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PROPERTYdrum PULSE: Focus on Windsor & Maidenhead

publication date: Apr 5, 2009
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author/source: Lisa Crosby
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windsorThe Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead is a dynamic and diverse area, with much to offer residents, visitors and those who work there. It sits in one of the most prosperous regions in the country, twenty miles west of London close to the M4. This strategic location, together with comprehensive transport and communications infrastructure, is key to the area’s vitality.

Although 83 per cent of the borough is designated Green Belt, it is relatively densely populated compared to the rest of the southeast. Most people live in the two urban centres of Windsor and Maidenhead, with Maidenhead being twice the size of Windsor. It has several rural parishes including Ascot and Eton.

In addition, a significant proportion is Crown Estate or National Trust land. There are areas of historic value, conservation areas and 184 hectares of open space. This creates tension between national targets for house building and local wishes to preserve the environment. Much of the borough lies within the flood plain of the Rivers Thames and Colne, which restricts potential for development.

Headcount: 135,000 residents, generally affluent, healthy and mobile. 55 per cent of households are employed in either the professional/managerial/technical occupations compared to 38 per cent in the UK as a whole.

House prices: the highest outside Greater London – the cost of living is amongst the highest in the UK. However, the Thames Valley Housing ownership programmes, such as shared ownership and low-cost home ownership for first time buyers, are available in Berkshire which are giving genuine opportunities to many local people who would otherwise have had no hope of buying.

Tourism: it’s a major tourist destination attracting seven million visitors a year, spending £360 million, supporting 11,000 jobs. Dorney Lake will host water events including rowing for the London Olympics in 2012.

WINDSOR
The jewel in the crown

Properties for Sale in Windsor
Total properties for sale in Windsor 1,161
Properties for sale in Windsor listed in the last 14 days 47
Average price of properties for sale in Windsor £326,473
Median price £249,950
Average Time on Market (ToM) 202 days

Windsor is the jewel in the crown of Berkshire, a suburban town and tourist destination. It’s a wealthy town in a well-todo county. Windsor and the surrounding areas feature some of the UK’s most expensive and desirable housing. The village of Old Windsor, two miles to the south, predates what is now called Windsor by around 300 years.

Splendid shopping: it has a wide selection of gift shops around the castle, boutique shops and restaurants in Windsor Royal Station and an independent store, W J Daniel. Many famous names normally only expected to be found in London. However, there is some upset about the number of independent high street shops that have recently closed. Locals fear that this marks the beginning of a chain invasion, or worse, whole parades of empty shops.

Top connections: two railway stations providing services into London Paddington and Waterloo. Only 21 miles west of Central London, it takes about 30 minutes by car or rail (depending on whether it’s rush hour or not!). Heathrow airport is 15 minutes’ drive.

Desirable lifestyle: There are 40 stunning square miles of prime parkland and formal gardens; plenty of opportunities for messing about in boats.

Residents say that the whole atmosphere of Windsor is magical. In spring there is a great horse show followed by spectacular firework displays from Windsor Castle. Visitors enjoy the evening atmosphere following Ascot in June along with a slowmoving, friendly atmosphere; people sitting out enjoying good restaurants and old-fashioned pubs.

In the town centre, Kings Road, Frances Road and the smaller roads in between are in demand. On the edge of town, the gated development called Queen’s Acre is very exclusive, as is Queen Anne’s Road, where houses sell for about £1.3 million. The St Leonards Hill area is popular with families (wealthy ones); prices range from £600,000 to £2 million.

The downside: very close to Heathrow, directly under the airport’s flight path, aircraft noise can be very loud. And also some people may feel that Windsor and Eton form something of a ghetto of privilege – which is fine if you live in it! Many people consider Windsor house prices to be extortionately overpriced . If central Windsor is over budget they tend to look at West Windsor, Old Windsor, Datchet or Maidenhead.

MAIDENHEAD
Virgin by name and by nature

Properties for Sale in Maidenhead
Total properties for sale in Maidenhead 1,011
Properties for sale in Maidenhead listed in the last 14 days: 58
Average price of properties for sale in Maidenhead: £388,070
Median price: £300,000
Average Time on Market (ToM): 195 days

Maidenhead has never struggled to attract homebuyers. Despite its beautiful setting as part of The Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the town is in no way remote; just 20 miles west of London and an attractive commuter town. But this growing riverside Berkshire town of 60,000 has also proved resilient to recent economic and demographic changes, luring buyers and renters who need access to Bristol, Reading, Bracknell and Slough as well as London. And the weekend attractions of Windsor are on the doorstep.

Communications: Excellent transport links provide a train to London Paddington in 30 minutes, Heathrow and Gatwick Airports are less than an hour away by car. The A404 provides fast links to the M4, M40 and M25 (where the fast stops). It has good bus services and train connections to surrounding towns.

Lifestyle: a good selection of shops, cultural amenities, trendy bars and all the popular franchise eateries and many flavoured restaurants. There are also good schools, golf, waterside activities on the River Thames, beautiful countryside and very pretty villages such as Bray; heralded as a global gastronomic centre of the world – with the Roux Waterside Inn and Blumenthal’s Fat Duck.

