Mind the front doors, please

Most of us look for peace and quiet when shopping for a new home. But there are benefits to be had from living at the far end of platform one. You need never miss the 8:47 again, for example
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The Independent Online

As we drive past rows of houses bordering any major route into a city, how many of us have imagined what it must be like to live with the almost constant thunder of traffic? And as passengers on fast trains, or planes coming into land, we can only wonder at the tolerance of those who chose to live in the slipstream.

As we drive past rows of houses bordering any major route into a city, how many of us have imagined what it must be like to live with the almost constant thunder of traffic? And as passengers on fast trains, or planes coming into land, we can only wonder at the tolerance of those who chose to live in the slipstream.

Given that "peace and quiet" tends to come close to the top of most people's wish list, there must be some advantages to life on a transport super-highway. Indeed there are, the most notable being price. This is reflected either in the area as a whole showing good value for money, or in individual properties that are clearly cheaper than their equivalents in a different spot. Added to that is the number of people who have no objection or even appear not to notice the noise. One man's blight is another's bargain.

In Surrey, which enjoys some of the highest property prices in the country, the area around Horley on the borders of West Sussex is something of a transport epicentre. On the doorstep of Gatwick airport, with a main-line station and the M23, M25 and A23, houses are at a level that takes all these factors into account and are reasonable compared to other parts of the county. For those who don't like travelling to their transport, it's one of the few places where you can fall out of bed and on to a train or plane.

Janet Bayliss shares her garden fence with Platform 1, Horley station. She can reach the station between the train announcement and its arrival. "The trains don't bother me at all. You hear the bang, bang of the doors but that's it. The passengers can be noisier than the trains, although the heavy ones do make the house shake a bit."

Her two-bedroom end-of-terrace house is on a new estate popular with young couples and investors. She has recently sold it, owing to an impending move to Suffolk. The house was on the market for just a month before Mrs Bayliss was offered the full asking price of £105,000. "A few people thought it was too near the station, but that wasn't necessarily the reason they weren't interested in buying it."

It is quite common for local buyers to choose to move within a scale of noise pollution. Mrs Bayliss had previously lived close to Gatwick, where on bad days the smell of aviation fuel was overpowering. The sort of problem one might expect if you live in a bungalow next to an airport runway, which Debbie Prince does. She has also sold very easily, just short of the asking price of £250,000. "A plane takes off and lands every three minutes, yet often I can't hear a thing. In high winds it can be noisy, but double glazing keeps out the worst. If the smell of fuel had been anywhere near as bad as it is in some places which are further from the airport, I'd never have let my children live here. I've been in gardens where you can hardly breathe."

Anne Shields from the Horley branch of Bradford & Bingley estate agents says the area is priced with such factors accounted for. "I advise buyers to monitor a house at different times of the day so they know what to expect." She cites Charlwood, a pretty village blighted by aircraft noise but always in demand, with properties often changing hands locally.

But how different it would be if it were not in the Gatwick flight path. In the Esher office of Bradford & Bingley, Gascoigne-Pees, a 1920s house of 10,000 sq ft in three acres with tennis court and pool is being sold for £2.5m. On one of the prestigious Surrey estates it would ask closer to £5m. The buyer is getting a 50 per cent discount, but also the A3 a stone's throw away and planes from two airports. Richard Winter, a director with the agency, says it is a favourite with celebrities and businessmen. Rod Stewart rented it for a while. "The price is tempting; and there are buyers who will, despite their original intentions, end up buying on a busy road," says Mr Winter.

It is a hard pill to swallow if the idea is to move to the peace of the countryside. It is bad enough in the Home Counties, but few expect to have to compromise in rural spots such as the Lake District. Alan Gottschalk, regional business director of Bradford & Bingley, says: "Buyers often accept that the house or the convenient transport facilities make up for the noise. It is also very tempting if you are saving £100,000."

Buyers are more likely to be put off by roads than railways. The regularity of trains and the speed at which the noise passes makes them barely noticeable after a while - a consideration that developers are banking on. In expensive areas you will find new houses squashed into triangles of land below a railway embankment - and as land supply shrinks this practice will no doubt increase. Roads, on the other hand, create a constant hum. Nowhere more so than on the roads into London. The number of boarded-up houses on the A40 near Acton are testament to this. In trendy north Kensington, houses that border the notorious Westway can cost 40 per cent less than those on the quieter side of the street. Simon Jobson of Winkworth says it is almost impossible to value some of them. " A three-bedroom flat valued at £375,000 will go for £220,000. Sometimes buyers pull out when they realise how much they have to reduce the price."

But that doesn't deter some estate agents. When actor Joseph Fiennes was looking for a flat, the agent produced a place a few metres from the Westway. "What you have to do is shut your eyes and imagine you're next to the sea," he said.

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