Bristol offers homeowners the best of both worlds: city living with beautiful countryside close by. Yet it has often been overlooked by affluent buyers in favour of neighbouring Bath. But the city’s reputation is growing, as its handsome Georgian architecture and access to open spaces lure Londoners looking for more room and better value for money.
Clifton, one of the oldest and smartest parts of Bristol, is one of the main beneficiaries of this growing interest. A short walk from the city centre, its Georgian houses rival those in Bath; it is within easy reach of the Clifton Downs and the Clifton Suspension Bridge, situated over the Avon Gorge.
“Clifton has a village-y feel and real character,” says George Cardale of Savills, the estate agent. “There is a thriving community and lots of cafés, restaurants and bars.”
He notes that within 10 minutes you could be at the theatre – or in the middle of the Downs enjoying the peace and quiet of the countryside.
Anna Gracie, 37, who moved from the south-west London suburb of East Sheen to Clifton in June with her husband and three children, says the ability to walk everywhere is one of the best things about Bristol. “The change has been fantastic,” she says. “We rarely use the car.”
Gracie says they needed a bigger home yet couldn’t afford the “astronomical” prices where they were living. They still wanted a city lifestyle and thought of Bristol as Gracie had studied there at university. They bought a five-double-bedroom house in Clifton, on the market with Savills, for £975,000. The equivalent in East Sheen would have cost as much as £4m.
Howard Davis, managing director of Bristol-based estate agent CJ Hole, says Clifton has always been the most upmarket part of the city. “The wealthy merchants made their homes here in Georgian and Victorian times to remove themselves from the stench of the docks as the shipping trade boomed,” he says.
The most sought-after houses are located on the West Mall and Caledonia Place, which consist of attractive terraces. Those streets leading off Whiteladies Road, a wide tree-lined avenue of bars, restaurants and shops, are also popular.
Savills is marketing a six-bedroom, Grade II-listed Georgian property in Clifton, with gated off-street parking, for £1.795m. Located about four miles from Bristol Temple Meads railway station, the house overlooks picturesque Christchurch Green and is a short stroll from the boutiques, bars and restaurants of Clifton Village.
Savills also lists a five-bedroom family home covering 3,153 sq ft for £1.55m, with views over Clifton College’s playing fields, The Close.
Redland, a suburb next to Clifton, is another upmarket location. More family-oriented than its neighbour, it is populated with a mix of people working in media, medicine and academia. Its best streets include Woodstock Road, Clyde Road and Redland Green Road. CJ Hole is marketing a five-bedroom Victorian home on Cranbook Road in Redland for £630,000.
Good independent schools are a big draw for families moving to these areas. They include Clifton College, Badminton School, Colston Girls’ School and Bristol Grammar School, a co-ed school founded in the 16th century. State schools, which historically have had a poor reputation in Bristol, are improving, says Davis. Cotham Grammar is the best-performing and oversubscribed, which has pushed up house prices in the catchment areas of nearby Redland and Cotham.
Developer Devonshire Homes is creating a mix of new and refurbished houses in the University of Bristol’s former Botanical Gardens in Bracken Hill. The first phase comprises six five-bedroom new-build homes that are being marketed by Savills from £1.6m.
Proposals to create a faster train service to London, which is estimated to cut the average journey time from Bristol to London by up to 20 minutes, could also see more commuters considering Bristol and its suburbs.
The £700m electrification of the Great Western Main Line between London and Cardiff could reduce the journey from Bristol Temple Meads to London Paddington from an average of one hour and 40 minutes to one hour and 20. Work starts in 2014 and is expected to take three years.
“Bristol doesn’t attract as many buyers looking to commute to London as Bath, but the shorter journey times from 2017 will change this,” says James Toogood, director of Knight Frank’s Bristol office.
Research by the property agent estimates the rail improvements will open a much larger property search area for commuters willing to travel for up to two hours each way, including the suburbs of Clifton, Sneyd Park, Leigh Woods and Redland, all about 10 to 15 minutes’ drive from Bristol Temple Meads. Areas of Somerset, such as Failand, Wraxall and Wrington Vale, which are up to 20 minutes’ drive from the station, will also be more viable.
The price differential between property in London and Bristol could be the deciding factor for prospective buyers, says Toogood. He notes that professional couples looking to start a family and move out of London could get a four-bedroom home for about £625,000, while a similar property in Balham, south-west London, would cost closer to £1m and even more in parts of prime central London.
Similarly, buyers can get much more for their money in Bristol compared to the home counties. “For an extra half an hour or so on the train – once the rail improvements take effect in 2017 – the average price per sq ft in the prime Bristol area is just £309 compared to an average of £450 per sq ft in the prime home counties,” says Toogood.
However, buyers will have to factor in the higher cost of travelling by train from Bristol. An annual season ticket to London can cost as much as £10,000 from Bristol, compared to £8,450 from Bath and £2,000 from Oxshott, Surrey.
Tanya Powley is the FT’s mortgage and property reporter
● Lower property prices than nearby Bath
● Close to rolling countryside
● City life costs less than London
● Still has some gritty parts
● Shorter train times won’t come into effect until 2017
What you can buy for …
£100,000 A studio flat in Clifton
£1m A five-bedroom Georgian/Victorian or modern architect-designed house in Clifton or Stoke Bishop