Last June, when Julia Woodward decided to sell her five-bedroom house in Beaconsfield, the Buckinghamshire market town popular with London commuters, agents advised her to do it off market — a practice common to achieve the best price when a home is in high demand. The home was in a good location, close to the train station but far enough from the tracks to be quiet. And it had a large, south-facing garden.
Six months later, after a price cut of £150,000, no offers, and the flow of viewings reduced to a tiny trickle, she took it off the market at the start of December. “I think we just left it a bit late — all the bad news since the summer: Truss resigning, the mini budget, mortgage rates and so on. We’ll consider our options again in the spring.”
Last year, as mortgage rates started to rise, buyers in Beaconsfield and its surrounding villages started to hold back from purchases. “My clients’ concern is they don’t want to buy into a falling market,” says Sharon Hewitt, who runs Chiltern Relocation, a local buying agent, and who has worked in the area for 18 years.
In November, the number of homes in Buckinghamshire sold subject to contract on Zoopla fell 42 per cent compared with the same period a year earlier, while the total number of listings increased by 30 per cent.
In the aftermath of the first Covid lockdown, the area’s popularity surged, causing prices to spiral. Last year, the average price of a home sold in the town was 24 per cent higher than it was in 2019, according to Land Registry data analysed by Hamptons.
“Today, if it were a borough in London, Beaconsfield would be the third most expensive,” says Aneisha Beveridge, head of research at Hamptons.
Hewitt says her buyers — most have budgets between £1.75mn and £4.5mn — are not particularly sensitive to mortgage rates but they do worry about what higher rates will mean for prices. “They are thinking: do I buy now or do I hold off?” Savills forecasts average prime prices across London’s inner commuting region, an area that includes Beaconsfield and its surrounds, will fall 8 per cent by the end of 2023.
Many of the homes in Beaconsfield’s Old Town are small, period cottages, spread along Wycombe End, Windsor End, Aylesbury End and London End, roads that form four radial arms reaching out from a central roundabout. Small terraced houses — those with two bedrooms typically fetch between £300,000 and £400,000 — are popular entry-level homes in the town. To the east, Lakes Lane is a mix of cottages and larger, detached houses.
Most of the New Town, which contains the train station — roughly a mile to the north of the Old Town — was developed in the 1920s and later, so its houses are typically bigger and sit on larger plots, in contrast to many towns where the area surrounding the train station contains smaller, older homes.
“We liked the convenience and the substantially sized houses right in the town centre and near the station,” says Woodward of her and her husband’s decision to move to the town 21 years ago. “It’s hard to find a house near the station for less than £1mn there,” says Chris Moorhouse, who runs Savills’ Beaconsfield office. In the past few years, several new luxury apartment developments — containing large lateral flats, aimed at downsizers — have been built there, with most priced between £500,000 and £2mn.
Hewitt says that in recent months there has been an increasing number of inquiries from downsizers: “Londoners in their fifties or sixties wanting to get a dog, do the pub walks, but still get into the city for the theatre and meals. The increased cost of living is one of the things that is coming up in these conversations.”
Woodward, who is downsizing with her husband, says that cutting her home’s running costs — especially heating — is one reason for their move. “This is a great family house, but it has five bedrooms and there are just two of us here now.”
Much Covid-era buying has favoured the villages surrounding Beaconsfield, including Penn, Seer Green and Jordans, as the shift to homeworking increased the appeal of quietness, space and a sense of community over proximity to the train station.
Hewitt says that clients of hers offered on three homes in November — one in Penn, one in Great Missenden and a third in the countryside beyond Amersham, a town five miles to Beaconsfield’s north. All three work in London — two in law and one in finance — meaning that, before the pandemic, they would have insisted on a home near a train station.
“Before Covid it was: I have to be central, to walk to the station to get on the 6.05. That was absolutely what they needed,” she says.
Following the first lockdown, many families brought forward plans to move out of London. The resultant surge in buying — and the fact that mortgage rates are likely to remain high for some time — suggests the flow of new movers will be thin for a while, according to Moorhouse.
Jane, who declined to give her real name, is in no rush to sell. She bought a house in Beaconsfield’s Old Town nine years ago when she returned to the UK from Paris. She decided to move at the end of last year and has instructed agents to sell the home off market. “I don’t want it plastered all over Rightmove and Zoopla: it puts a timestamp on it.”
Viewings have been very slow since then and she knows the process could take time. “When you read the news, it gets worse by the second. Obviously, this is a challenging time to sell: you can’t be in a hurry. I like my house a lot: if it doesn’t sell now, then I’ll move later in the year.”
What you can buy . . .
£550,000 A three-bedroom cottage in Penn, with a small south-facing garden and driveway parking, Savills.
£2.5mn A six-bedroom detached home in London End with 5,570 sq ft of living space, a large garden and a separate pool house, Hamptons.
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