House Hunter: Brighton

'We do like to be beside the seaside'
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The Independent Online

The problem

DAVID ROSS, OF WINCHESTER, WRITES:

My partner and I want to move together to Brighton & Hove. This is a cliché for a gay couple, we know, but these towns are gay-friendly. More importantly, they also have a wonderful seafront and beautiful coastline for some miles either side, which is actually our main reason for liking the area.

We are selling our individual flats here in Winchester and will be able to buy a property, in cash, for up to £400,000. We'd like an apartment anywhere in Brighton & Hove but ideally in one of the beautiful Regency properties close to or perhaps even overlooking the sea. A garden is not important to us, although a patio or terrace would be desirable.

Please let us know what is on the market, whether we should wait until after the Christmas period, if there are many competitive bids on apartments such as these, and if there are any "watch points" we should take into consideration.

The advice

GRAHAM NORWOOD REPLIES:

The classic five-storey 'Brighton look' houses with Italianate fronts can easily fetch seven figures - an exceptional example was recently on sale for £3.6m - so apartments within them may well cost up to £400,000 especially if they have a good sea view. But if you are canny and look at side streets close to, but not overlooking, the sea you might just get a house at a price close to your budget.

Kemptown and Hove are favourite locations where incomers buy. Kemptown, east of Brighton's town centre, has a bohemian but well-heeled feeling with a big gay community - in the 19th century it was an actors' and artists' quarter. To many people Hove, which extends from West Brighton to East Portslade, is considered more desirable than Brighton itself but shares much of its Regency splendour.

There are fewer commuters to London from Brighton than many people believe; although some trains take as little as 55 minutes the quickest car journey to the capital is almost two hours, so the property market is under less strain than in some more obvious south-east commuter zones. However, with two universities and numerous colleges there are many landlords vying to buy houses or large apartments to split into smaller units for student renters.

With the exception of Strutt & Parker, none of the big chains of estate agents has a branch in Brighton & Hove so to stand a chance of buying you have to register with a lot of small independents. According to Yellow Pages there are 106 agents covering rural Brighton, plus dozens of others concentrated on rural areas close by.

Most agents selling within your price range advertise on the Rightmove website, so that is a good starting point for property searches.

When you find what you want, make sure you get a full structural survey done - property in Brighton & Hove tends to be old and often battered by salt and strong winds from the sea.

For this reason you may have to pay high maintenance costs once you have bought. Brighton surveyors say buildings near the sea front suffer lost roof tiles and "rain-driven" damage like rotting sills and windows. Most buildings are listed or in conservation areas, so replacement features have to be high quality.

The solution

Property one: Four-bedroom house at St George's Terrace, Brighton.

Price: £419,950.

Agent's details: This four-storey Victorian property is close to the seafront but in the heart of Kemptown. The house has gas central heating, stripped floorboards, sash windows, double-aspect kitchen/dining room and two small patio areas, one with underground storage space.

Agent: 01273 677365, www.bonetts-property.co.uk.

Property two: Two-bedroom raised ground-floor flat in a listed building. Lewes Crescent, Kemptown, Brighton.

Price: £349,950 including a share of the freehold.

Agent's details: This property has sea views but only two bedrooms, although a study could be used for a third bedroom. The property is 200 yards from the beach. Ownership allows you to use the Kemptown enclosures, a walkway under the coast road to the sea.

Agent: Strutt & Parker 01273 779649.

Property three: Maisonette, Lansdowne Place, Hove.

Price: £375,000 including a share of the freehold.

Agent's details:This three-bedroom maisonette occupies the second and third floor, and has been refurbished to a very high standard. There is an easterly roof terrace, east-to-west views, and a contemporary kitchen and bathroom.

Agent: Strutt & Parker, 01273 779649.

Fact file

Average prices, according to the Land Registry, which monitors all sales, suggests that the typical home sold in Brighton & Hove during the early autumn cost £216,626 - scarcely £10,000 more than a year earlier, which shows how quiet the market has been.

"The general feeling in Brighton & Hove was that prices were too hot and that led to a quiet start to the year. By August, usually the time when we head for the beach, buyers became more serious and sellers wanting to move before 2006 started listening to their agents' advice and adjusted their prices. So the latter half has been unexpectedly busy," says Paul Bonett, director of Bonett's estate agency in Kemptown Village, one of the most fashionable parts of Brighton, with the largest gay community in the town.

He says prices are now off their peak by as much as 10 per cent. "Confidence has come back but sellers need to beware of pushing the market up again - it will inevitably lead to another lull," explains Bonett.

In other words, now is a good time to buy just in case there is a short-term surge in prices in the New Year, when prospective buyers start house-hunting after the Christmas holiday.

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