Hot Spot: Shrewsbury, Shropshire

A natural selection
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The Independent Online

If Shrewsbury's most famous son, Charles Darwin (1809-1882), had stalled his birth for 150 years, he would not have had to traipse to the Galapagos Islands for evidence of natural selection. Instead of finches and tortoises, he could have examined gazumping, or gazundering (reducing an offer just prior to contract-signing), mortgage small-print and shabby surveys, and other prime specimens in the dog-eat-dog world of property.

Much of Shrewsbury is still as it was in Darwin's day, although it has expanded and, in recent decades, seen an influx of modern developments. "Shrewsbury is a medieval city with Georgian and Victorian quarters, and in the last 15 years we have had many large developments by national volume builders and quality local builders," explains Russell Griffin of Samuel Wood estate agents.

"A considerable amount of buying and selling is occurring within these developments as people keep up with the Joneses and move from a starter-home to a semi and then to a detached." Outsiders, primarily from Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Telford, snap up homes in the £50,000 to £200,000 range.

"This is an aggressive, perverse market reminiscent of the late 1980s, with many sellers over-cooking the market by trying on prices which seem ridiculously high," says Mr Griffin. "Valuers tend to be well-trained, but traditional; so sellers are using what I call "vendor valuations". About half of these sellers are successful."

The higher end of the market is also sizzling: "We still have a shortage of good-sized family houses with five or more acres, and properties such as these are increasing in value well above the national average," says Mark Wiggin of Lane Fox estate agents. "Estates have also been in short supply. We have more than 75 buyers wanting properties in the £650,000 range."

Investors are enjoying rising rents as well as capital values, sometimes on the back of inadvertently captive tenants: "Many frustrated purchasers have cash in the bank from a property they have sold, and they are renting until they find the right house. They often stay in a rental property longer than intended because they cannot face two moves in rapid succession. They become more despairing as they see the market rise in an apparently endless cycle."

Mr Wiggin and Mr Griffin agree that many buyers at the higher end of the market are escapees from the overinflated south east, whether Surreyites cashing in their chips or stockbroker-belt wannabes who are priced out of their first-choice area.

"We anticipate an excellent year for sellers," says Mr Wiggin, "but buyers will have to remain alert, and as soon as they have found a suitable property, they must be in a position to exchange contracts immediately." Evolutionary bio-logists and property mavens alike will recognise this phenomenon as survival of the fastest.