All roads lead from Berkhamsted, in a stunning area that often betrays its considerable architectural and historical heritage. "It's a quaint little market town with character, good restaurants and shopping, and excellent private and local authority schools," says resident and estate agent Amanda King of Home Counties Property. "We are close to beautiful countryside in the Chiltern Hills and Ashridge Common, and the train time to Euston in London is only 35 minutes."
A haven for golf, tennis and riding enthusiasts, Berkhamsted also straddles the Grand Union Canal, which is good news for enthusiasts of fishing, boating and waterside pubs and houses. Berkhamsted grammar school was founded in 1541, and the substantially restored Church of St Peter is early medieval.
What's left of Berkhamsted Castle is 900 years old, and there are many traces of still earlier development. A period property in Berkhamsted can date back as far as the Roman era.
Some Berkhamsted settlers take a long term view: "Many buyers have nursery-age children but are already thinking about being in the right location for secondary school," says Ms King. Empty-nesters also tend to remain in the area, according to Ms King: "With their children grown, many of our sellers have a big house and want to release equity, so they move to a smaller house in a nearby village." It remains to be seen if, with the arrival of new purpose-built quality flats in Berkhamsted, the town will attract retirees who otherwise would have opted for a Hertfordshire village.
The granny flat in the Berkhamsted home of Alan and Pat Brison was originally used by granny and is now the office of Mr Brison, an accountant. "Twenty years ago I was working in Venezuela and our children were in boarding schools in this area," says Mr Brison. "When we returned to England in the early 1980s, we wanted to be near our children, and this area is quite pleasant and convenient for Heathrow." Mr Brison notes that his home, which cost around £100,000 in 1983, has appreciated above the odds mostly because the house sits on a plot and a half and he has a self-contained office-cum-granny flat. "With so many people working from home these days, a distinct office has much greater value now."
He guesses that his house is now worth £400,000, "which means that I have been enjoying about £300 per week non-taxable capital gains". But Ms King, who is closer to the coal-face of actual property transactions, says: "Houses like the Brisons', on standard plots and without the granny flat, are selling in the low £400,000s." The extra amenities of his property would bring the price closer to £500,000.
Berkhamsted has quick access to the M1 and M25, and it is 18 and 28 miles respectively from Luton and Heathrow airports. Hemel Hempstead Bus Station has frequent services to these airports, as well as Stansted and Gatwick. London Underground is five miles away in Chesham and 11 miles away in Watford.Prices
Luxury flats at £150,000 can cost more than small cottages and houses. Some ex-local authority flats are available, and Beech Park in Wigginton, near Tring, has two-bed furnished homes in trailer-like units from £55,000.New amid the old
Wilcon's Castlemead, in Pitstone, has one to three-bed homes from £104,950. Barratt is building Castle Quay, a development of flats and houses backing on to the canal, from £150,000. Some two-bed flats are available from £169,500 in W E Black's centrally-located 16-unit development Incents Lawn. Ward Homes is building Castle Village, a 30-acre retirement development with 155 two-bed cottages and flats, two and three-bed bungalows and a Grade II listed mansion. Aitchisons estate agents is selling two properties on 34-acre plots - a large period house in Chivery near Tring, for £1.15m, and Golden Valley Farmhouse, Ashridge Park, for £985,000. Home Counties is selling Whelpley Hill, a bungalow with planning permission for extensions on 17 acres two miles from Berkhamsted, for £950,000.The London office
Berkhamsted estate agents Cole Flatt is affiliated with The London Office, an in-town office for out-of-town agents.The London location is 26 Pall Mall.Government
Berkhamsted (population 15,688 in 1991) is in the West Hertfordshire Borough of Dacorum, which also includes Hemel Hempstead (80,000) and Tring (12,500), along with several villages. The MP is Richard Page, Conservative.Prices
In the 20-year period to 2011, a total of 7,200 new homes have to be provided in Dacorum, and as 2,300 have already been built, the remaining total is 4,900.
Developers and estate agents: Aitchisons, 01442 862533; Barratt, 01442 865599; Cole Flatt, 01442 870444; Beech Park, 01494 758800; Home Counties Property, 01442 865000; London Office, 020-7839 0888; Ward Castle Village, 01442 872129.Reuse content