House hunter: 'We need a quirky city pad - fast'

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The problem

Melissa Hinds of Lancaster writes:

My boyfriend and I have been renting in Manchester city centre for three-and-a-half years. Unfortunately our landlord has decided he'd like to sell up, which means very shortly we're going to be homeless. We're first-time buyers and are too busy working to find the time to look. Unusually we actually both work together in the same office and have done so for the past four years.

After living in a city centre pad we'd really love some outside space - we'd happily consider a city centre roof garden but can't find one. There's plenty of property in the city centre but it all looks the same. We really want something a little bit unusual and also love the south Manchester suburbs, but we're struggling to find anything suitable.

Our criteria are outside space; period features if possible, such as fireplaces, exposed brick, and high ceilings; parking - it doesn't need to be off road, just somewhere that does not have double yellow lines; and a minimum of two bedrooms. We'd love a bargain but there aren't many around.

We'd love to put our own stamp on something but don't really want to knock walls down - a bare original wood floor and white walls would be ideal. And it should be easily commutable by public transport to the city centre. Our budget is £150,000 to £185,000.

Please help, we have limited time and the clock is ticking fast on our rented apartment, as the landlord has put it on the market.

The advice

House hunter replies:

This is a big list of requirements and it is surprising, given the urgency of your position, that you regard yourselves as too busy to look. The market is currently characterised, in Manchester and in much of the UK, as having an under-supply of properties for the number of potential buyers, so you must be prepared to put in some work.

You also face serious competition from investment buyers, seeking small apartments for renting out to the city's growing numbers of young professionals, so please prioritise your time to concentrate on finding a home. You will probably have to compromise on some aspects of your new home, possibly accepting a converted property with communal outdoor space. But if you can accept those, there are a reasonable number of good quality homes available in the city, with that unusual or quirky aspect that you seek.

To make matters worse, about 1,100 BBC staff are relocating from London to central Manchester over the next year or so. Most of them will be young professionals, seeking the same type of property as yourselves. However, if you get in quick the increased pressure to buy properties over the next 12 months should see you enjoy some quick capital gains.

Manchester has seen strong house price growth, rising by an average of 12 per cent per annum since 1996 in the centre, and by 10 per cent per year across Greater Manchester. Having once been a low-cost place to buy, central Manchester's average prices are now on a par with the national averages for England and Wales.

The city centre commands a premium over the rest of the Manchester market for flats, which is all you can afford in most of the areas where you are looking. The lack of an historic market of flats, and the relatively small number of houses split into apartments, means there is more choice in the new-build sector or in conversions from commercial property to residential.

Salford Quays and Ancoats are good long-term investments if you want to step up the property ladder. Didsbury and Withington are now popular with young professionals, but typical homes start at over £200,000 so are generally outside your price range.

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

Property one: Whitworth House, Manchester city centre.

Agent's details: You won't find a more central apartment than this converted old warehouse, but you suffer with no private or shared outdoor space. A two-bedroom unit is on sale there at the top of your price range with excellent views into beautiful Sackville Gardens. No commuter time or expense.

Price: £180,000

Agent: Knight Frank, 0161-838 7744

Property two: The Chancel, Prestwich, Manchester.

Agent's details: This is a development of 23 apartments in a converted church, so there are plenty of period features, gated grounds and off-road parking. The city centre is 12 minutes away via the Metrolink or four miles by car.

Price: from £145,000

Agent: Savills, 0161-236 8644

Property three: Royal Mills, Ancoats

Agent's details: This is one of the largest regeneration areas in Manchester, so offers plenty of period properties - mostly mills and warehouses - with good quality conversions. A two-bedroom unit comes in at the top of your budget. It is easily commutable to the city centre and there are communal grounds to enjoy, plus a nearby canal.

Price: £180,000

Agent: Knight Frank, 0161-838 7744