For anyone who wants to enjoy the city-centre lifestyle without having to fork out for the central London price tag, Oxford could provide the perfect option.
This beautiful city is already a commuter choice with trains to Paddington taking from an hour, and the journey is poised to become even swifter in 2016 when Network Rail completes its project to electrify the line to London.
Chiltern Railways, meanwhile, will begin running a 58-minute service next year from Water Eaton, north of the city, which will open up some lovely villages.
BENEFITS OF OXFORD
Those who love urban life won’t be disappointed. Oxford has got the lot — amazing architecture, a buzzing town centre full of great shops, bars and restaurants, and a lively arts scene.
ON THE DOWNSIDE
Oxford houses don’t come cheap — and an annual season ticket costs £5,436. “We believe that our prime prices are about equivalent to what you would pay in Wandsworth,” says Damian Gray of Knight Frank, who estimates a quarter of the properties on his books are bought by Londoners.
“Why would you live in Oxford if you can afford London? It is not as big and busy, it is safer, you have amazing schools and you can walk everywhere. And it has fabulous country villages just 10 minutes away.”
THE PRIME ADDRESS
In Park Town, in north Oxford, you could spend £5 million-plus on a Regency pile with five bedrooms, or between £3 million and £3.5 million on a Victorian terrace. Buyers flock to the area for its grand homes and top schools, such as The Dragon School, Magdalen College School and Oxford High School.
£2.5 million: Highfield House, near Boars Hill, is just two miles from Oxford city centre
THE TRENDY OPTION
Jericho, with its narrow streets full of gaily painted cottages, its pubs and canal boats, is a historic area outside the old city wall and popular with students and commuters alike. Slumdog Millionaire scriptwriter Simon Beaufoy calls it home, along with Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Expect to pay £1 million for a four-bedroom house, or from £500,000 for a three-bedroom terrace home.
WHERE TO FIND A BARGAIN
Sales manager Roddy Aris at Winkworth says the village of Wolvercote is the up-and-coming address. Three-bedroom Thirties semis cost about £420,000, and there are two-up, two-down cottages at about £330,000, with farmhouses around the £575,000 mark.
Aris likes Wolvercote for its “great pubs, great primary school and village community feel”, and it is only three miles from the city centre. There are a couple of local general stores and a weekly farmers’ market. There are also some great options around Water Eaton, where train services to London start from its new station, Oxford Parkway, next year.
Residents of Kidlington will be within walking distance of the station and although it is not the prettiest of locations, it has a good selection of shops and schools, including Gosford Hill secondary, which is rated “good” by Ofsted.
Richard Branson owns a £7 million manor close to the village and Jonathan Bramwell, a partner at The Buying Solution, says a period family house close to the River Cherwell would cost in the region of £1.25 million. A cottage with three or four bedrooms would cost more than £500,000.
A little further away is Beckley, a picture-perfect village blessed with a couple of pubs and some beautiful stone cottages. This unspoiled location is highly sought after and a five-bedroom family house with a generous garden would set you back £1.25 million. A three-bedroom cottage would cost about £500,000.
All the experts agree that while it isn’t cheap, Oxford property represents a sound investment. A recent report by estate agent Savills described the city as a “little London” where mounting interest from commuters, overseas buyers and strong local economies equalled growth in prime areas of about 11 per cent last year.
“The thing about Oxford is that there is a finite supply of houses and increasing demand from buyers, and I can see prices going up and up,” says Gray.
£975,000: a six-bedroom Edwardian house, in walking distance of the market town of Thame, Oxon
FIVE THINGS TO LOVE ABOUT OXFORD
1. The Creation Theatre Company: over the last 16 years some 350,000 people have enjoyed shows by this super-creative company which takes on anything from fairytales to Shakespeare, performing wherever it can, from bookshops to Oxford Castle. Next up is Macbeth in the grounds of Lady Margaret Hall.
2. The Ashmolean is the most famous of Oxford’s many excellent museums, but the Pitt Rivers Museum is a quirkier gem, featuring everything from shrunken heads to lanterns made of puffer fish. It is the home of Oxford University’s anthropology and archaeology collection and ideal for an atmospheric, slightly macabre afternoon.
3. London has its Royal Parks but a stroll through meadows and along riverbanks at Christ Church Meadow or Port Meadow is a very worthy alternative. The glasshouses at the University of Oxford Botanic Garden are not quite as big as Kew’s but equally fascinating.
4. Science Oxford runs a superb programme of (mostly) free events for adults and children, featuring talks, workshops and seminars by world authorities on everything from outer space to sleep patterns.
5. Historic Oxford embraces the modern world. Contemporary Art Oxford has a particularly inventive programme of shows plus free staff-led tours at weekends.