House Hunter: Manchester

'Should I buy now to beat the rush?'
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The Independent Online

ROBERT LEGION WRITES:

My job at the BBC means I am being relocated from London to Manchester at some date next year, along with at least 1,000 other staff. I want to know whether I should buy a property in Manchester sooner rather than later to beat the rush and to avoid any "BBC premium" that estate agents may opportunistically slap on properties.

I currently live in Ealing, a few miles from Television Centre in London, and my flat has been valued at £350,000. I am quite happy to pay a similar amount in Manchester so long as I can get a top quality, large modern apartment in one of the new blocks being built in the city centre. I currently live alone and enjoy the sort of "young, single lifestyle" that I have seen in Manchester. What is on offer there and when should I move?

The advice

GRAHAM NORWOOD REPLIES:

Manchester city centre has changed out of all recognition in the past decade, and you have no shortage of prestigious apartment blocks to choose from. Prior to the IRA bombing in June 1996, which was centred on the old Arndale shopping mall, only 6,000 people lived in Manchester city centre. As a result of comprehensive re-building there are now more than 12,000 city-centre residents (equivalent to 3 per cent of the total Manchester population) and recent predictions from the local council and estate agents claim that figure will rise to 23,500 (5.5 per cent) by 2015.

You currently live in a part of London where prices are well over double those of your new city. The typical Ealing home costs £274,130 according to the Land Registry, which monitors all sales, but an average Manchester home is only £120,699.

However, this will not automatically mean you will be able to afford a vast apartment. Manchester city centre has attracted premium-brand developers who have built high-spec properties - loft styles and glass-fronted flats dominate at the price level you can afford, and some blocks have concierges, so service charges can be high.

There are also many iconic residential buildings in the centre; one is the 47-storey Beetham Tower which has all of its 219 apartments sold out and will be one of Britain's tallest buildings when completed next summer. Like anywhere else, if you move a little further out of the city centre you will get more space for your money.

Buying now is sensible if you can juggle your finances and perhaps rent temporarily in London while you await the office move. You should bargain hard when you buy in Manchester, whether you go for a brand new apartment or one of the many re-sales of flats built in the past five to 10 years. A report from Allsop, a property consultancy specialising in the north of England, says long-term prospects show Manchester property prices are set to rise because of the continuing regeneration of the city, but at the moment "there is an over-supply of city centre flats" so sellers know buyers have a lot of choice.

But the "young single lifestyle" you speak of may not last forever. Research by estate agent Knight Frank says that if Manchester city centre wants to have a buoyant property market it needs more families and older buyers, and the firm predicts the type of homes being built will change in the next decade to attract these groups.

The solution

Property one: loft apartment.

Price: £350,000.

Agent's details: Whitworth House, Manchester M1. This three-bedroom loft-style duplex apartment on the third and fourth floors of a period building close to the BBC at Oxford Road features laminate flooring, sliding glass doors and a vast 65ft by 14ft roof terrace - "a garden haven at the heart of the city".

Agent: Knight Frank, 0161 838 7744.

Property two: two-bedroom apartment.

Price: £343,000, with car parking available for an extra £25,000.

Agent's details: This two-bedroom apartment in a new development is at Spinningfields, a former textile suburb close to Manchester city centre and now undergoing wholesale regeneration into a business quarter with offices, shops and bars. Leftbank is one of the area's new blocks of flats still being built; this apartment has 1,120 square feet of internal space.

Agent: Westbury Homes, 0161 834 7979.

Property three: two-bedroom apartment.

Price: £279,000, plus a parking space available to rent.

Agent's details: Imperial Point - this is at Salford Quays, further to the west out of the city centre but with good access by Metrolink train. This is near the Imperial War Museum, Lowry Millennium Bridge and Old Trafford. The two-bedroom apartment boasts full-height glass windows, two balconies, mirrored doors and wood-effect floors.

Agent: Hamptons International, 01625 444700.

Fact file

Corporate relocation such as the BBC's has been one of the major influences in the revitalising of Manchester city centre in recent years, as individuals with financial incentives from their company have bought or rented city-centre properties. The BBC's package - reported to include a relocation grant of £5,000, an additional £4,000 to cover legal fees on the purchase of a new home, £3,000 for household items, plus £900 towards removals and £1,500 for storage of furniture between properties - sounds generous but is not unusual according to buying agents who often act for purchasers being relocated from one city to another.

If you would like House Hunter's help in finding a property in the UK or overseas, write to: The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, 020-7005-2000 or e-mail: househunter@independent.co.uk

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