HOW TO LIVE THE LONDON LIFE WITHOUT THE PRICE TAG? MOVE TO KENT’S MEDWAY TOWNS
In Britain’s notoriously pricey housing market, it’s hard to believe that some areas are considered too cheap for the discerning buyer.
This doesn’t just apply to luxury purchasers, estate agents say. Even those shopping in the mainstream market may turn their noses up at a town with relatively low house prices, without even paying it a visit. They assume something is awry: a high crime rate, poor transport links or rampant unemployment.
Traditionally, this has been the London buyer’s impression of the Medway towns, where only five years ago you could buy a terraced house for under £100,000.
The average house price in the Kentish towns of Strood, Rochester, Chatham, Gillingham and Rainham, which line the River Medway as it heads out to the Thames Estuary, now stands at £239,422, according to the Land Registry.
This is dwarfed by the average for the South East. The typical value for all towns within 20 miles of the M25 – the inner commuter belt – is £367,166, which is 53 per cent more expensive than this small waterside cluster, according to new research by Hamptons International.
In fact, Gillingham was the cheapest of all 84 towns on the list, closely followed by its four neighbours.
Richard Sherwin, managing director at Hunters Medway, has dubbed this price gap “the Medway dip”. He says that the towns in this area “have been slightly forgotten over the years and ignored by Londoners”.
The M2 skirts around the conurbation en route to Canterbury and local prosperity was severely knocked when the historic dockyards, which opened during the reign of Henry VIII, were closed in 1984 with the loss of 8,000 jobs. Unemployment then rose to 20 per cent.
“Traditionally the Medway area was overlooked during early buyer migrations from London due to the largely rural landscape,” says Russell Quirk, founder of online estate agent eMoov. “The demise of the docks, which were prominent in supporting the local economy, also led to a more unsavoury reputation. As a result the property market is playing catch-up when compared to the other South East commuter hubs.”
But being the region’s underdog is starting to pay off. Low prices combined with improved rail links, which connect Kent and central London, have quietly been attracting first-time buyers priced out of the capital.
One billion pounds of investment is being sunk into the area over a 20-year period and the dockyards – where ships such as HMS Victory were proudly built – are being regenerated. The Chatham waterfront has even become a tourist attraction with the Festival of Steam taking place over the Easter holidays, exhibiting steam trains and classic cars (thedockyard.co.uk).
“The economic fortunes of the Medway towns has been improving in recent times,” says David Fell, analyst at Hamptons. “While lower incomes and employment in the wider area has affected house prices, with that has come opportunities for those looking for less expensive homes within a commutable distance of the capital.”
New data from Hometrack shows a buoyancy in this market. Properties in the locale only stayed on the market for three weeks in the autumn of 2016, compared to six weeks for the wider South East.
Affordability is a common theme linking the Medway towns, but each has its own attributes to suit different buyers.
Although Quirk admits that the former military hubs of Gillingham and Chatham are not the most enchanting of the Medway towns, he expects an overspill effect to benefit the pair. The population of Medway is forecast to grow to nearly 300,000 over the coming decade. As the more desirable spots of Rochester price out some buyers, they will head to Gillingham and Chatham, he predicts.
Where industry has died, developers will follow, ready to pounce on wasteland or convert former factories and warehouses into apartments. One such scheme is the Berkeley Homes Victory Pier in Gillingham, overlooking vast swathes of the River Medway. Once complete, the 10-year project, which began in 2009, will comprise 841 new homes, 40,870 sq ft of retail and commercial space, an 80-bed hotel, a 1,100-bed student village and a care home.
First-time buyer and occupational therapist Joanna Loomes bought a two-bedroom apartment in The Boardwalk, the third residential phase of the project, for £174,000.
“I was looking at newly built homes in the Medway towns and the development caught my eye,” says Loomes, 34, who was previously living with her parents. “I loved the idea of having a gym and shops on my doorstep and living by the river.”
It wasn’t just the water or the price tag that attracted her but also the direct train service to London. “Gillingham is proving popular with first-time buyers who have been priced out of their home towns such as Sevenoaks,” says Jason Smith of Bairstow Eves. “These buyers might be heading down the trainline, adding an extra 10 to 15 minutes on to their commute, but they are getting much better value for money.” The trains take around an hour to arrive at London Victoria.
Niksha Patel, 28, and her husband Ritesh, 32, bought their first home in Chatham’s Horsted Park, which is still being built. The couple, who were living with parents and expecting their first child, used the Government-backed scheme Help to Buy to purchase a four-bedroom family home in the Countryside development.
“Ritesh works on Kings Road in London as a stylist, so we still wanted to live near a station for him to have an easy commute,” Patel says. “We also ideally wanted a new-build because they are more eco-friendly and would save us money in the long term on energy bills. We purchased our home off-plan and loved the idea that no one has lived in this house before, it was all ours.”
With a nod to traditional Kentish architecture, the scheme is built around courtyards and squares and overlooks the lush Horsted Valley. More than a third of the site is dedicated to open space and a village green is being created. Prices start from £179,995 for a one-bedroom apartment and £412,500 for a four-bedroom home. The train from Chatham to central London takes 37 minutes.
Those seeking a more bucolic backdrop should consider rural Rainham. Strutt & Parker has a four-bedroom, three-reception room detached house on one of the lanes leading into Rainham, with countryside views and a barn studio. It is priced at £785,000.
Or there’s Roman-built Rochester, with its castle and cathedral. The housing stock in Rochester is reminiscent of Clapham and Highgate – but the Victorian and Georgian terraces cost £170,000 to £240,000, rather than £1 million-plus.
It is possible to spend that much – Mann has a seven-bedroom, Grade II listed mansion on the market for £1.75 million – but homes are also available for a fraction of the price. A three-bedroom terraced town house, a mile from the high street, is £240,000 with Hunters.
“The most expensive towns are on the edge of the Medway,” says Hunters’ Sherwin. Take Strood, which is on the north side of the river and has easy access to the motorway network. “It’s not as pretty as Rochester but it is more functional and very convenient.”
Source : The Telegraph
Back to News