to the system:

Bath

Great Pulteney Street, Bath

The largest city in Somerset, properties here are more expensive. The average price tag is £530k. It may lack the cultural edge of London but the city makes up for this in spades with its stunning Palladian architecture - designed by the Georgians to meld perfectly with the surrounding hills.

Bath's fringes will prove the most fruitful if you are looking for more space: Bear Flat in the centre, Combe Down in the south and Bathampton and Batheaston to the east are good places to start. Just to the west of the city centre, £1.3 million will get you a seven bedroom Victorian masterpiece.

But for a more modest £450k budget, you can still find over 1,000 sq ft of accommodation. For those on a more modest budget or those looking for less bustle than Bath, picturesque Bradford on Avon has a train link into the city centre (which can also be reached via the scenic 9-mile canal walk). Its small collection of cafés will ensure you aren't out of reach of a decent cappuccino. 

Outside the towns…

It’s once you get into the countryside that the real bargains begin to shine. Shepton Mallet is a beautiful location and whilst £1.15 million may be out of reach for many, compared to what it will buy you in a city centre, Southwood in Evercheech in Somerset seems to have it all. And if you really must get back to London, it's under 2 hours 40 minutes by train. For £325k you can still find a charming 4-bedroom cottage with outside space and near a whole range of amenities. 

Frome

To the east of Somerset, Frome is a wonderful town. Large enough to have what you need, small enough not to be overrun by national chains. Independent shops, antiques and collectibles with clothing shops and bars and restaurants are in abundance too. There’s a strong arts scene and a calendar of events that should keep you busy. It’s near enough to Bath to be useful and far enough away to have its own identity.

You would not get a shoebox in London for £375,000. So, to have a two bed house with outside space in town, seems reasonable. Up your budget to £695k (that could buy you a two bedder in London), you’ll have over 2000sq feet of space, four bedrooms, gardens and garages with a fabulous rural vista.

2-bed house for sale in Frome

And finally how about this six-bedroom stunner? Put this kind of property in the Cotswolds and it would command well over £3 million given the size, amount of land and position. Despite the flurry of interest from the pandemic, it's still possible to make a shrewd investment in a house that will gain value over the years. 

6-bed house for sale in Frome

If space, land and off-street parking is what you want, you’ll still get a lot more for your money. You may not be the first Londoners to move to the area but judging by the exodus from our big cities, you won’t be the last either.

Written byJames Max

James Max presents the weekday Early Breakfast Show on TalkRADIO and is a qualified chartered surveyor.

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