Eton boasts one of the world’s best-known schools, yet housing professionals say the town itself has a small property portfolio that is not tailored to families.
“Eton is lovely but it’s definitely for older buyers or young couples,” says Tracy Kellett of BDI Home Finders, a buying agency operating across southeast England. This, she says, is down to its small size and the restricted selection of homes that go on sale.
The town, a short walk across the Thames from much larger Windsor, is dominated by Eton College, the private school founded by King Henry VI in 1440. This is not only a large institution in a small community – it has 1,300 boys aged 13 to 18 – but also a force in the local property market: many buildings on the High Street are owned by the college, with flats rented to staff and shops leased to independent retailers. As a result, the available open-market housing stock is small.
This includes what Kellett calls “wobbly-floored flats above shops”, small period apartments with little or no outside space, priced up to £300,000. There are also small terraced two-bedroom houses with courtyard gardens, some built in the 19th century for railway workers or launderers at Eton College, on sale for up to £450,000.
About 40 large modern riverside apartments also exist, one of which Kellett has recently secured for just over £1.5m for an international sports star. Then there are a few three-storey townhouses, some of which have a history going back to the 14th century but again with small gardens, priced from £800,000 to £1.4m.
“There’s fierce competition for the best homes and some are sold off-market. Eton has an attractive quaintness and a rather genteel nature. But if you want good shopping or a lively nightlife, you just wander across the bridge into Windsor,” she says.
Another attraction is the easy commute to London, which is just 20 miles away. Rail services from two local stations reach Paddington in 35 minutes or Waterloo in 50. The M4 motorway is also nearby, making the journey by car less than 20 minutes to Heathrow and an hour to central London.
With such good access, most buyers are “young professionals looking to move out of London”, says Guy Robinson of Savills. Families with children choose Windsor or head for nearby villages – particularly Winkfield and Binfield – where homes with gardens abound, albeit at premium prices.
Savills is selling a 1,537 sq ft three-bedroom apartment in a riverside block with views of Windsor Castle for £1.15m. It is also marketing a four-bedroom house on the High Street for £1.395m. The building dates from 1398 and has been extended to create 2,385 sq ft of living space, but it only has a courtyard garden.
Interest from foreign buyers is booming. Local agents report enquiries from the US, Nigeria, South Africa and Singapore over recent years, and the first interest from China this autumn. “International clients seek modern properties, especially highly-specified apartments or townhouses but these are few and far between,” explains Brian Warren of Fine & Country.
He says a record price was set for luxury apartments in a block overlooking Eton Bridge, now fully sold, where values exceeded £1,000 per sq ft, and much of the interest came from abroad. Overseas buyers are also expected to figure when sales start for three new schemes: the redevelopment of Eton Boathouse, which starts this month; a scheme at Eton Bank Court beginning in January; and the redevelopment of a garage site on the High Street, where construction is set to start in February.
The town of Eton has only 5,000 residents and a few dozen streets. A short stretch of open space lies to the west, separating it from the village of Eton Wick. Even in this small area, buyers favour particular locations and the most popular is around Eton College.
The Good Schools Guide refers to Eton as Britain’s number one boys’ private school and David Cameron (the 19th British prime minister to have been educated there) has called on it to set up a state school to help the sector improve its standards.
This cachet affects the housing market. “Many families invest in Eton to use it as a base when visiting [their sons] with a guarantee of letting while the property is empty,” explains Warren. Buyers with no direct involvement in the school are also drawn because “Eton College certainly sets a tone for the area”, says Robinson.
Prices are relatively buoyant as a result. Values fell up to 25 per cent in 2007/08, when the economic downturn hit, but have climbed steadily since then. They are now 5-10 per cent above their peak of five years ago, with some properties attracting up to 20 prospective purchasers.
“On paper you wonder why the place is so special. It’s not great for families, car parking is very difficult, and there’s a scramble when a particularly good house comes on the market,” says Kellett. “But then you wander down the High Street, you notice the history and feel you’re walking back in time.”
● Quiet, charming riverside location
● Short walk to good quality shops and nightlife in Windsor
● Relatively easy commuting to/from London
● Few family-friendly houses
● Limited stock keeps prices high
● Aircraft noise from flights to and from Heathrow
What you can buy for …
£100,000 A studio flat two miles away in Eton Wick
£1m A two-bedroom riverside apartment in Eton