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Exceptional Exeter

publication date: Mar 31, 2010
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Exeter landscape across riverExeter, one of Englands oldest cities, has suddenly become trendy. Founded by the Celts 2000 years ago and established by the Romans as the administrative centre of Devon and Cornwall, this ancient city now blends its 2nd century walls with a thriving modern city culture.

Close to the moors and to the sea, with a historic quayside and canal, the relaxed country life is at hand; but with excellent transport connections, the rest of the UK is rapidly reached. So it is a city that truly ‘has it all’. And its all in a compact package.

The city’s 4719 hectares is home to 120,000 people, who have space to move, fresh sea and moorland air to breathe. Exeter is just an hour away from the more urban city of Bristol and, by train, just two hours from London.

If that’s not fast enough you can fly from the city’s international airport, just 20 minutes out of town, to London, many European cities and, when it gets chilly (as it does, very occasionally in the West Country), you can fly direct to Barbados.

Exeter still serves as the Regional Capital and this has led to major employers basing their national or regional headquarters here, providing good employment and career prospects, which, in turn, encourages some of the 13,000 graduates from Exeter University to settle here.

The Met Office, EDF, South West Water, Devon & Cornwall Police are all based here, along with specialist organisations like Arbuthnot Latham bank. Several modern business parks have also generated good employment and new business startups. However, it’s not all work and no play. Exeter is city that likes to have fun just as much as the next city and outdoor sporting facilities include a fabulous racecourse just minutes from the city centre, Exeter Arena, which hosts athletics events, with other centres and pitches for rugby, football, hockey and speedway.
There are also several golf courses and endless opportunities for nautical frolics with sailing and canoe clubs, marinas and moorings all along the coastline.

For less expensive leisure pastimes, a few miles south of Exeter lies Dartmoor; offering 368 square miles of rolling, beautiful and sometimes bleak moorland which is home to ponies, big cats, lots of Tors, standing stones, rivers and bogs. A place to roam in the sunshine, stumble in the mist and fog and, if you get too close to Princeton, the prison, feel the fear of incarceration in what must be the UK’s most forbidding prison. To the north of the city is Exmoor, another 267 square miles of even more bleak (on a bad day) moorland; home to Lorna Doone and more ponies.


Cathedral CloseThe first place to see in Exeter is St Peter’s Cathedral; situated in Cathedral Close it dominates the skyline with two magnificent towers which survive from its original construction in 1144. Inside, the most impressive feature is the longest unbroken Gothic vault ceiling in the world, closely followed by the Minstrels Gallery depicting twelve angels playing instruments. Outside, beneath the green, there is a Roman bathhouse which was excavated in the 1970s, but then, for some reason, covered over again and hidden from sight. Puzzling.

Also closed, but in this case only until next year when it will re-open after a £15 million transformation, is The Royal Albert Memorial Museum, which houses a replica of the aforementioned bathhouse, a mural reconstruction of the city’s Roman fortress and many other fine displays to demonstrate Exeter’s incredible history as well as ceramics, fine arts and antiques.
It is steeped in history, modern, ancient and fictional.

More history is on view just off the High Street where a series of medieval subterranean aqueducts, built in the 14th century, provided the city with fresh water from the springs outside the city walls. There are also architectural attractions such as a 21-ton Tudor building at Western Way which was, in 1961, moved, inch by inch, to a new site to allow a new road to be built. Other ancient buildings include the Guildhall, which is the oldest municipal building in England and The Turks Head pub where Dickens found his character ‘Fat Boy’ in the Pickwick Papers in 1837. A good stop for a pie and a pint perhaps.


Pavement cafes in historic streetsHistory may be interesting but it doth not maketh a place to call home. For this, a woman (and a number of men) needs shops. Exeter delivers, with an extensively pedestrianised shopping area – which inevitably causes the traffic to be a bit of an issue at times – home to the recently revamped Princesshay area which houses all the top retail chains as well as some independent stores and boutiques. Beyond this are more individual shopping streets including Magdelen Street which has become known as a foodie heaven.

Refreshment between credit card bashing is plentiful, with pavement cafes and some smart restaurants, including the top chef, Michael Caines’ restaurant in the hotel ABode which, most considerately, offers special ‘Ladies do Lunch’ events.


Exeter has several main residential areas within the city; Alphington, Pinhoe, St Thomas and Exwick but the prime locations are St Leonards and St Davids, both close to the University.

Professional families like these districts as they have a good range of schools, are close to the hospitals and the excellent shops. There’s a good selection of beautiful (read, expensive) Victorian villas and Regency mini mansions along with good solid 1930s houses sporting large gardens.

Students of course, also flock to these areas and many of the larger houses are now divided into student-land shared homes and bedsits. However, as we are seeing in other cities, students are becoming more Exeter Cathedraldiscerning and seek smarter billets these days, so the new apartment blocks and townhouses are also, it seems, fair game.

Pennsylvania is another hot tip for students. Named after the American developer Joseph Starkes who built the first terraces here in 1820, it’s suburban and nothing terribly special, but its one claim to fame is that JK Rowling lived here when she studied at Exeter and it is said that she based Harry Potter’s suburban home on this area. To the north of the city lies Exwick, with Devington Park, one of the largest recent developments was the conversion of a hospital into a large community of luxury houses and apartments in landscaped grounds. New developments on the market at the moment include Chancel Park in Pinhoe and Sylvan Heights, both by Taylor Wimpey.

Slap bang in the middle of the city is Cathedral Court, another hospital conversion, with posh penthouses at equally posh prices – £495,000 .

