House Hunter: Cambridge

'I want to sell my car and live in town'

The problem

Liz and Geoff Poyner, from Huntingdon, write: We currently live about 20 miles from Cambridge and frequently visit to enjoy the city's arts, theatre, cinema, live music venues, restaurants and bars. Environmental issues are becoming increasingly important to us and we feel we would like to go car-free, which would also let us relax and enjoy a drink or two.

We are in our mid-fifties, approaching retirement, and we would like to be right in the centre of Cambridge, ideally in a two-bedroom apartment or a even a small house so that we can have our family or friends staying over. We would love to have some outside space - a balcony or a small private garden - as we love eating outdoors. Our budget is around £250,000 but we can be flexible.

House Hunter replies:

Cambridge is certainly eco-friendly. The local authority is particularly advanced when it comes to recycling and cars have been discouraged within the city centre since the park-and-ride scheme was introduced about seven years ago. Much of the city's ancient and atmospheric centre has since been pedestrianised and most of the students - accounting for one-in-five during term time - get around on bicycles. The absence of cars has reinvigorated Cambridge and invested it with a greater sense of tranquillity.

It's always been a beautiful city - full of quirky Norman churches and grand medieval colleges - and offers a rich cultural mix of independent cinemas, fringe theatres, experimental art projects and antiquarian bookshops.

Property prices are reasonable and most of the time Liz and Geoff would find it straightforward to find a two- or even a three-bedroom property there that falls within his budget.

Two of the most popular residential areas are the Kite and Newnham. The Kite is in the centre of town just around the corner from the outdoor market and the Grafton Centre, while Newnham is about a mile to the south-west out towards Grantchester Meadow. Both neighbourhoods offer their residents plenty of green spaces and quiet streets - mainly Victorian and Edwardian terraces - where prices for two-bedroom properties typically start at around the £250,000 to £300,000 mark. Another popular spot is 0around the botanical gardens to the south of the city in streets like Latham Road and Chaucer Road.

Cheaper options can be found out towards Newmarket Road in the eastern suburbs where two- or three-bed properties can sometimes be found for as little as £205,000 or £210,000.

New-build homes are another option. There are a lot of modern residential developments - a mixture of private luxury complexes and affordable housing - going up around Cambridge railway station at the moment as well as to the north of the city across the River Cam.

There may be plenty of options, but there is very little on the market at the moment. "We've had record sales this summer," says estate agent Richard Hatch of Carter Jonas, "and the downside of this is that there is hardly anything left for sale."

To some extent this is a seasonal blip. The academic year is just about to start and the influx of new students each year means that housing is always temporarily more in demand than supply. The buy-to-let market has always been big business in Cambridge. Property prices have been steadily rising and rental yields are quite healthy, typically four to five per cent annually. Geoff and Liz could initially invest in Cambridge on a buy-to-let basis, with a view to eventually using their chosen property as their own retirement homes.

Property prices in Cambridge have been rising steadily recently at about 5 per cent a year. The buy-to-let market is particularly strong thanks to the hordes of students who annually descend upon the city and account for roughly 20 per cent of its total population of 100,000 during term time. Student demographics also result in seasonal fluctuations within the property market with a marked increase in demand for all types of property during the peak summer months before the new academic year begins.

If you would like House Hunter's help, write to: House Hunter, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS or e-mail: househunter@ independent.co.uk

Nick Lloyd Jones

Fact file

Property one: Newmarket Road.

Agent's details: Three-bedroom Victorian mid-terrace house about a 10-minute walk to the east of the city centre in what the agent describes as "one of the last affordable areas of Cambridge." This is well within Geoff's budget and even comes with an extra bedroom. It has its own front yard and a lawned back garden area.

Price: £204,995

Agent: Felicity J Lord, 01223 351351.

Property two: Tamara House, Queen Edith's Way.

Agent's details: When they come on the market, two-bedroom apartments in this modern luxury development cost about £295,000. Carter Jonas is currently letting one out for £1,000 a month.

Agent: Carter Jonas, 01223 368771.

Property three: Meadowcroft

A ground-floor two-bedroom apartment in a well-appointed modern block set amid extensive communal gardens just to the north of the city across the River Cam in an area known as Old Chesterton. The flat is equipped with all mod cons including state-of-the-art fitted kitchen, beech wood flooring, audio security entrance system, under-floor heating and floor-to-ceiling windows. It is about a 10-minute walk from the city centre.

Price: £295,000

Agent: Carter Jonas, 01223 368771

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