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PROPERTYdrum Pulse: Bristol

publication date: Oct 9, 2009
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Bristol suspension bridgeAncient, historic, rich and dramatic – Bristol conjures visions of shipbuilders, seafarers, engineers, merchants and... pirates.

Listed in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle of 1051 as a port trading regularly with Ireland, Bristol played an extremely important role in sea trade for hundreds of years. Bristol-built ships were constructed using the finest materials and most skilled techniques and became famous for their sturdy craftsmanship. Sailors visiting the port would comment on this, spawning the famous saying ‘shipshape and Bristol fashion’.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel was Bristol’s most famous son, his Great Western steamship, which was built in the city and launched in 1837; was the first of Brunel’s passenger ships to travel between England and New York. Another, the SS Great Britain, now rests in the original dry dock in which she was built, a major visitor attraction. Amongst other national triumphs, Brunel also built the Clifton Suspension Bridge and Temple Meads Old Railway Station.

More infamous than famous, another son of Bristol was the pirate, Blackbeard, who led a reign of terror across the Caribbean. Many buildings in Bristol are closely linked with pirating and privateering. Queen Square, situated near the harbour, remains much as it was hundreds of years ago. The Customs House in Queen Square is where the taxes and duties were collected from the ships that came into the city’s harbour.

Much of the city’s wealth came from pirating, and many buildings around the harbour are said to have been funded by this maritime crime. Other famous residents include John Cabot (1450 – 1498) the explorer who sailed from Bristol to Newfoundland on the Matthew in 1497, John Wesley (1703 – 1791) Founder of the Methodist Church and Samuel Plimsoll (1824 – 1898). More recent celebrity residents include the model Sophie Anderton, Tony Benn MP, Robin Cousins, J K Rowling, Jeremy Irons, Banksy and Dave Prowse (AKA Darth Vader and the Green Cross Man).

Bristol today is a large and vibrant commercial centre. Its harbourside renaissance began with the opening of the Arnolfini Contemporary Arts Centre in the 1970s. In the 1980s major regeneration brought the opening of the Watershed, Britain’s first media centre and regeneration continues with an extensive programme of development along the always popular waterside.


Total properties for sale in Bristol: 1200
Average overall price of properties for sale in:
July 2009 £197,942 (-3.9% year on year)
August 2009 £195,391 (-2.9% year on year)
Average Time on property portal in:
July 2009 95 days (+ 20.3% year on year)
August 2009 82 days (-7.9% year on year)


Total number of rental properties in Bristol: 676
Average overall price of properties to let in:
July 2009 £756 pcm (-2.5% year on year)
August 2009 £760 (-3.7% year on year)
Average Time on property portal in July 2009 :
47 days (+ 17.5% year on year)
August 2009 47 days (+23.7% year on year)


With a population of 416,400 people, Bristol is the largest city in the South West. Following a period of population decline in the post war years, the population stabilised in the 1990s and a 26 per cent increase is projected – 109,300 people – by 2026. The greatest growth is projected to be in the 25-44 year old age groups, with a projected extra 53,200 people.

Thirty-three per cent of homes in Bristol are one person households, mainly concentrated in the inner city areas of Bristol. Forty-seven per cent of households are couples and 27 per cent include children. Household projections by the CLG indicate a downward trend in average household size, with one person households accounting for some 40 per cent of all households by 2026. Unemployment is around five per cent compared to the national figure of 7.8 per cent, 64.2 per cent are employees and 9.2 per cent are self employed.


Bristol has an international airport, seven miles from the city centre, with direct train connections every 15 minutes and regular coach services. The M5/M4 connects Bristol to the national motorway network and driving time to London is around 2.5 hours. In addition to a full bus service and taxis there is a morning and late afternoon commuter ferry service operated by The Bristol Ferry Boat Company from Temple Meads Station and Hotwells to the city centre and other landing stages, as well as a variety of tourist pleasure boat services.

Bristol shopping centreSHOPPING AND LIFESTYLE

Bristol’s shopping area offers a massive selection of high street names, department stores, boutique shops, restaurants and cafes. In Broadmead, there is a large mall and a network of shopping streets and arcades sitting cheek to cheek with its new neighbour – Cabot Circus. Having taken three years to build and costing £500m, Cabot Circus has propelled Bristol into the top 10 UK shopping destinations: 120 new shops, 25 new cafes, restaurants, and delis, and a 13-screen cinema; a whole new shopping dimension.

A short distance away are attractive old buildings and relics of Bristol’s Old City. Cobbled streets and winding alleyways of Broad Street, Corn Street, St Nicholas Market, King Street and Welsh Back are as they were hundreds of years ago. Once a busy working dock where merchants would trade goods, Bristol’s harbourside is an attractive, modern development filled with restaurants, bars, shops and hotels. Key attractions include Explore-At-Bristol and Millennium Square, SS Great Britain, Watershed Media Centre, Arnolfini and Spike Island art space.

Balloon festivalEXCELLENT EVENTS

The hugely popular St Paul’s Carnival takes place each summer - an event filled with music, colour, dance and food. Another major event is the Balloon Fiesta (pictured right), where 100 hot air balloons of all shapes and sizes take to the skies.

