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23 February 2024

It's still location, location, location

By Graham Norwood

One of the perils of being a property journalist is the inevitable question about where I would invest money in the UK if I had it – a hypothetical situation, I am afraid. My answers are always cautious as I try to avoid confrontations a year later with unhappy investors who followed my advice. Believe me, it has happened a few times.

Yet I was pleased to receive two e-mails from Emirates Business readers in recent weeks, asking just such advice, because one of the UK's leading estate agents has compiled an extremely useful guide. Savills has defined a series of what it calls "wealth corridors" close to big cities where it says the downturn of recent years has been least damaging, and which are poised to reap the most dramatic benefits of the recovery from recession.

The firm, of course, issues its caveats – no one can be 100 per cent confident about any property market – but I have spoken with many of the key players in Savills and have asked them to justify their confidence in these locations.

So for those with a little money to play with, and who like UK investment, here goes:

- South West London and environs – "Nowhere in this patch has ever been less than 'highly desirable' and that's why it has enjoyed enduring affluence" says Savills' Lindsay Cuthill.

"Every 'sub-location' within it offers examples of the very best houses from the 18th, 19th, 20th or even the 21st centuries. Each stop on the [London] underground's District Line has a village feel with clusters of beautiful streets, specialist shops and open spaces. It's the same further out and you're still in touch with London by road or excellent over-ground rail services" he suggests.

"The corridor replicates the growth of families too. People live close to central London when young, then move out as they accept longer commutes, enjoy growing families and put more value on good schools as well as easier access to the countryside."

- Leeds to Harrogate – "We used to have the so-called 'golden triangle' of Harrogate, Leeds and York but it became a 'diamond' when Skipton became a prime location, and in recent years transport improvements meant commuter areas expanded further still" explains Toby Cockcroft of Savills' Harrogate office.

"But one thing remains the same. Once people move to Yorkshire, they move up or move down but they don't move out. As families grow and people become more successful, they get those larger country houses. As they get older and downsize, they still stay in the county," he says.

"That continuity may sound parochial but it's a personal and economic vibe that's helped the county perform well in the downturn. The best properties fell in value by only 10 to 12 per cent whereas other counties saw 25 per cent drops."

- Scotland's A198 Coastal Road strip – "This links Aberlady, Gullane and North Berwick, all prime commuter spots which rank among Scotland's most exclusive addresses and embrace many of the country's most beautiful locations," says Jamie MacNab of Savills' Edinburgh office. "The strip includes coastline, beaches, hills, world-class golf courses like Muirfield, some of the country's best restaurants and of course excellent road and rail links. They're all in an area little more than 45 minutes from the capital city" he explains.

"This location has blossomed in the past decade as Edinburgh has grown to be a major European financial hub – and that reputation that has not suffered in the downturn. Property prices in this part of Scotland have never been over-valued and were never in a bubble so didn't see the big falls witnessed in other parts of the UK."

What is most interesting here (apart from it providing a guide to investors) is that each location possesses the classic signs of a successful residential market: good road and rail transport routes with further improvements to come, good education with both private and public schools including some for international students, good quality architecture too, and good facilities for families as well as "sole dwellers".

One less explicit common characteristic is a finite supply of homes – these areas are already dense so have little scope for significant expansion.

So do not write this off as a UK-only phenomenon – many of these characteristics can be transposed to other international locations too, from parts of mainland Europe to the US, or the Balearics in the Mediterranean. There are, essentially, the same locational and infrastructure qualities that create buoyant markets that, even in bad times, can be well placed to recover strongly.


The writer is a property correspondent for The Observer

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