IT'S NOT likely that Sir Lawrie Barratt has heard of Deborah and Ian Rodgers - or their 10-month-old baby Stephen, their cat or the family Staffordshire bull terrier puppy, Bessie. But he has good reason to be grateful to them, for the Rodgers - moving up from their first-time home - looked no further than the Barratt Homes development on the outskirts of their home town, Sunderland, for their second purchase.
Deborah, 25, and Ian, 26, were keen to move out of their 100-year-old terrace cottage - what is now referred to in the trade as 'link housing'. It was a pretty, two-bedroom house, nicely decorated and with fitted wardrobes, near the centre of town. But Deborah, who at the time was working as an estate agent, was pregnant with their first child.
'The cottage was a lovely starter home for the two of us,' she says, 'but with no garden, there would have been nowhere for the baby to play when he was older. There wasn't enough time to try to sell the house through an estate agent, and with Ian working away on the oil rigs, I didn't want to show people around the house myself.'
Ian, working 150 miles off Aberdeen on the support barge to the Piper Bravo - the rig that replaced the ill-fated PiperAlpha - could come home only fortnightly. For the Rodgers, the ideal solution was to take up Barratt's part-exchange option.
'Ittook only four weeks from beginning to end,' Deborah says. 'Even then I was six and a half months pregnant when we moved. Our solicitor was even more worried than I was, and kept telling me to calm down. We did get slightly below the price we could have got for the cottage on the market but it took all the hassle out of the move. It was worth it.'
The house they bought - a three- bedroom semi, attached to their neighbour's house only by the garageand utility room - cost them pounds 68,250. This is about pounds 3,000 less than the average price paid nationwide, according to the Halifax price index. Except in costly counties like Berkshire, where land prices push up the overall cost of building, newly built homes like the Rodgers' are priced fairly evenly across the country.
Laing Homes, building mostly around the M25, are selling homes of a similar size at Thurrock in Essex for pounds 67,500. Depending on the development, enticements like electrical goods, or carpets and curtains are sometimes included.
In Twyford, Berkshire, Laing's three-bedroom semis cost about pounds 90,000, and in Bracknell, pounds 86,500. But in all but one or two cases, usually hard-to-shift big houses, the company has stopped offering part exchange deals on its homes.
The other major builder, Wimpey, offers buyers two prices: the basic one, and the package that includes curtains, carpets and white goods (not always all three). At Oakley End, Luton, the basic price for a three-bedroom semi is pounds 69,995 (package pounds 72,758); Victoria Mews, Gloucester, pounds 58,250 ( pounds 60,100); and Malling Mount, Liverpool, pounds 46,500 ( pounds 49,880).
Deborah and Ian had to buy their own carpets and curtains, but they didn't sign up for the extras. What particularly attracted them to the estate was not the fixtures and fittings, but its trees. 'The trees are protected,' says Deborah, 'so the houses were built around them - which makes the estate look quite mature.
'It's not exactly the country, but it's near the River Wear where there are wonderful walks. We liked our old cottage, but with a baby on the way we didn't want to take on another old house and start pulling it to bits. The kitchen units were more or less what I'd have chosen myself anyway.'
Despite Nissan's announcement of shorter working hours, confidence is still buoyant in the Sunderland area. Local estate agent Whitegates says repossessions are down this year, and although there are a lot of houses on the market it hasn't depressed prices.
'Generally, older and more established houses will be more expensive than new ones,' says Brian Finn, of Whitegates. 'A three-bedroom semi built 50 years ago, when double rooms really were double rooms, will sell for between pounds 70,000 and pounds 75,000.
'Houses from this period usually have larger gardens than the modern ones, too. A 'linked' property normally sells for around pounds 30,000 or, in a good area, up to pounds 40,000. We find that
demand from second-time buyers is
usually for older homes.'
With no plans to return to work, Deborah Rodgers doesn't mind the quietness of the estate during the day, when many of her neighbours are away at work. 'I like it,' she says. 'I'm usually too busy with Stephen anyway to pay much attention to what's going on. We don't plan to move in the foreseeable future, but when we do I would definitely buy a new home again.'
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