Diary of an estate agent: Cambridge

The launch of the new Cambridge North railway station has caused a real stir in the city's property market... 

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With the cries of our new baby, my morning starts before dawn in our family cottage to the south of Cambridge. We have lived here for the past two years but we are now thinking about our next move, and I’ve got a watching brief for large cottages in nearby villages.

I reach the office in Cambridge after a torturous run-in with some surprise roadworks, and dive into the weekly team meeting, updating on my Saturday viewings. Meeting with buyers — from first-timers to growing families and downsizers — is the prime time to get to know clients and understand what they are willing to pay for, and what they are not.

In a price-sensitive market, there is little consistency among those who will shell out £20,000 for an entrance hall and those who would balk at the prospect.

Inevitably the meeting overruns and I scurry back out for a day of valuations of city flats and terrace homes.

The morning brings good news as a cottage in the village of Ickleton goes under offer at £115,000 over the asking price.

As a prime renovation project, the sale is symptomatic of buyer demand, and a willingness to pay a premium for properties in need of the Grand Designs treatment.

The cottage also has personal interest for us, as the deeds show that it was sold by our company founder’s grandson, Harry Carter Jonas, back in 1895. 

My afternoon is spent conducting Skype viewings of new-build apartments with Chinese investors who are dialling in from Beijing.

Rising house prices in Cambridge have initiated an influx of overseas buyers, many of whom are happy to seal a deal based on guide price, rental yield, and location. We just have to adapt our viewing style.

The launch of the new Cambridge North railway station, coupled with the arrival of the AstraZeneca science campus, has caused a real stir in the north of the city, and I begin my day in and around Chesterton, where there are some competitively priced period gems. 

There has been a wave of senior partners relocating to Cambridge, which is both an opportunity and a challenge. With some migrating down from Cheshire, where house prices are considerably cheaper, we have learned quickly that budgets go much further in Cambridge’s outer villages.

I spend my afternoon on viewings in Ely, where King’s Ely school is excellent, houses are spacious, and trains take as little as 10 minutes into the city centre.

London buyers continue to form a significant tranche of our market, and I meet with a couple from east London, who are selling their two-bedroom flat there and hope to move to a four-bedroom period townhouse in the heart of Cambridge.

With a budget of £850,000, they are quadrupling their space without increasing their mortgage — and their commuting time into work is set to remain the same.

I am rather envious of their lifestyle change, but after a decade of living in Cambridge, my wife and baby are more my scene nowadays.

Reflecting on the imminent snap general election, we discuss its impact on the Cambridge market. Whether it’s because we are outside London, or just because the market has adapted to political upheaval, our buyers barely mention the tribulations of Whitehall. 

More clients than ever are purchasing for the long haul and, with core city prices starting from £800,000, average moving costs are between £50,000 to £70,000, so in many instances it’s more sensible to extend a kitchen than absorb the stamp duty.

With calls to make and clients to update, my thoughts turn to my colleague’s wedding in Italy this coming weekend. My wife and I are heading off to Lake Bracciano, where my parents also live, for a week of relaxation, celebrations and a glass of champagne. 

I work late into the evening to tie up loose ends, but turning on the “out of office” automated email reply brings a certain satisfaction, knowing I will be in the Italian sunshine in 24 hours.

  • Hugh Blake is an associate partner at Carter Jonas in Cambridge. For sales enquiries, please call 01223 403330.

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