Oxfordshire is considered one of England’s most beautiful counties, with well-preserved villages and architectural gems. Yet a heavy influence on the area’s housing market, one of the most expensive in the UK, is not beauty but education.
There are 23 independent schools and 34 state schools in Oxfordshire, most with strong reputations, plus two universities. Arguably its best-known school is Radley College – one of the UK’s few remaining all-boy all-boarding independent schools, sitting in its own 800-acre estate – yet it is located in one of the lowest-priced residential parts of the county, near the market town of Abingdon.
Typical family houses near the college sell for just £300,000. This may be twice the national average but is much less than similar homes in Oxford itself – a four-bedroom semi-detached with a small garden in fashionable Jericho, near central Oxford, costs £800,000, for example. A five-bedroom house with a larger garden in North Oxford, close to many prestigious schools and the M40 motorway to London, will cost from £1m to £2m.
For those wanting more privacy and space, a village or market town is a likely option. Agents say top-end buyers, often moving out of London to find a good school, typically seek the classic Oxfordshire home – an old rectory or manor house with 10 or more acres of land, outbuildings, a pool and tennis court. Prices for these range from £1.5m to £10m depending on size, location and quality.
Buyers looking for such properties to the north of Oxford gravitate towards Charlbury, Chipping Norton and Woodstock, and the pretty stone villages of Great Tew and Little Tew. South and east of Oxford, sought-after locations include Great and Little Milton and Great and Little Haseley.
Edward Sugden of buying agency Property Vision says there is “a Radley effect” on the local market, thanks to families moving to the area before their sons reach the college’s entrance age of 13. “Many people look to settle close to feeder schools for Radley such as The Dragon, Summer Fields [both in north Oxford], Cothill [near Abingdon] or Moulsford Preparatory School [in the south of the county].”
Although Radley College has no day-pupils, therefore no catchment area, it still affects values. “There’s a trend for parents to seek the convenience of children at boarding school within a 30-minute drive rather than a day’s march away,” says Alex Barton of Strutt & Parker. His agency is selling Coldharbour Farm at Stadhampton, about 10 miles from Radley. This six-bedroom farmhouse, which requires updating, sits on almost 19 acres and is on the market for £1.85m.
At Boar’s Hill, only four miles from Radley, there are several large houses on sale. The locality has a rural feel but is only a few minutes’ drive from Oxford. Hamptons International is selling a six-bedroom 1920s detached house with three acres of grounds for £2.2m. Nearby, a modern Tudor-style five-bedroom property with a pool and 1.7 acres is on sale through Knight Frank at £3.85m.
The housing market is also busy because of Oxford’s status as a world-class academic centre – its university has more than 21,000 students and about 10,500 staff. The European School – located close to Radley and Abingdon – attracts Belgian, Danish, German and Swedish students and employees.
Yet schooling is not the only draw. Oxford’s historic centre attracts several million tourists each year, according to the local council. Meanwhile, parts of Oxfordshire have become fashionable and expensive second-home destinations, with many built along the River Thames.
Oxford is also relatively convenient for commuting to and from London. It takes 90 minutes to drive the 60 miles to central London but takes only 50 minutes by the fastest train. However, this convenience has not left the area immune to the downturn of recent years.
“There have been three sales in excess of £10m in Oxfordshire this year, but the £5m to £10m bracket has seen minimal activity. The best of the best sells at peak 2007 levels, while run of the mill property has decreased as much as 20 per cent,” says Sugden. The Land Registry, which monitors most sales, says average prices for homes below £1m have dipped just over one per cent in the year to July.
For many, however, the value of living in the area is not measured just in figures, but by quality of life, attractiveness and particularly education. On those criteria, Oxfordshire appears as strong as ever.
● Sophisticated city with quintessential English villages nearby
● Large selection of well-preserved period properties
● Well-respected state and private schools
● Expensive housing markets in most areas
● Villages popular with commuters are quiet on weekdays
● Heavy traffic, especially in Oxford
What you can buy for …
£100,000 A one-bedroom retirement apartment in Abingdon
£1m A five-bedroom detached house on the outskirts of Abingdon