Full of eastern promise; property

Prices are rising in East Anglia, reports Rosalind Russell

East Anglia was one of the first regions to experience soaring house prices. They then fell almost as dramatically. Now a shortage of desirable property has coaxed prices back to 1991 levels - and above, for large country houses with land.

A three-bedroom cottage in a village in Suffolk now costs around pounds 180,000, says Tim Dansie, of Strutt & Parker in Ipswich. That compares with Buckinghamshire or Surrey, and wipes the floor with the London boroughs of Wandsworth and Fulham. Job confidence has encouraged City workers to venture out along the train links from Liverpool Street.

Tony Mullucks, of Mullucks Wells, confirms: "The appeal is the fast and reliable train service, especially for those working long hours, as Stansted Airport ensures trains run from early morning to late at night."

Tim Dansie cites a new development at Nayland, on the Essex/Suffolk border, as a prime example of the City worker influence. Gainsborough Place, six miles north of Colchester, is a group of eight houses built on a 17-acre site. Two were sold before a brick was laid, despite prices of pounds 400,000- plus.

Stansted does not bring unalloyed joy to all, but some villages enjoy the benefits without the decibels. Manuden, Henham, Clavering and the Rodings have gained from the airport, says Tony Mullucks. Even villages which have suffered from noise are now seen as value for money.

Neil Thomas and his wife Cheryl own a house in Islington, and also a pair of cottages in a secluded valley four miles from Sudbury in Hickbush, Essex (the postal address is in Suffolk).

The cottages are part of a group of four, dating from the 17th century, colour-washed rendered with peg-tiled roofs. An internal door links the two, but they have their own staircases, kitchens, bathrooms and plumbing.

"In Islington, we are on the right side of London to escape to Suffolk, which takes about an hour and a half," says Neil. He and his wife are now thinking of moving to Suffolk permanently. They have put the two- bedroom cottages up for sale - one at pounds 112,500, the other at pounds 82,500 - through agents Thorntons.

"We are interested in another house which we have admired in Suffolk for 11 years. It has bigger rooms more suitable for family gatherings, more land, a pool and - more important - a couple of barns which could be converted into offices. It will force us to change the way we live."

The good life is drawing others to the area. In Cambridgeshire, Bidwells reports a re-emergence of London buyers.

Meanwhile, guide prices in Cambridgeshire are being easily exceeded as competition for the best houses increases. "Prices in the last year have been creeping up by around 5 to 7 per cent for better properties, and up to 12 per cent for those in extreme demand," says Bidwells' Christopher Carey.

In Norfolk, the firm's "under offer" book is 35 per cent ahead of their book this time last year. And in their Suffolk branch, they report fresh money coming out of London and the Home Counties, being flourished mostly by 35-to-45-year-olds with young families. Buyers are looking for timber- framed farmhouses, on the edge of a village, within half an hour's drive of Ipswich and so commutable to London. They cost from pounds 175,000 upwards.

Househunting in East Anglia

Old Hall near Woodbridge in Suffolk, a 16th-century Grade II-listed five- bedroom farmhouse, has exposed timbers and inglenook fireplaces. The 24ft attic room has been converted into a playroom/studio. Formal gardens are surrounded by farmland, to almost an acre. pounds 270,000 through Strutt & Parker in Ipswich (01473 214841).

Pit Cottage, a brick-and-flint former blacksmith's cottage in Brandon, on the Norfolk/Suffolk border in five acres with pond, has three bedrooms, a study, a 21ft kitchen and storerooms.A structural survey is available to serious applicants. pounds 168,500 through Bedfords in Bury St Edmunds (01284 769999).

Woodwell Furlong, a 17th-century Grade II-listed thatched three-bedroom cottage in Church Street, Norfolk, has three reception rooms, a conservatory, a study and an acre of gardens worked by the owner, a garden designer. pounds 175,000 through Bedfords (01284 769999).

Wealden House near Sudbury was designed and built by Stephen Mattick, a builder admired by Prince Charles for his attention to detail. The reception hall floor is herringbone brick, the drawing room has polished boards, the kitchen a flagstone floor. pounds 260,000 through Mullucks Wells Saffron Walden (01799 520520).

Strickland Manor Farm at Yoxford, Suffolk, is a six-bedroom barn conversion, Grade II-listed, with galleried drawing room, vaulted dining hall, under- floor heating, automatic central vacuum cleaning system and antique-style fittings. An 18ft playroom opens on to a walled garden. pounds 285,000, Bidwells in Ipswich (01473 611644).

The School House in Thaxted, Essex, a late-Victorian four-bedroom headmaster's house, has double gables, barge-boarding, and a walled garden. pounds 110,000, Bruce Munro in Saffron Walden (01799 522628).

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