Cream Of The Country: Hastings

Although prices in this Sussex town shot up two years ago, it still represents value for money
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The town enjoyed its heyday as a holiday resort in the 19th century. It subsequently fell out of favour, was heavily bombed during the Second World War and languished for many years as a rather sad and scruffy East Sussex seaside town.

All that now appears to be changing and Hastings has recently been considerably spruced up. Partly this has been due to a series of substantial regeneration grants, including a £3m makeover for Alexandra Park in the town centre, as well as improvements made to the town's infrastructure and services such as the new railway station, which opened earlier this year. Private investment has also played a major part in restoring the elegant residential properties along the seafront, and in the recent reopening of the pier.

"Housing has always been cheap here," says Jeff Downton. "There has been some strong growth in the market in recent years - prices went up by almost 50 per cent in 2003 alone - but it's always lagged behind places like Brighton where property is typically twice as expensive. Traditionally we get quite a lot of people moving here from Brighton looking to free up some of their capital. We also get a lot of Londoners. Some of them are wanting to make their money stretch further by relocating here, while others are looking for affordable holiday homes or for buy-to-let investments."

The town is principally remembered for the Battle of Hastings in 1066 - which in fact took place a few miles inland. But William the Conqueror did build a castle in Hastings, the ruins of which still overlook the old town - a compact grid of narrow 15th-century streets leading down to the waterfront. This is the most atmospheric part of town with a fine selection of restaurants and pubs. Fishing boats still set sail every day from its pebbled beach where a series of dilapidated huts conduct a brisk business in the day's catch.

The occasional fisherman's cottage does appear on the market in this part of town but larger houses with better sea-views are often easier to find on the steep slopes of East Hill and West Hill that rise to either side of the old town, and can be reached by lift cars.

The town's commercial hub is just to the west of the fishing beach and centres on Priory Meadow - a multi-storey shopping complex. To the rear lies Alexandra Park - the largest of a series of formal gardens dotted around town. It is in the leafy streets bordering on the park's lush 100 acres that most of the town's more palatial Victorian properties are to be found, including many five- and six-bedroom family houses.

Similarly proportioned properties can also be found lining the white stucco squares and crescents along the seafront to the other side of Priory Meadow, although most of these have been converted into flats.

Heading further west along the promenade, the town's outskirts blur into those of neighbouring St Leonards - a purpose-built Victorian resort that likewise features some fine gothic architecture, pleasure gardens and sea views. However, nowadays St Leonards is very much the poor relation of Hastings.

Although property prices in Hastings have remained consistently low over the years, local agents report that the recent dramatic price hikes blunted demand, especially among buy-to-let investors. "The growth was simply unsustainable," says Jeff Downton, "and people couldn't expect to match those rises within the rental market." However, the good news is that prices have now begun to stabilise.

"Prices hit the ceiling in the summer of last year and since then have been steadily falling off," reports Downton, adding that the opening of a new university in the town earlier this year has also revived interest in the buy-to-let market.

"There has never been a better time to buy in Hastings," he says.

The lowdown

Cost of living: One-bed flats from £70,000; two-bed seafront flats from £125,000; two-bedroom terraced cottages in old town from £160,000; three-bedroom semis houses from £150,000; six-bedroom townhouses overlooking Alexandra Park from £315,000.

Attractions: Alexandra Park; fresh fish available on the beach; Eurostar from nearby Ashford.

Downsides: The town can become overrun with tourists in the summer.

How to get there: Regular trains from London's Charing Cross take about 95 minutes.

Source: RoSPA

Some properties to consider

Wellington Terrace
Price: £149,950
Agent: Andrews Tel: 01424 722122
Lowdown: Pretty 1830s terraced cottage, recently renovated and backing onto Priory Meadow.

Wellington Square
Price: £79,950
Agent: Ward & Partners Tel: 01424 461110
Lowdown: First-floor flat overlooking an elegant square that is close to the seafront and town centre.

Ashburnham Road, Clive Vale
Price: £227,500
Agent: Ward & Partners Tel: 01424 461110
Lowdown: Generously proportioned Victorian house close to the centre of Hastings with three reception rooms and views over the old town