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Cheltenham's Property Market


A new year and another year closer to selling up and ‘downsizing’ once and for all, but amid speculation about a national decline in house prices, I am still nervous about moving. If I sell my house first – large three bed detached in Charlton Kings with HUGE garden (unlikely) - will I find the right property? If I find the right property – three bed terrace/semi in need of some renovation in Leckhampton - will I be able to sell mine in time? I expect I am not alone in this situation.

According to The Guardian Newspaper just before Christmas, ‘A prolonged stagnation in the property market will see house prices drop by 2% over the coming year, the body that represents estate agents predicted today. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors said the number of transactions would remain flat at about 900,000 in 2011 amid continued constraints on the availability of mortgages.

It added that a lack of supply of new houses coming onto the market would prevent steeper falls in prices unless the government’s cuts in public spending had a greater impact on unemployment.’ But then this is the Guardian, so it would say that!

And for first time buyers it is even more difficult as they are being ‘squeezed out of the owner-occupier market (by the requirement for a substantial deposit to access mortgage finance)’ but should be assured that this is ‘likely to prove no more than a temporary phenomenon’.

But how about the property market here in Cheltenham and the Cotswolds? Does it reflect the overall national picture? And are the problems facing first time buyers, or in fact any buyers, having an impact on lettings?

When I spoke to Nigel Errington-Smith of Errington Smith Estate Agents, he told me that what happens in the rest of the country is not necessarily reflected within the housing market of Cheltenham and the surrounding areas.

‘This remains an affluent area,’ he said. ‘The Cheltenham ‘bubble’ exists and there are still sufficient people who want to buy – more so than there are properties available at this time.’

Overall the situation is much the same as it was a month ago, although the weather has put some people off viewing and the Christmas malaise arrived a bit earlier than usual. However, it has not been a complete wipe-out and they have still sold a number of properties in the run up to Christmas, which has increased his confidence that the market will improve in the New Year.

‘Viewings per sale statistics are good,’ he continued, ‘as those who are currently viewing are serious buyers and so long as the snow goes we should see an improvement in January followed by a surge in the Spring with interest rates remaining relatively low.’

‘Lettings are blooming,’ he added, ‘and the property market is shifting towards rental, with far more good quality family homes coming to the market.’ People are now actually moving up the rental property ladder. Demand is very high.

Gavin Wallace of Isherwoods told me that ‘sales volumes overall are still at low levels due to the problems in the mortgage market but we are expecting an increase in levels of activity over the next couple of years as the economy recovers and confidence returns. There are some properties and areas which continue to ‘buck the trend’ including quality properties in prime central locations such as Montpellier, Tivoli, Leckhampton and Charlton Kings and properties which require refurbishment and upgrading and provide ‘a project’. Demand for these prime opportunities is still at high levels, with many potential buyers registered and proceedable in many cases.

‘Cheltenham continues to be an attractive and desirable place to live and this has resulted in property prices locally displaying considerable resilience. Whilst sellers in the current market need to be realistic in setting their asking price, we are expecting Cheltenham prices to remain steady in the year ahead.’

He continued that in the lettings market, ‘Overall levels of business have again been healthy during late summer and autumn however Cheltenham is not yet experiencing the extreme increases in demand which are being reported in the press from some other areas (London mainly). However given the tightening in the mortgage market, it makes sense that many more people will have to rely on the private rented sector for longer periods of their lives going forward. We think that overall the prospects for the Cheltenham rented sector are very bright and quality properties entering the market always attract considerable interest.’

Finally, Philip Pugh added, ‘Things are much the same with the property market as they were a few weeks ago, but there are good signs in that people have been contacting us for valuations as they intend to market their properties in the New Year and others have been asking us what fresh instructions we have in the pipeline, so these enquiries bode well for January and February.

‘Another indicator is that we have agreed sales immediately before Xmas when one would think the public would be otherwise engaged! This proves that if an agent has a saleable property at the ‘right’ price and markets it well, there is likely to be a buyer to be found at any time of year and in any weather conditions. ‘I must say, however, he continued, ‘that some properties are still not attracting interest after months and months, but these in the main seem to be the overpriced ones, which – particularly in a buyers’ market - tend to be left out in the cold (excuse the pun). But isn’t it a lovely thought that normal completion dates for sales arranged in early New Year will be taking us through to warmer Spring temperatures!’

So overall not much change here in Cheltenham and the Cotswolds yet, but watch this space for an update each month.