Buying property in regeneration areas

The clever home hunter buys in a good-looking area where multimillion-pound projects are set to lift prices even higher
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The Holy Grail for house-hunters is to find an area on the verge of regeneration where you can buy a good-value home and just sit back and wait for the magical uplift to happen.

But with new building projects slowed to a recession pace, this strategy comes with a risk: no one wants to buy in a dreary district only to find that, like Godot, the uplift never comes.

So we asked experts how to play the regeneration game, and their view was clear - the key is to find areas with genuine regeneration prospects that are already nice places to live.

Exclusive research by Savills estate agents has identified three such places: each is an easy commute to London with good-quality homes currently priced below average for their county (so offering real growth potential). And all are on the cusp of multimillion-pound regeneration.

"These are areas which are not quite yet in the premiere league, which is quite surprising as they will be," explained Marcus Dixon, associate director of Savills.

Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire

Journey time: 26 minutes from Kings Langley station.
Annual season ticket: £3,512.
Average house price: £278,000. Detached house price: £493,000.
10-year price growth: 100 per cent.
County comparison: 13 per cent below average for Hertfordshire.

The multimillion-pound redevelopment of Leavesden Studios will bring Abbots Langley into the spotlight. The town is within the M25, so the commute is speedy and the nearest station, at Kings Langley, is just a mile away.

Leavesden Studios is, of course, where the Harry Potter films (not to mention James Bond) were made, and it is in the throes of a £100 million revamp courtesy of Warner Bros. It is hoped some 300 new jobs will be created once the state-of-the-art facility, including a "Potter museum", opens next year. Meanwhile, Three Rivers district council is mulling over plans to build 425 new homes, 70 per cent of them affordable, nearby.

Property in the village is a mixture of period and modern. Lee Goddard, manager of Your Move, estimates you could buy a two-bedroom Edwardian or Victorian cottage for beneath the £250,000 Stamp Duty threshold. A larger period house would sell from £330,000, and you would pay between £325,000 and £350,000 for a modern semi. Large executive homes are priced up to £800,000. There is already one modern development on the doorstep of the studios. Huntonbury Village has large family houses for about £500,000, and two-bedroom houses from £250,000.

In terms of schools, parents speak highly of the village primary, Abbots Langley School, considered "good" by Ofsted. Most seniors currently go on to Kings Langley School, which is also rated "good".

The village has a reasonable high street with basic shops, and Watford with its vast shopping centre is three miles away. The Compasses is good for a pint, and locals rate the award-winning Forest of India restaurant. "Abbots Langley is a good find, if you are lucky enough to find it," says Goddard. "Once people move in they tend not to leave."

Sittingbourne, Kent

Journey time: 54 minutes.
Annual season ticket: £2,644.
Average house price: £186,000.
Detached house: £305,000.
10-year price growth: 94 per cent.
County comparison: 24 per cent less than average for Kent.

This Kentish town, 15 minutes from the coast, has played Cinderella to swankier Tunbridge Wells, but Swale council has plans to change all that. In February it selected a development partner, known as the Spirit of Sittingbourne, to push forward a £110 million regeneration for the town centre: at present this area can be described as functional rather than attractive, dotted as it is with recession-hit empty shop sites. But the future includes a new public square, hotel and cultural facilities, a new health centre, shops and homes. Meanwhile, developer Essential Land is applying for planning permission to redevelop the site of the town's former paper mill into a £30 million development of shops and homes, plus a new park and museum.

With all this going on, there is every chance of price uplift in the town, which is, at present, ridiculously affordable. Alan Lamborn, director of Lamborn & Hill, says you could buy a town-centre period cottage for between £100,000 and £120,000, or a modern detached house on the out-skirts for £250,000. Sittingbourne is split by the A2, and the south side is by far the most desirable. It has a good stock of Thirties houses - a semi would cost between £180,000 and £200,000, and a really substantial detached house about £500,000.

East coast glamour: the waterfront at Ipswich
Schools locally are strong. Parents rate Fulston Manor School (mixed), as does Ofsted, which deems it "excellent".
Kent is famous for its grammar schools, and Highsted Grammar (girls) is also given top marks by the schools' watchdog, while Borden Grammar (boys) is rated good.

Location-wise, Sittingbourne is easily commutable to town but just 15 miles from the lovely seaside resort of Whitstable, perfect for a day trip.

Ipswich, Suffolk

Journey time: 70 minutes.
Annual season ticket: £5,300.
Average house price: £148,000.
Detached house price: £245,000.
10-year price growth: 102 per cent.
County comparison: 28 per cent less than average for Suffolk.

Ambitious plans to redevelop Ipswich town centre, with offices, shops and a hotel on a 1.7-acre site, have just been unveiled by developer Wrenbridge. The £25 million proposals will help connect the town centre to the waterfront, which is buzzing with new bars and restaurants, and a planning application is expected this summer.

Ipswich is one of England's oldest towns, which is reflected in its wealth of fine period property. Christchurch Park is undoubtedly the poshest postcode, and you could pick up a Victorian town house for £300,000 to £350,000, according to Simon Clow, a partner at Palmer & Partners.

Elsewhere there is a clear east/west divide, with the east generally commanding a 10 per cent premium thanks to its better schools. A Victorian two-bedroom cottage would cost about £160,000 to £170,000 to the east of town, but £140,000 to £150,000 to the west.

A Thirties bay-fronted semi would cost about £160,000 to £170,000 to the east, and £140,000 to £150,000 to the west, while a modern exec home would cost about £230,000 to £240,000 in the east, and £200,000 to £210,000 in the west.

Ipswich has three rambling former council estates - Chantry, Whitton and Nacton - and locals say these are blighted and to be avoided. If, however, you can bear to drive two or three miles out of town there are also some gorgeous villages: Henley, Rushmere St Andrew and Kesgrave are particularly popular. If being close to the station is your priority, try The Hayes and the streets around Belstead Road for substantial period houses within a few minutes' walk.

A budget option is the new-build apartments sprouting at the waterfront. These developments have been hit hard during the recession, with repossessions commonplace and developers forced to rent out properties they can't sell. For this reason you could pick up a two-bedroom flat from £80,000.

The schools that give east Ipswich its premium include Northgate High School, rated "excellent" by Ofsted, and Copleston High School, rated "good". The town centre has been given a boost by the new University Campus Suffolk, which is lending it a more youthful buzz.

Ipswich has everything you would expect a lively university town to possess: art galleries, museums, several theatres and good sports facilities - its gymnastics centre is one of only three Olympic-accredited facilities in the UK.

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