Cream of the countryside

Buyers flock to South Hams in Devon in search of a better quality of life. It nudges London prices, but it's not within commuting distance. Perfect for downsizers who want to 'go bush'.
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The Independent Online

Overlook South Hams at your peril. "Years ago, South Hams was almost totally ignored," says Dinah Maxwell-Muller. "Now it has been put on the map by a lot of TV coverage, and many people are coming into the area."

Overlook South Hams at your peril. "Years ago, South Hams was almost totally ignored," says Dinah Maxwell-Muller. "Now it has been put on the map by a lot of TV coverage, and many people are coming into the area."

South Hams is sandwiched between Torquay and Plymouth, with the coast below and Dartmoor National Park above. Salcombe, Kingsbridge and Dartmouth on the coast and the inland town of Modbury are the most popular locations. Prices decline as you progress northward toward the A38.

Ms Maxwell-Muller is one of the newcomers. She now lives locally and earns a crust with estate agents Marchand Petit, which has four offices in this part of South Devon. "South Hams is the most expensive area in Devon," she says. "This part of South Devon is an area of outstanding natural beauty, so the possibilities for building are limited."

If South Hams were within comfortable commuting distance to London, houses would be even more expensive. "The coast is the most popular, although inland areas are equally or more beautiful but not as expensive," says Ms Maxwell-Muller. "The coast is also never far away wherever you are in South Hams. The most fashionable part is the Salcombe estuary, which adds £100,000 to the price."

Seventy-five per cent of buyers are from outside the area, mostly London and the Midlands with some from overseas, says Ms Maxwell-Muller. "We also have buyers who commute to Bristol. People move here because of a job relocation, to set up a business such as a B&B or a holiday let, or to work from home or retire. Many are, as we say, 'going bush'."

Michael Clark of estate agents Jackson-Stops & Staff closely echoes her views. The coastline, he says, is the area's great allure and water views easily add 20 to 25 per cent to a property's value, but the countryside is pretty too. Most buyers are from outside Devon and Cornwall looking for a better quality of life and many are early retirees or don't need to be in the office every day.

According to Ms Maxwell-Muller a house that sold for £85,000 three years ago would have achieved £105,000 a year ago, and £135,000 now. But she says: "The market has turned on its head. A few months ago a pretty house in a pretty village would sell in 24 hours. Now it's hard to get a viewing."

Mr Clark adds: "The market is flatter now than four months ago because of some overheating in the spring or because of the time of year. People are away on holiday now."

The Low-Down

Transport:

Salcombe is 220 miles to London, 25 to Plymouth and 40 to Bristol. Modbury is only five miles from the A38 expressway, with Plymouth and Cornwall to the west and Exeter and the M5 to the east. South Hams has rail stations in Totnes, Newton Abbot, Ivybridge and Plymouth.

Going nowhere fast"

Several ferries ply the various estuaries, including the all-year Salcombe to East Portlemouth passenger ferry and the May to September Kingsbridge to Salcombe Estuary cruiser/passenger ferry. Seasonal steam railways include the seven-mile South Devon Railway (01364 642338) and the Paignton and Devon line, which links Torbay with Kingwear and, via passenger ferry, Dartmouth (01803 555872). Round robin trips on the latter combine steam train, bus and river cruise.

Prices:

Typical starting prices are: £85,000 for a three-bed maisonette; £100,000 for a country cottage; £400,000 for a large detached houses with an acre or two or a house with a restaurant or letting cottage; and £2.5m for a barn conversion with a few acres and a swimming pool.

Inland:

Jackson-Stops is selling several piles in Dartmoor National Park, including 24-acre Merrifield Farm at about £800,000, and the six-bed, 10-acre Huckworth Lodge at about £575,000.

Hamlets for sale, get your hamlet here:

Marchand Petit is selling, as a whole or in lots, Stancombe, a hamlet set in 20 acres in Sherford, near Kingsbridge, including a 400-year old Grade II farmhouse, 14 holiday lets, restaurant, cider orchards, swimming pool, tennis court, snooker room and more.

Fawlty properties:

On the market in Salcombe at £750,000 is Grafton Towers Hotel, with 13 letting bedrooms, three staff bedrooms, lounge, bar and sunroom. The 997-year lease on a holiday cottage in Ivybridge is also up for grabs. The property, price £120,000, is on a managed estate with heated outdoor pool, tennis court, lake for coarse fishing, children's game room and other facilities. Connell estate agents is handling both properties.

Buyer beware:

South Hams has a population of 80,000 and covers nearly 900 square kilometres of Devon between Plymouth and Torbay. Publication of a draft proposal for at least 2,500 new dwellings in the western section is expected early next year.

Revolutionary wildlife:

Devon Wildlife Trust sponsors events such as rockpool rambles, old sludge bed explorations, nightjar walks and "Who Eats Who?" meetings.

Contacts:

Marchand Petit, 01548 831163; Connell, 01752 691200; Jackson-Stops & Staff, 01392 214222.

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