For the real sense of the glory of Devon though, you have to go out of the city to the myriad of exquisite villages, where chocolate box thatched cottages nestle in gentle hillsides with babbling brooks at the bottom of the garden. These dream homes are available now, in their dozens, some large and expensive, some, like one in Cheriton Bishop, not so bad – just £185,000 for a Grade II listed cottage.


“With Exeter’s improving road, rail and air links clients are being enticed to Exeter by the benefits of a more laidback lifestyle but with easy access to London and European cities to continue their business interests,” says Rod Tabor from Garrington.

“As you might expect the South West also remains a very popular location for our clients looking to acquire a second home. Hotspots are Salcombe and Dartmouth, which are both very attractive to the sailing fraternity and are within easy reach of Exeter.

“Our clients looking for income in the region are particularly keen on existing holiday complexes with letting cottages or the ability to create such a business.”

Exeter City Canal apartmentMeanwhile in the city centre, Miles Kevin, Partner at Knight Frank, South West Residential Development, says that the stunning new apartments that they have been marketing; Princesshay, present a great incentive to move to Exeter, “With just three apartments remaining out of 120, the development offers city centre living, tucked behind the main thoroughfares, so it’s a tranquil place to relax.”

Most apartments have amazing views over Exeter Cathedral and to the glorious wilds Dartmoor beyond.
Tenants seek central and convenient locations says Andy Edwards of Martin & Co., “The most popular areas (for renting) are St Leonards, Alphington, Quayside and Middlemoor.”

“Devon is beautiful,” says Sarah Burgess, Sales and Marketing Director for developers Retirement Villages Ltd. “We have residents who have moved here for a quieter life or to be nearer family. Our offering gives them and their families peace of mind and security. Once here, they don’t have to move again. That’s an attractive prospect and one people will pay for.”


semi detached in AlphingtonMiles Kevin says their office has a good blend of buyers – owner occupiers, investors and second home owners and an increased interest; which not matched by increases in stock levels.

Rod Tabor, Associate for Garrington, the Property Search company, covering the South West says their main buyers in the South West are clients relocating from London and the Home Counties. “Many are relocating for retirement and / or downsizing purposes and are high net worth individuals looking for properties in the £1M plus price bracket. But also, as Exeter is a university city, clients are also interested in buy to let properties for the student market as a longterm investment. There appears to be very little interest currently from overseas buyers.”


Belvoir luxury apartmentCennydd Draper is Director at Martin & Co, which focuses on lettings. “Our tenants tend to be aged between 25 and 35; professional couples, perhaps young doctors or para-legals. The number of rental properties has increased in this area since it became harder for young first time buyers to get a mortgage, we have found that our professional landlords have taken full advantage of this and have been adding to their portfolios.”

Andy Edwards, at Belvoir, says that their tenants are a broad mix, looking for all sorts of good quality homes from student studios to large family houses – and that demand is growing. “Exeter is a very buoyant market and there is a variety of employment sectors that are based here; solicitors, utilities like EDF Energy and South West Water, teaching hospitals, the City & Devon County Councils and a number of other National PLC Head Offices all provide an endless stream of professional tenants.”


Princesshay apartmentsRod Tabor, Garrington, “The market has certainly not returned to the heady days of properties-for-all. There is a steady trickle of properties coming on to the market but with limited choice, the quality stock is being sought after – and won – by buyers with cash in the bank. This means that there is a growing latent demand from buyers who have put their property plans on hold for the past 18 months. With pent up demand from buyers now looking to purchase their next home, second home or perhaps looking to downsize we are finding a number of our successfully sourced properties are off market or pre-market.

The discerning buyer is looking for value for money with the opportunity to increase the capital value of their purchase but they will have to retain the property for longer to achieve their return.”
“I have recently sourced a property for a client who wanted a property with current letting potential but with the longer term objective of becoming their home on retirement. The property I successfully acquired for them contained a house with separate cottage and adjoining annexe. With such flexibility the client will be letting the house and annexe while retaining the cottage for their own use. The purchase of this property was negotiated to 5 per cent under an already reduced guide price.”


Exeter is a great choice for retirement and developers have not been slow to capitalise on the demand. One new phase of bungalows at Gittisham Hill Park (an established retirement development) was launched last August – and the only remaining unreserved home has just been reserved by a buyer from Scotland. Half of the one bedroom properties were reserved within the first month of release.

Gittisham bungalows“Demand for good retirement property doesn’t disappear during a property decline,” said Sarah Burgess, sales and marketing director for the developers Retirement Villages Ltd. “For many people moving into Gittisham Hill Park, it is a needs purchase. Many can’t wait for the market to pick up – they need to move.”

The stumbling block of course, can be purchasers being unable to sell their property. Retirement Villages offers an Assisted Purchase Package (APP) to help avoid unnecessary delays.

“We operate in a niche market so what is happening in the wider property market isn’t so critical,” said Sarah. “Our clients aren’t relying on saving a deposit or securing a big mortgage.”

Homes at Gittisham Hill Park are set in three terraces around a new sensory garden. Prices started at £229,950 and resale process are high as well, demand for a two bedroom home was so high that a sealed bid auction was set up as the fairest way to manage the sale. The winning bid secured the bungalow for significantly more than the asking price.

Exeter overview table


18 March 2010

  • Total for sale in Exeter: 815
  • Lowest priced home for sale: £72,000
  • Highest priced home: £2.9million

18 March 2010

  • Total properties to let in Exeter: 202
  • Lowest rent listed: £375 pcm
  • Highest rent listed: £1,900 pcm