Hot Spot: Cobham, Surrey

Surrey with a US fringe on top
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The Independent Online

Does your refrigerator dispense ice cubes without your having to actually open the door? Many refrigerators do just that and more in America's 51st state - Cobham in Surrey.

Does your refrigerator dispense ice cubes without your having to actually open the door? Many refrigerators do just that and more in America's 51st state - Cobham in Surrey.

"Americans are high-profile renters in Surrey and the level of housing tends to be geared towards US standards," says the flyer distributed by the sensibly named estate agents, The American Agency. The flyer then goes silent on the precise nature of those standards. Indoor plumbing? Walk-in closets? Power showers and mixer taps? A gun in every room? Refrigerators as big as cottages, and sandwiches as big as refrigerators? "Yes, spacious rooms," confirms the agency's Simon Thurston. "Also good showers and decoration to a high standard."

Despite its posh image and proximity to St George's Hill, Cobham is not all executive homes and private estates, and not a Yank-only zone. "Houses have been built in every decade throughout this century, and they vary in size and type as well as price. We've Victorian and Edwardian homes too," says Courtney Hassard of agents Tyser Greenwood.

And while the Yank presence is substantial, "large numbers of international executives from many countries choose this area, partly due to the excellent private schools, which include Dutch and American schools," says Ian Plumley, sales and marketing director of Berkeley Homes Southern.

Both Hassard and Thurston note that most new developments tend to be single homes or a cluster of two or three in a close, often replacing a single Thirties house. Still, each new home can be on an acre of land. One notable exception is Hatchford Park, a mansion in extensive grounds, that will contain new and rejuvenated flats and houses.

"The investor market has slowed as the rental market is flooded, and yields are tending to go down," Thurston explains. "And as Christmas approaches, it's gone even quieter. But this has not altered prices too much. The press bumped the market up so much that we give a market appraisal to a seller, and they think it should be higher. Sellers are getting very full prices."

Thurston's colleague, Beverly Watson-Coghlan, says that a property selling for £1m just a year ago would sell for £1.25-1.3m now. "That's a guess. I know for a fact that in April 1998 we sold a house for £675,000 and resold it last month for £1m."

Families with school-age children predominate in Cobham, but Hassard believes successful young professionals are lowering the average age-group. "Buyers from London with lots of money are setting up here, singles as well as young couples. It is convenient to commute and you have a bit of country, but you are not in the sticks.

"We are only a short distance from other towns for shopping and entertainment. Kingston and Guildford are 15 minutes by car, and it is only a half hour to London," he adds. There is also an improving social and leisure scene in Cobham itself. "It is a village, but a very cosmopolitan one," says Hassard. "We have French and Italian and other ethnic restaurants here or nearby, and theme bars and more restaurants are opening. Places like the Cobham Exchange and the Homestead are more like an American diner than a British pub, but they have music nights and other events and are popular with everyone. London prices are so high that Cobham still offers good value for money. People like the snob value of the name, and its convenient location."

Transience is unavoidable in a community where many residents are renters who can't and don't become purchasers. "In Hampshire, where I used to be based, people stayed in the area, moving from house to house," says Thurston. "In Cobham, people move away because of their jobs." And new people move in because of their jobs. "The old Cobhamites tend to be British, and many are still here," says Hassard, a young British Cobhamite who lives in a converted flat in the High Street.

He adds: "You can always tell the rented properties as there's often a basketball hoop out the front."

The Low-Down

Transport: The M25 and A3 are on the doorstep, 20 miles to Heathrow and 28 to Gatwick.

Rail service: from two stations, at Stoke D'Abernon and Oxshott - 35 minutes to Waterloo.

Cobham vs England: According to the property website www.upyourstreet.com, Cobham prices are approximately triple the national average for detached homes (£422,000 as against £136,000) and double for semi-detached (£162,000 versus £81,000), but the gap and ratio both narrow for flats (£99,000 versus £72,000). Only £17 separates the average prices for semis and terraces - £161,836 as against £161,819.

Prices: According to one estate agent, a two-bedroom cottage on the Tilt is more desirable and expensive than the other two areas with period properties - £225,000 rather than £150,000 on Anyards Road or Hogshill Lane. At the American Agency, the average home sells for £650,000 and is a large family house in a gated close on a half acre. In Cobham, £70,000-£80,000 buys a one-bed flat, and in Oxshott £130,000-£140,000 purchases a two-bed ex-local authority flat.

Oxshott: Five miles from Cobham is Oxshott, with approximately 2,000 homes, according to the village's only estate agent, Alan Falconer of Trenchard Arlidge (they have an office in Cobham as well). His current list includes a one-bedroom flat in a 1998 Barratt block for £150,000; a four-bedroom chalet bungalow for £275,000; and a huge 1998 executive house with conservatory, snooker room and tennis court that is on the market for £1.6m.

New: There are several Berkeley developments: £750,000 at Hill Close, Sandy Lane; £1.25m for Cedar House (pictured above), £1.2m for The Gables, Knipp Hill. Hatchford Park (a joint venture by Latchmere and Countryside) has three new houses and 13 flats in a Grade II mansion that was formerly a private home, WWI convalescent home, and ILEA school for handicapped children until 1993. Nearing completion at £1.5m are three detached homes on large plots by Crest on the Crown Estate, which Crest says are attracting interest from people "to whom the nearness of the airport is of paramount importance". Thirlstone Homes is building two family houses at The Chase, near Stoke D'Abernon station.

Schools: Private and state schools include the St Andrew's Primary, St Matthew's infants, Royal Kent primary, Reed School for boys, Notre Dame School for girls, Daneshill, Parkside, Milbourne Lodge, Yehudi Menuhin School, a Montessori school, and several independent and American schools including TASIS: The American School in Switzerland, which is in Thorpe, 10 miles from Cobham and 450 from Geneva.

Societies: The 1,000-member American Women's Club sponsors approximately 40 events annually, including a recent fund-raiser which garnered around £30,000 for local charities.

Horses for courses: Area attractions include a restored water mill on the Mole, open to visitors several days a week, the renowned gardens at RHS Wisley, Painshill Park, and Claremont Park, and three race courses - Epsom, Kempton Park and Sandown.

Tory turf: The MP is Ian Taylor, Conservative. Council tax is £520, £781 and £1,561 for bands A, D and H.

Contacts: The American Agency, 01932 867002; Hatchford Park, 01932 860918; Thirlstone, 01932 350900; Trenchard Arlidge, 01372 843833; Tyser Greenwood, 01932 589589.

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