Living in middle England

Norwich, Oxford and Birmingham offer excellent homes for a wide range of buyers
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The Independent Online

Latest figures show that the average price for property in both the West Midlands (£152,869) and East Anglia (£154,989) passed the £150,000 mark for the first time in the second quarter of this year. Steve Cook, partner in Elliots estate agent in Norwich is not surprised. April and May this year have been among the best months he has ever had since he opened 10 years ago.

Latest figures show that the average price for property in both the West Midlands (£152,869) and East Anglia (£154,989) passed the £150,000 mark for the first time in the second quarter of this year. Steve Cook, partner in Elliots estate agent in Norwich is not surprised. April and May this year have been among the best months he has ever had since he opened 10 years ago.

"The days of people coming here and thinking the prices were way behind the South-east have gone," he says. "Norwich is a nice city, people tend to stay here and move within the area. There has been a real buzz here since our football team made it into the Premiership."

First-timer buyers have had a tough time in the city for the same reasons mirrored over most of the country: buy-to-let investors and people downsizing. As they are hit from both sides with buyers with more capital to invest, first-time buyers have been slowly priced out of the market. According to local agents, they are only committing to buying a property if they are on high incomes, they self-certify their incomes or their parents lend them a substantial deposit. However, Steve Cook says they won't just buy the cheapest property because they can afford it. "They are picky and would rather rent until that comes up."

Studios start at around £70,000 and ex-local authority one-bedroom flats cost from £85,000. The Thorpe area to the north of the city, near to the station and football ground has smaller Victorian properties known as "walk in" terraces (straight into the living room) which sell from £125,000 and appeal to the first-time buyers earning a reasonable salary, wanting the station and access to the A47. Some prefer to start in a rural location - a two-bedroom railway cottage is for sale with Elliots at Cantley to the south of Norwich for £109,950.

More Victorian terraces starting at around £140,000 and rising to around £185,000 for a larger style are found in the area known as the "golden triangle". These properties are near the university and the new Norfolk and Norwich flagship hospital.

The family market is always led by schools. To the east of Norwich is Dussindale where the large estates of properties built in the Eighties and Nineties are in the catchment for popular schools. Prices start at £250,000. Some families prefer to live in village locations such as Blofield Heath near to the A47, still within good catchment areas.

Homeowners downsizing are buying both near to the centre of Norwich and further out, choosing bungalows or cottages. Cook says: "People have always done this to an extent, it's just that now they are choosing to do it a bit earlier while the market is at the top."

"Patchy" is how one estate agent in Oxford describes the property market in the city. "Two or three years ago it was much easy to predict how a house sale would go; now it's now impossible to say. Some houses will sit on the market for months and then have a flurry of interest, others will sell immediately," says Graham MacDonald from Kemp & Kemp. "Buyers are sitting on the fence waiting to see how the market will go, anything could happen. We recovered after September 11 - people's memories can be short and base rates are still phenomenally cheap. The market is not going to crash."

There are very few affordable areas and property for first-time buyers, with flats starting at £175,000 rising to around £220,000. Some of these will be over shops. East Oxford heading out to Cowley and Iffley is probably where most will start looking. Most popular are the pretty two-bedroom Victorian terraced properties which start at around £220,000 and rise to around £285,000 the nearer you get to the sought-after St Clements. Local agents are seeing more properties coming on to the market and say the right property at the right price is still selling well.

Iffley Fields with its larger Victorian and Edwardian houses appeal to families who are also looking for good schools. Prices range between £300,000 and £450,000. Headington is another popular family area with spacious three- to four-bedroom 1930s houses. Prices range between £300,000 and £600,000. Its population is one of the most transient, with many residents employed at the university and teaching hospitals. Chancellors estate agents have also seen buyers moving across from the more expensive North Oxford and downsizing to Headington where they will gain roughly 25 per cent more space for the same price.

Sutton Coldfield agents are reporting a shortage of first-time buyers, who have been beaten out of the market by investors over the last few years. Few starter properties are for sale at the £100,000 level. Investors are now looking at much cheaper areas on the outskirts of Sutton Coldfield such as Erdington, Aston and Perry Barr. Mark Bentley from Paul Carr estate agents says: "First-time buyers prefer to leapfrog these parts and wait until they can afford to buy something they really want." A one-bed groundfloor flat in the popular Four Oaks area costs £152,000.

Good secondary schools near to Walmley attract families also looking for easy access to the centre of the town. Prices range from between £250,000 to £350,000. Four Oaks and Little Aston have plenty of middle-priced family home as well as the more exclusive private parks where prices start at around £500,000 and rise to over £1m. Paul Carr has a four-bedroom detached double-fronted home in Little Aston for £365,000.

Downsizing is increasingly a factor in this area with many people selling a larger home to buy two properties, one abroad and another smaller one in the same area. Small three-bedroom modern properties, bungalows and luxury apartments all fall into the £200,000-£400,000 price bracket. A refurbished two-bedroom bungalow is for sale in Park View Road, Four Oaks for £270,000.

Elliots: 01603 716677; Kemp & Kemp: 01865 510000; Chancellors: 01865 763464; Paul Carr: 0121 308 3737

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