Essex towns thriving despite political uncertainty
Brexit insecurities haven’t been able to hold back many of Essex’s redeveloped towns and suburbs.
The Brexit goalposts have been moved once again and the UK is now poised to leave the EU by the 31st January 2020 with a General Election agreed for the 12th December. As we enter what might possibly be the final leg of Brexit negotiations, many industries have been hit by the uncertainty that the political climate has on market activity, and this is particularly apparent in the property world, both regionally in Essex and across the UK. The reality of a no-deal Brexit has had an effect on the number of properties going on the market as sellers appear somewhat anxious about the value of their property and are trapped in a ‘wait and see’ cycle. However, although market conditions are somewhat uneasy, there is light at the end of the Brexit tunnel particularly for buyers and sellers across Essex.
It is three and a half years since the EU referendum took place in June 2016, and yet Essex is one of only seven regions across the UK that has experienced house price growth in excess of 20% over the past five years. This period includes much political speculation about the UK’s position within or outside of Europe, and yet the county of Essex continues to thrive regardless. Zoopla reports that house prices in Essex have increased by a healthy 21.52% since 2014, which puts the region fourth on the list of largest growth, behind only Kent, Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire, the latter of which enjoyed an increase of 24.03%. Regeneration in various Essex boroughs, along with improved transportation links are key factors in the success of property values and market activity. Basildon, Chelmsford and Romford are such areas that represent excellent opportunities for buyers and sellers.
SS14 is the postcode for Basildon and surrounding areas which have experienced a 28.02% average house price growth since 2014. Property values have increased by over £50,000 in this time, which puts the average value at around £232,438, although at the top end of the market, you might expect to find houses worth as much as £755,000. Basildon estate agents explain that the town centre has been undergoing major regeneration which has attracted buyers to the area. The plans have been in place since in 2012 but real changes are now evident and transforming the town to become a vibrant hub for its residents. Construction has already started for a brand-new entertainment complex which will be based at Freedom House and sections of the East Walk, located in front of the new and improved East Square. Alongside a ten-screen Empire cinema, new bars, restaurants and shops will give the town a much-needed facelift. In terms of transport, commuters will be delighted to hear that Basildon’s bus and rail station are also being worked on to provide better access for pedestrians and to divert traffic away.
With a new South Essex campus coming to the centre of town, and new housing developments creating a community vibe, there’s plenty of reasons for the Basildon property market to look incredibly strong in the next few years regardless of what is happening in the political world.
Chelmsford has been going from strength to strength ever since it attained city status in 2012 as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. But in the last five years, house prices have increased by more than 24% in some areas, driven in part by huge redevelopment projects. The city centre has seen a radical transformation since 2016 when the Bond Street shopping development opened. Once an unattractive carpark behind Debenhams, this space has been revamped into a high-end shopping thoroughfare at a cost of £120 million. The Everyman cinema has also taken up its pitch on the site, bringing the luxury entertainment sector to Chelmsford. With retailers like John Lewis, Hotel Chocolat, Joule and Cath Kidston also taking up residence, the city has become a sophisticated shopping haven for Essex.
Chelmsford City Council is committed to creating 9,000 new homes by 2036, signalling an expectation that the city is expected to experience a growth in population. Of the current housing stock, properties in Chelmsford are varied, from a wide range of city apartments available, period homes in the surrounding suburbs and villages, or large new-builds suitable for families on the ever-growing Beaulieu Park development. Locals have also received confirmation that a second rail station for the area will be based at Beaulieu, although construction has been delayed so it is expected to open in 2025. This will offer residents an alternative option to the existing Chelmsford station which delivers commuters into Stratford in 26 minutes, or Liverpool Street in 36 minutes.
Romford has regularly been touted by the media as being one of the most Eurosceptic areas of the country, and indeed it had one of the highest ‘leave’ vote counts of 70% during the referendum in 2016. Perhaps it is this faith in leaving Europe that has provided Romford and the surrounding RM postcode areas with positivity in the property market. Collier Row has experienced significant growth of 29.89% over the past five years, with the current average value worth £347,810, whilst Upminster is looking similarly healthy according to Zoopla, with a boost of 28.02% to house price values since 2014. Another RM area, Hornchurch has increased 25.1% since 2014 with an average property now valued at £380,000 in the area.
The arrival of Crossrail’s Elizabeth Line to Romford is undoubtedly significant to property price growth and demand in the area, with trains to leave every 5 minutes to connect to the capital in futuristically rapid times. Commuters can expect a 27-minute journey to Liverpool Street, 35 minutes to Bond Street, 38 minutes to Paddington and 64 minutes to Heathrow. These enviable journey times have attracted renters from the capital and properties in Romford have experienced a huge hike in value as a result.
As positive as the Essex property market is looking in the current climate, it would be remiss not to discuss the wider impact that Brexit is undoubtedly having on the property industry. Recent property index stats demonstrate that price growth is slowing across the nation, as asking prices are flat. Autumn has so far seen less market activity than usual with fewer houses being listed for sale as owners are hanging tight to see what a post-Brexit landscape looks like. London is experiencing this lag more than other regions, with demand far outstripping supply as a lack of housing stock is available, pushing buyers out to the home counties which is great news for the Essex property market. More positivity can be found in the quality of transactions that are taking place; both buyers and sellers who are set on changing ownership are adamant that they wish to complete before the UK has left Europe. Home ownership is still an ambition for many Brits, and with low interest rates making fixed mortgages an affordable option, there’s a push for first time buyers to get on the property ladder and complete their transactions quickly before we exit the EU forever.
One distinct advantage for the domestic property investment sector, is that the crumbling pound against the dollar and Euro has created a boost in UK tourism with overseas travellers now able to afford a decent holiday here. Similarly, Brits are less willing to spend more of their hard-earned cash to go abroad and are increasingly opting for staycations instead. In fact, June to September 2019 saw a 33% increase in domestic searches and bookings within the UK, and Visit Britain is expecting to attract 40 million inbound trips by 2020, which would be record-breaking if achieved. Investing in property with the intention of holiday letting has become more popular with KPMG explaining that “Holiday lets are treated as a business rather than an investment – as is the case with a buy-to-let – which means that they enjoy generous tax breaks on normal business expenses incurred in the running of your property, including insurance, repairs, furnishing, cleaning and management.”
Seaside holiday lets are particularly in demand, which is welcome news for the Essex property market, with sought-after locations such as Martello Beach, Walton-on-the-Naze, Frinton and Mersea set along the stunning coastline.
As we enter the final leg of the Brexit negotiations, the property climate across the UK may appear somewhat uneasy which won’t come as a surprise to anyone. But as yet, it remains more of a dip than a collapse across the nation. Property transactions that are taking place are being taken more seriously by both parties who remain steadfast that they wish to complete before the possibility of a no-deal agreement.
For others who are in the ‘wait and see’ camp, the fact that we’re potentially nearing the end of an extremely long period of uncertainty could well provide the market with an uplift post-January 2020, when there are stronger indications of what the UK looks like after we’ve left the EU. As far as the Essex property market is concerned, political considerations are only a small part of the story. As redevelopment and regeneration continues to gain pace in this interesting mix of rural, urban and commuter territory for the capital, Essex is poised to stand firm in any long-term forecast for the property industry in this region.