There is also a Festival of Food and Wine, an Organic Food Festival, a Festival of Puppetry and the Bristol festival, fondly known as ‘Brizzolfest’. All in all, a fun place to be.


Described by John Betjeman as ‘the finest suburb in England’, Clifton village is said to be one of the best addresses in the city, with a great selection of houses as well as boutiques, jewellery shops, cosy cafes and classy restaurants. From the leafy Georgian crescents and across Brunel’s Clifton Suspension Bridge residents enjoy an extremely pleasant environment and breathtaking views.

Much of Bristol’s original architecture survives, including the area around King Street, Queen Square, Christmas Steps and St Michael’s Hill, and Clifton village. Many beautiful houses were built by Bristol merchants from the proceeds of Spanish shipping plundered far away in the seas off the Americas.

South of the city are Southville, Bedminster and Totterdown (pictured above left) - popular with Bristolians. From Temple Meads station, you can see the famous multi-coloured houses lining the hills of Totterdown. Bristol’s Eastside is one of the most culturally-diverse areas of the city, other interesting neighbourhoods include Stokes Croft, St Paul’s, Montpelier, St Werburgh’s, Easton, Lawrence Hill and The Dings. As well as the advantage of a prosperous city, beautiful countryside surrounds Bristol, favourite outlying areas include villages in The Chew Valley, The Mendip Hills and South Gloucestershire.


Propertydrum spoke to Sharon Everett, Manager at Chesterton Humberts, Chew Magna residential sales department. Sharon reports a definite increase in demand over the last three months. “We operate in the Chew Valley which is seven miles south of Bristol – an affluent area with good schools and great countryside. We have most sizes of country houses and cottages, from two bedroom village cottages starting at £180,000 up to period farm houses with land at £1m. We are now, hopefully, in a stable period, looking forward to a small growth in the new year. Lack of property coming to the market could bring an increase in prices in very localised areas.”

Prices have fallen quite dramatically in the last twelve months in this area, depending on where and what, the values have decreased by 12-18 per cent; but, says Sharon, properties coming on to the market in recent months have sold at prices within five per cent of the asking price. “We have about 260 registered buyers at the moment, and, on average 35-40 properties to sell. Sales at the beginning of the year were low, three or four per month – but still relatively high value, but they have picked up in the last four months to about six to eight sales per month; good news!”

But it’s not yet a busy, fluid market, says Sharon, “Some properties linger for months, others, including our most recent sale, had one viewing and sold at its asking price of £700,000.”

In contrast to the period terraces of Clifton, Regency Heights, Cabot Homes’ new development, offers modern homes in the bohemian quarter. The townhouses are upside down to maximise the views with balconied living rooms on the top floor sporting panoramic views across the Avon Gorge. Prices from £460,000.

Table 1


Table 1 (above) shows that rents in Bristol are generally lower than the UK average and in most cases, with the exception of the rent levels for four bed detached houses (up by 3.4 per cent year on year) have experienced less severe falls than the rest of the UK. Moving on to sale prices, the statistics indicate that there is a high demand for five bed houses, where values have increased by 7.2 per cent, a surprise, but still below the national average which indicate a 10.3 per cent gain.


The whole rural lifestyle package is available through Chesterton Humberts with Butcombe, near Blagdon, at £1.5 million. This holiday letting business in the Chew Valley comprises a Grade II Listed 14th Century six bedroom farmhouse, a detached three bedroom barn conversion, seven holiday cottages (3*), converted from traditional stone barns, games barn, heated swimming pool and gym. There are also outbuildings and 15.11 acres of pasture and paddocks including woodland and orchard, with further land available.

Georgian elegance in a classy location is on offer through Savills with a Grade II listed Georgian town house on Richmond Hill in Clifton, with four/five bedrooms, three receptions, three bathrooms, garage and walled gardens. Guide price £975,000.

Chesterton Humberts also have this chocolate box cottage, complete with roses round the door in the village of Stanton Drew, with two double bedrooms, a fancy new bathroom and surprisingly spacious living spaces. The village dream at £229,995.

Table 2


Property investors, meanwhile, have joined owner occupiers at Crest Nicholson’s Harbourside development where Hargreaves Lansdown has its new headquarters; cue a large number of potential new tenants with good rental income returns for investors. Vicky Dudbridge, King Sturge said, “The influx of people to the area will increase demand for rental properties. Our advice to anyone thinking of investing in property is to take a look at Harbourside. We’re now getting more enquiries from investors, an indication that the property market is showing signs of recovery.”

Ensign House, the current phase, has apartments from £250,000 and 13 of the 27 apartments have already been reserved. “This is an enviable location and people realise that it’s a fantastic opportunity to purchase a new property right on the water in the heart of the city. With all the amenities on their doorstep, purchasers cannot find what we have to offer anywhere else in Bristol.”

There is a proliferation of lettings agents in Bristol, with a mix of small independents and large corporates. With over 1000 properties available to rent when we surveyed the property portals, tenants have plenty of choice. A room in a shared house is around £200 per month, while good studios or one bed flats start at around £450 per month. Three bedroom houses start at around £600 per month and a detached four bedroomed house in the desirable Clifton area will be about £1400 per month.