Property sales in Maidenhead have seen an increase in recent years. With its picturesque backdrop and a reputation of being ‘London’s Overspill’ a property for sale in Maidenhead is very desirable – however, as a result property prices have risen considerably.

Area overview: According to recent figures from Globrix, asking prices for homes in 16 towns and cities in the UK have fallen by more than 20 per cent over the past six months. Windsor, they say, has been among the worst hit, with prices down by 21.1 per cent since September. The worst performer was Blackpool, where prices dropped by 28.2 per cent, closely followed by Kilmarnock and Hertford, which both saw falls of 26.5 per cent. Globrix reported an average decline across the UK of 11 per cent.

But even with the current financial difficulties, interest in the market is increasing, say all the estate and letting agents who contributed to this article. The latest RICS housing market survey reports that interest in property has increased for the fourth consecutive month (at their fastest pace since August 2006) with 21 per cent of south-east based chartered surveyors reporting a rise in new buyer enquiries – up from just seven per cent in January; many are seeing indications of the housing market showing definite signs of recovery.

Surveyors report an upsurge in valuations from potential sellers but many decide not to proceed; as a result, many agents have a shortage of properties to sell, while those they do have are “stale” after too long on the market.

Says Mark Eshelby MRICS, director, Latchmere Properties: “As first time buyers still find it hard to secure finance, the sale of flats and apartments is generally slow. However, freehold two and three bedroom terraced and semi-detached homes are receiving a lot of interest. The £400,000 to £600,000 market is performing well as are the properties in the £750,000 to £2 million price range.”

Savills still predict that prices in the southeast will depreciate by a further 10 per cent throughout 2009 – an overall fall of 25 per cent from the peak of 2007 – and the properties which they are successfully selling in Windsor and Maidenhead reflect these fluctuations in price.

However, demand is increasingly rapidly according to Campsie. The agent reports over 70 new buyers registering to buy each week, increasing all the time. Welcome good news, but like other agents they say that sales are outstripping the number of new properties listed.

Campsie MD, Nick Devonport, points to a sea change in the market, a clear difference from this time last year: “Typically for every five new properties we list we sell six, picking up additional sales from our existing portfolio. Properties are hard to come by but there are definitely more genuine buyers than we have properties to sell. Good houses properly priced will always sell so anyone who is concerned about putting their house on the market in the area should be encouraged.”

Devonport reports that enquiries span all types of residential properties whilst two and three bedroom houses are experiencing strongest performance.

Many agents have reported that house sales are holding steady and an increase in demand. Emma Smith of Savills Windsor Sales comments: “We have seen an increase in activity, illustrating that there are people willing to spend money for the right property. In particular, there has been increased interest for properties in the £700,000 to £1 million price range, and we are beginning to see a shortage of stock at this level.”

Hugh Williams of Chancellors, with offices in Ascot and Sunningdale, says that suddenly from the end of January there has been a significant increase in demand for property to buy and to let. There is still a good choice of property to rent but buying options are limited due to less property coming on the market. However, Chancellors report that during the first quarter of this year, the average number of house hunters at any one time was 226 in its Ascot branch alone which is a massive increase of over 50 per cent over the last quarter of 2008.

Maidenhead sales and letting agency Braxtons has also seen an increased demand for property to purchase; 460 clients looking for property during the first two months of this year – only 58 properties for sale. Savills have fewer properties than in the same period last year, the number of serious house hunters in a position to proceed is 50 per cent down on this time last year.

Campsie is very optimistic for the property market in the Windsor and Maidenhead area. “With the recent announcement that Northern Rock is to embark upon a £14bn mortgage drive to resuscitate Britain’s sluggish housing market, we anticipate that the picture locally is set to improve still further as people look to take full advantage of the fall in rates,” says Nick Devonport.

Property prices in Maidenhead have risen dramatically with most properties more than doubling in value since 1996. House sales are on the more expensive side in this area due to an influx of commuters. “Maidenhead is becoming a commercial centre in its own right, emerging as an important base for IT companies and their associates,” says haart estate agents. “Salaries have increased and this has had an effect on demand for, and prices of, local property. We expect prices to continue to rise, although at a steady rate”.

The Crossrail network construction is due to start in 2010 with the first trains expected to commence running by 2017 cutting the journey times into the capital to a mere 20 minutes. Already pundits are busy, predicting which towns and cities will see a boost in their house prices by virtue of being close to the new rail network.

“The completion of the Crossrail line in 2017 will definitely boost prices further, as Maidenhead becomes a preferred spot for commuters,” says the branch manager of Hamptons in Maidenhead. “The market is buoyant and there has already been a substantial rise in property prices. However, homeowners that remain in the area will see even greater returns.”

A broad spectrum: Most agents sell all types from small flats up to £3 million homes; the core being medium sized four bedroom family homes priced between £340,000 to £500,000. Some of the most sought after properties are upmarket riverside homes.

