Wet spots: The tide is high, but hold on

After a spate of rising rivers and global warming fears, riverside properties in Yalding and Bewdley continue to command high prices and will soon be attracting the home-buyers back again
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The Independent Online

Price rises rarely get higher. In Bewdley, detached houses rose 74 per cent between the summer of 1999 and the same period the previous year.

Price rises rarely get higher. In Bewdley, detached houses rose 74 per cent between the summer of 1999 and the same period the previous year.

Aside from its dizzying height, there are at least two good reasons for distrusting this particular statistic. Semi-detached houses rose only five per cent, and terraces increased by 37 per cent. Numerical precision may be elusive, but this rustic regularly-flooded town on the Severn River and adjoining the Wyre Forest has an indisputable history of attracting housebuyers.

Bewdley. If the name sounds familiar, it should. During the recent deluges, Bewdley, in Hereford and Worcester, and Yalding, in Kent, got flooded worse than most. Frequent headlines reflected that fact. Both have a history of flooding and of buoyant property values. Wet spots and hot spots are kissing cousins. Whereas properties near a golf course or empty fields will attract premiums from, respectively, golfers and the horsey set, a riverside setting has almost universal appeal.

But in an era of global warming, how will these properties fare in the future? According to financial adviser Richard Brown of MoneyNet, "Insurers may require protective works and premiums on some properties will soar. House prices will fall as a result." However, buyers may not benefit from these price reductions (see below).

Even if prospective buyers wanted to inspect a property sitting in 3, 6 or even 9ft of water, "the bridge through the town was shut," says Bewdley estate agent Ian Toner. "The market went very quiet". But Mr Toner is confident it will recover. "Bewdley has about 3,000 housesl, and perhaps a maximum of 200 were affected by the floods. The town is hilly. It would have to rain steadily for two years before the majority of houses were flooded." Most homes are above the flood plain. "The buildings most affected were warehouses that relied on river transport and have been converted into town houses. A lot of new flats have been built along the water, and even their ground floors have mostly been unaffected."

Most people are prepared for flooding. The downstairs floors are tiled, not carpeted, the electrics are higher up the wall, and you can store things above the floor on the wainscotting." But Mr Toner is not entirely convinced: "Until this year insurance levels were not affected. We were not an insurance blackspot. Whether that will change because of global warming, I don't know." Christopher Smith of Phipps & Pritchard shares this concern. "We've had severe floods before, but there is an unknown now because the flood level has been the highest in 30 years. The only new factor now is if insurance companies withdraw or increase premiums. We've heard of one owner whose excess jumped from £500 to £5,000. I think in the short term there will be a lack of interest in directly affected riverside properties. Long term, they will bounce back in two to three years."

One hundred and eighty three miles south-east of Bewdley is Yalding, near Maidstone, a key hop-growing area, with 1,400 homes serving a population of some 3,750. It has a 13th-century church tower and chancel, a 15th-century bridge, 17th-century homes, and three rivers, the Medway, Beult and Teise.

"Yalding floods regularly," says estate agent Andrew Merton of Ward & Partners, whose Paddock Wood office is five miles from Yalding. "Most of the properties are well above flood level. If you are local you realise that only a small part of the town floods, and you will also know which bits. Most of the flooded properties are new mews houses or very old properties. I 'd be surprised if it is the first time they've flooded."

Ferocious floods make alarming headlines, but floods per se become passé. "Sellers now might be thinking twice, but I give it a year. People have short memories. Properties will sell again."

The Low-Down

Transport Bewdley is on the A456, three miles from Kidderminster and 20 from Birmingham. Yalding is a few miles south of the M20/M26 junction. Train service is from Paddock Wood station to Maidstone for the Ashford-London line.

Prices Christopher Smith believes the rate of inflation of riverside properties is greater than the rate for those not affected by the floods. Eden estate agents are selling a range of properties in Bewdley priced from £140,000 to £265,000. Along with pricier properties, Toner is selling small bungalows for £35,000 to £40,000. Yalding area prices range from less than £100,000 for flats and starter homes, to £400,000 for large detached houses.

New Berkeley Homes are to convert the Alfred Reader Cricket and Hockey Ball Factory (above) into 17 new and refurbished terraces, semis and detached homes with two to five bedrooms. The wall inscribed with the original name will be retained. 01732 227555

Attractions Yalding Organic Garden has 14 gardens illustrating the history of gardening from the Middle Ages to today's organic principles and sustainable methods (01622 814650). The Tyrwhitt-Drake Carriage Museum and recently restored medieval Archbishops' Palace are in Maidstone.

Heave-ho Many buildings could be affected by heave, the opposite of subsidence, the British Insurance Brokers' Association (BIBA) warns. "Just as subsidence occurs when the ground under a building 'shrinks' through lack of water, heave occurs when the ground expands through excess water." (www.biba.org.uk)

Uh-oh (1) The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) says insurance flood cover might not be available "where residents of a flood-risk area have refused to allow flood defences to be built on the grounds of amenity, the property has been purchased cheaply due to a history of flooding, or development has been permitted in areas where the Environment Agency considers there is a risk of flooding". (www.detr.gov.uk)

Risk assessment The Association of British Insurers estimatesthat between 950,000 and 1,200,000 properties are at risk within the inland floodplain. This is about 4 per cent of the total property stock of 26 million. The majority of property at risk lies within the Thames catchment (mainly London) and the Trent catchment (principally Birmingham, Derby, Leicester and Nottingham). ABI, Inland Flooding Risk, September 2000.

Uh-oh (2) The UK is one of a few countries where insurance companies almost automatically provide flood cover on all homeowners' insurance policies - "this may not be sustainable in the future, bringing up the question of future availability and affordability of flood insurance," says the ABI. Estate Agents Phipps & Pritchard, 01299 401456; Toner, 01299 402392; Ward & Partners, 01892 836877; Jackson-Stops, 020 7589 4536.

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