Real Homes: Des res, close to transport

You might not want to buy a house under a flight path, or next to a motorway, says MARY NOVAKOVICH - but there are plenty who do
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Ever driven past a row of dusty houses along a busy A-road or motorway and thought, who on earth would want to live there? Zooming down the M32 in Bristol past Stacy Pengelley's house, that is exactly what passes through your mind. Ms Pengelley lives in a Victorian semi which, along with several of its neighbours, was bought by her father many years ago. It's obvious from the name - Parkview - that Mr Pengelley had no idea then that a motorway was going to pop up and spoil the vista. The drone of the M32 traffic scarcely lets up and when it does for a few moments, late at night, the flashing orange lights of motorway maintenance crews illuminate Stacy's sitting room, just in case she might forget what's on her doorstep.

Stacy, however, is stoical. "We couldn't help noticing the noise at first, but after two or three weeks we just got used to it," she says. "After a while we found it relaxing, like the ticking of a clock." Secondary glazing makes a big difference - although Stacy does shudder slightly at the approaching summer. "We'll just have to bear it, I suppose," she smiles, "although it is hard to talk on the phone when the window's open."

Like many people who live in houses that others wouldn't consider, Stacy's attitude is partly explained by the fact that she and her boyfriend had previously been living in a tiny bedsit. Never mind the estate agent's mantra of "location, location, location"; some buyers are willing to put up with a dire location if they get an extra bedroom or two, and a garden. Still, Stacy admits that she wouldn't want her next house to be on a main road.

Joy Butler and Dave Pearce would never live on a main road either. Instead they fell in love with a between-the-wars semi that sits directly underneath the Heathrow flight path. Their previous home was a flat behind the Heston services on the M4 which, despite sounding nightmarish, was actually relatively quiet. But what they really wanted was a house with a large garden for their two daughters.

Initially they didn't know what they were letting themselves in for. "The first time we came to look at it, it was very quiet," says Joy. Air traffic tends to be concentrated on different flight paths at different times of the day, and they weren't exposed to the full effect of low-flying aircraft until their second visit, but by then it was too late. They already had their hearts set on the three-bedroomed house with its large, well-tended garden, greenhouse and vegetable plot.

"The planes started this morning at seven o'clock," says Joy. "But it didn't take long for us to learn to sleep through it."

When the flight path is at its most active, the cacophony is deafening, and Sunday barbecues in the garden can be constantly interrupted by the roar overhead. But at other times of the day, when the planes are flying on neighbouring flight paths, the noise is barely noticeable. And aeroplanes do have their uses, as Joy quickly discovered: the constant whooshing as they zoom overhead can dry her washing within the hour. "I can do three loads in a day if I time it right," she says happily.

Apart from the lack of a large kitchen the Pearces are content, and they have no worries about selling the property since they plan to stay for some time. "The last two owners were here for 31 years, so we're going for a hat trick," says Joy.

If they do want to sell in the near future, their estate agent, John Copestake of Thompsons, reckons they'll have little problem finding a buyer. Heathrow Airport employs 56,000 people so there are plenty of potential buyers who would like to live near their work.

In a nice twist, John is one of those rare estate agents who practises what he preaches: he also lives underneath the flight path. "I love planes," he says. "When Concorde goes over I still run out in the garden to have a look because it's beautiful."

Matching people to "difficult" houses can leave estate agents with their work cut out. Yet you never know what bizarre factor will clinch a sale. Simon Agace, chairman of Winkworth estate agents, recalls matching a difficult house with the perfect owner. "It was on a busy corner junction, and the family bought it specifically for their mother because she was half deaf," he says.

This location business is fine if you are aware of the drawbacks that come with a property. But like the Balchins, who a fortnight ago won the latest round in their legal battle with the Department of Transport over a bypass that would render their pounds 435,000 property "valueless", Anne Collins had no idea when she bought her 1930s semi on a slip road off the A10 in north London in 1986 that it was going to turn into a booming dual carriageway. "It was fairly quiet back then," she recalls. "There were cars but there wasn't the volume there is now."

About five years ago, she and her husband decided they'd had enough of the dirt, the ear-splitting roadworks and the windows rattling every time a lorry passed and decided to sell. It took them a year.

"People liked the house but they didn't like where it was," says Anne. "We had to drop our price by about pounds 10,000 in the end." Unlike the Balchins, Anne found her perfect buyer: a mechanic who loved the double garage. Like many buyers, the mechanic and his wife were desperate to leave their small flat and find a house with a garden. If they had to put up with the A10, so be it.

Offloading an attractive property in an unattractive location is becoming easier as the property market picks up across the country. During a slump, even families desperate for space wouldn't necessarily consider a house on a main road. But certain areas, such as London and many parts of the south, are filling up, leaving too many buyers for too few properties. Suddenly that main road doesn't seem to be such a hindrance.

It's not the roads but the utter lack of them that's the problem for Sandra Ashenford and her family. There are three ways of reaching their old bridgekeeper's house and its acre of garden on a canal near Stroud in Gloucestershire: rowing across the canal; walking up the towpath to the next bridge and doubling back; or by crossing a field at the back. Because of the lack of vehicular access, no bank or building society would lend on the property and they had to raise the pounds 80,000 themselves.

"To us it was wonderful, but to building societies it was worthless," says Sandra. The beauty and solitude of the place more than make up for drawbacks such as having to carry the shopping in a wheelbarrow and the reluctance of delivery men to trek across the field - they had to lug sofas and beds by themselves. Similarly, when Sandra was expecting her third child, she had to drag herself across the field in the middle of labour.

The Ashenfords plan to stay forever, so reselling the property is not a concern. And although Sandra has become somewhat obsessed with the weather, she has no regrets. "I think we're far too cossetted in the way we live these days," she says. "People aren't prepared to take a few risks."

Some of these stories feature in a new series of 'All The Right Moves', beginning Thursday 17 June at 8pm on BBC2.

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