Property: Hot Spot - Horsham, West Sussex: Could this be the perfect town?

It's one of the UK's most prosperous areas, the facilities are first-rate, the countryside beautiful. No wonder prices have gone through the roof
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Indy Lifestyle Online
When Amersham was Agmodesham and Chesham was Ceasteleshamm, Horsham was Horsham and the locals were already building homes, churches and charity shops. Horsham dates at least to the realm of Eadred (AD946-955), the king who followed Edmund I and preceded Eadwig. The town is old and, in the nicest sense, looks it.

"Horsham has over 40 listed ancient buildings, including medieval merchants' homes, Tudor shops and more recent Georgian and Victorian buildings," according to the local council. "The Causeway is a delightful mix of well preserved ancient medieval, Tudor, Georgian and Victorian homes."

Despite the council's liberal use of the term "ancient", most of Horsham dates from the 20th century, not the 10th, and many of the properties built this century have pedigrees dating back no more than 10 or 20 years. "The average property in this area is a three-bedroom semi," says Jennie Symonds, of Woodlands estate agents.

"Horsham has expanded northward from the historic town centre," explains Symonds. "Some properties date from the 14th century, but many houses were built between 1900 and 1920. North Horsham was developed in the 1990s. The houses gradually get newer as you move north from the centre. You can trace the development like a rainbow."

"Horsham is among the most prosperous areas in the country," says Patricia James, of Lines & James estate agents, which specialises in lettings, management relocation and home searches. "Prices have gone through the roof, frighteningly so."

Horsham is only an hour by train from central London, but many residents work locally. Two major charities, the RSPCA and Action Research, have their national headquarters in Horsham; other employers include Ericsson, pharm- aceutical giant Novartis, Royal and Sun Alliance and Gatwick Airport.

Symonds has lived in Horsham since 1982 and believes it to be flawless. The schools are excellent, she says, the scenery is pretty, the streets safe, the shopping is good, and the surrounding Sussex countryside meets the needs of golfers, anglers and other outdoor enthusiasts. Even a touch of night life has arrived with the recent opening of a club, so young clubbers no long have to trek to Croydon or Brighton to be where the action is.

A boon for some, the property boom is a trap for others, Symonds says. "Chains are longer because people can't afford to get out of the property market. When we had that era of negative equity, people were eager to get out of the market, but now they realise that the price of re-entry will be too high, so they stay in. Renters are buying. We used to see many `Let By' boards' now I notice more `To Let' boards."

James, a lettings specialist, agrees that "rentals over pounds 1,300 per month have slowed, but one- and two-bed flats under pounds 1,000 are letting quickly. If a property is correctly priced, it rents immediately."

The Low-Down

Transport

Horsham is 16 miles from Gatwick Airport, 23 from Brighton and 38 from central London. Horsham has two rail links with London. Victoria is accessible directly from Horsham (annual travelcard costs pounds 2,400) or by changing to the Gatwick Express (pounds 2,620). The latter route serves London Bridge; some trains require a change at Three Bridges, which also serves Tunbridge Wells.

Prices and properties

Houses of all sizes predominate, but there are plenty of purpose-built nearly-new studios, flats and maisonettes. "First-time buyers can no longer afford one-bedroom flats, so they are buying studios which sold for pounds 35,000 a little while ago and are now selling for pounds 40,000," says Jennie Symonds, of Woodlands estate agents. Average prices for two - and three-bedroom houses are about pounds 110,000 and pounds 125,000, but room and plot size, general condition and location can push prices much higher or lower. Four-bedroom and executive houses can cost pounds 250,000 or more.

Barn and byre

Henry Smith estate agents has barns and byres on its books, including one "cow shelter", which has planning permission for conversion to residential. The buyer will be allowed to install water and electricity, and the freehold includes a stable block and barn, all for pounds 150,000.

Piles and stiles

Woodlands is selling a five-bedroom wing of Scrase House, in Coolhurst on the edge of St Leonards Forest, for pounds 390,000. The 300-year old grade II-listed St Leonards Park has been restored and converted into residential units by Rydon Homes. Two units remain in the main building, priced at pounds 319,950 and pounds 324,950.

It's official

Council tax is pounds 496 for Band A, pounds 744 for Band D and pounds 1,488 for Band H; the percentage increase from 1998 to 19999 was 6.23. Horsham has a Tory MP in the form of shadow chancellor Francis Maude. Horsham Museum has first editions and other memorabilia of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, whose birthhouse, Field Place in nearby Warnham, is now a private residence.

Hobby heaven

Name your passion, and a club in the Horsham district is dedicated to it: angling, bees, archaeology, astronomy, bridge, chess, computing, dolls houses and miniatures, drama, goats, pressed flowers, public speaking, snooker, weaving, spinning and dyeing, whist and, when it all gets a bit too much, wu shu kwan (Chinese Kick Boxing) and karate wado-ryu.

Estate agents

Fox & Sons, 01403 217417; Henry Smith, 01403 253271; Lines & James, 01403 210088; Woodlands, 01403 270270.

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