Table 2 (above) shows average sales and rental values as a whole for Bristol, indicating that sales prices have fallen by 4 per cent year on year and rent levels have fallen by 3.7 per cent year on year. In the same table, average time taken for a property to sell is shorter than July but longer than June, at 82 days in August compared to 74 days in June. Rental properties are now clearly in greater demand, with the time on the market reduced from 54 days in June this year, to 47 days in August.


There are some very well established auction houses in Bristol, all of whom hold regular auction sales. We spoke to Rob Ansell, Senior Negotiator in the auctions department at Maggs and Allen who are based in Henleaze, Bristol. Their monthly auctions have shown a distinct upturn in the last three months, with an average of 19 lots per auction, up from an average of 14 in the previous quarter.

Happily, there is an equivalent increase in buyer interest, most noticeably in the residential sector, where 90 per cent of properties are reaching or exceeding their reserve. “It’s pretty good at the moment,” says Rob. “We are selling 90 per cent of properties actually on auction night with the remainder usually selling within two weeks of the auction.

One notable sale was a maisonette in Henleaze with a regulated tenant and a rent of £5750 per annum, placed in the auction by Grainger Plc. The guide price was £140,000 but it was knocked down at £180,000.” Another good result was the sale of a flat in the Clifton area, in a prestigious period building, which had a guide price of £150,000 but went for £181,000.

Rob doesn’t think these good results are a flash in the pan either, “Buyer confidence has returned to the auction room over the last 3-4 months with more bidders and greater competition over the majority of lots. This has resulted in higher figures being achieved at auction than was seen in the early months of this year. On the evidence of sales achieved over the last 12 months, prices were at the lowest in November/December of 2008.

Commercial 1COMMERCIAL

Why do businesses choose Bristol as their base? Tony Nicholas, Head of Commercial for Knight Frank in Bristol says, “The main reasons are the high quality of our office accommodation and of our workforce. Bristol University has an excellent reputation and provides many first class candidates for business in this area.”

“Fifteen to twenty years ago Bristol was attracting a significant amount of new investment but now the city is competing with cities such as Manchester and Birmingham so a stronger focus has been established through the creation of Invest in Bristol which promotes the city and encourages inward investment through a multi-billion pound programme including the construction of extensive waterfront office accommodation.”

Recent research by CBRE reveals that total office occupancy costs in Bristol are less expensive than other UK cities such as Birmingham, Edinburgh, London and Manchester. Comparative office space rents per square foot per annum: Bristol: £27.50, Birmingham: £29.00, Edinburgh: £29.00 London: £46.50, Manchester £28.50. Tony Nicholas says, “At the top of the market there is pressure on rental levels but process aren’t tumbling by any means. Because there is not much new supply available rents are fairy resilient but it is down to the deals that can be done; incentives such as rent free periods and refurbishment etc all help.”

The public sector has a strong presence in Bristol. The Ministry of Defence has its Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) organisation with headquarters at Abbey Wood, north of Bristol, with 9,500 staff.

The Environment Agency has its new national headquarters in Bristol city centre, one of the greenest buildings in the UK. Ofsted is relocating a further 50 posts to Bristol following the expansion of its office presence in the city to accommodate its headquarters for the south of England.

NextForthcoming relocations include the leading law firm Burges Salmon LLP which is on target to move into its new premises in May 2010. Temple Quay Central is the selected site. “We are a Bristol firm and were absolutely committed to staying in the city. The proximity of Temple Quay to the station makes it the ideal strategic location for us, as our practice continues to develop on a national and international scale”, said Managing Partner Guy Stobart. The relocation is one of the largest commercial property transactions to take place in Bristol in recent years and will see Burges Salmon take 172,000 sq ft at its new headquarters at a cost of £27.50 per sq ft.

Orange, the mobile phone company, has opened two new “technocentres” in Bristol and London, each will employ 80 engineers, researchers and marketing specialists in R&D.

Joanna Skinner, Surveyor, Office agency, Knight Frank, Bristol, reports that they are seeing a slight improvement in occupier confidence resulting in an improvement in activity and new enquiries. “This activity is currently more focused in the city centre rather than out of town. This will hopefully be reflected in the office take-up stats for Q3 and Q4. Bristol City Centre take-up for Q1 and Q2 of this year was 141,710 sq ft. This can be compared against take-up for the whole of 2008 of 608,591 sq ft within the city centre area. Take-up remains significantly down on the 10-year averages (170,500 sq ft per quarter in the city centre and 84,000 sq ft per quarter out of town), with the number of transactions completed down by a corresponding amount.”

Joanna has around 50 new clients seeking business premises in Q2, but finalising space transactions is not a rapid process, on average, three to five months, some can take up to nine months – and the tenants are wanting a good deal. “As a result of the current economic climate, Office landlords, like most commercial landlords, are being encouraged to take a flexible approach with regards to rents achievable and lease terms offered and make decisions with each occupier case by case.”

November’s PULSE feature will be NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE. To contribute, email the Editor: or call 01825 733843