One bedroom conversion flats average £234,800. Two bedroom cottages £150,000, and three bedroom terraces around £275,000. Semi-detached homes average £300,500 and detached homes cost between £6-800,000. Luxury riverside flats can command £500,000.

A two bedroom flat in Clarence Road, Windsor is selling at Atkinson & Keene for £489,995, whose list also includes a four bedroom Victorian detached house with dining room, reception, study and large garden and garage £622,500. In the outlying villages, two bedroom cottages start at about £200,000.

Savills have recently marketed a new development in The Square in Windsor – a collection of large flats and three bedroom houses on Eton High Street. It has views of Windsor Castle, designer kitchens and bathrooms and prices from £795,000 to £1.1 million. They also have a spectacular 5 bedroom riverside property on White Lillie Island with a 100ft river frontage on its books for £2,950,000 (pictured next page).

Braxtons in Maidenhead has been involved with the Avior development on the River Thames near to Boutlers Lock, completed in 2008. Sale prices started from £525,000. When let, rents are £1,650 to £1,800 (pictured previous page).

An £800,000 detached house in Newlands Chase in west Maidenhead was sold this year by Braxtons. The Breakers on the Fisheries Private Estate in Bray was let at the end of 2008; it was on the market for £3,850 pcm (pictured, previous page).

Asked about the differential between the asking and selling price many agents are achieving within 5-10 per cent of the asking price. Emma Smith of Savills Windsor comments: “With properties marketed at a level which reflects the current market conditions, there is little differential between the asking and selling price. A differential occurs when there is a gap between the expectations of the vendor and those of the purchasers.” Many of the agents report that about five per cent of their clients are first time buyers.

Average time for a property to be on the market is unrealistically extended by some owners asking too high a price whilst some are selling within a month. Hometrack’s survey of local estate agents shows that sellers in this area take an average of seven weeks and 17 viewings to sell their property. Emma Smith adds: “The uncertainty surrounding the economy means that the decision making process is taking much longer than a year ago. Serious buyers now view properties several times before making a commitment. Additionally, it is taking significantly longer to arrange finance, making the entire process quite lengthy.” Braxtons report an average 14 viewings and eight weeks to sell a property.

Auctions

Since the beginning of 2008, property auction success rates have dropped with prices dipping and buyers more cautious, but like all property transactions at the moment, if the property is marketed with a realistic guide and reserve, there are still willing buyers eager to raise their hands. Simon Clayton, Director and Auctioneer of Romans, agrees that if guide prices are kept keen and at figures perceived by bidders as good value for money then the lots will go. Romans have seen an increase in properties put up for auction and an equivalent increase in interest from buyers, with residential property in most demand. 10 per cent of their current catalogue is repossessions.

Their most recent auction saw 80 per cent of lots selling on the day and 67 per cent sold at or above guide prices. A family house in Windsor with a guide price of £150,000 sold at £192,500, while a larger property in Old Windsor sold at £470,000 against its guide of £450,000.

Rental Properties

Whilst all the agents we spoke to have seen an increase in activity in the residential sales market, the trend for landlords in Windsor and Maidenhead is not quite as rosy with the rental market dipping as a result of the constrained sales market.

On average agents have seen a reduction of three per cent year-on-year. Hamptons commented: “In the Windsor and Maidenhead area rents have fallen slightly and landlords have to be realistic, although yields are probably still around six per cent, one of the highest in the country.”

Chancellors say that rental levels have dropped due to an increase in supply but have levelled out recently; Braxtons report an increase in demand for apartments and 2-3 bedroom houses over the past two quarters. “Rental levels are dormant due to the increase in volumes of property available. Two bedroom executive apartments have seen a larger reduction due to the massive oversupply of new build in Maidenhead”, says James Farrance.

Sue Bird, Head of Savills Windsor Lettings, comments: “Compared to this time last year, we have 30 per cent more property available and significantly fewer corporate enquiries. This has led to a depreciation in values of up to 20 per cent over the course of the last 12 months”

However, Campsie report a boost in residential lettings. Year-on-year figures across all Campie’s regional offices show 13 per cent year-on-year uplift.

The standard of rental property in Windsor and Maidenhead is generally high. Rents are between £800 and £1,500 pcm for a one or two bedroom apartment, and between £1,500 and £5,000 plus pcm for a 3, 4 or 5 bedroom house. Braxtons usually achieve the asking rental.

Investing in riverside locations

Buy-to-let investors and investment clubs were somewhat squeezed out of the market in 2008 by the radical curtailing of banking lending. During 2008 Braxtons say that investors had stopped looking. However with the substantial cuts in interest rates they are now experiencing an increase in demand for residential investors who believe that the market has bottomed out. This combined with the low rates currently being offered by lenders has given investors renewed interest in buy-tolet. Chancellors have also seen a surge in investment purchasers with many taking advantage of lower prices. However, Savills report that they have not seen any investment interest in Windsor but are sure that as borrowing becomes easier the buy-to-let investor will return.

Take a look at Windsor on www.windsor.gov.uk.