When it comes to must-haves for property buyers, the West Sussex town of Horsham scores well, with a reasonable commute to London, proximity to Gatwick airport, good schools and a genteel mix of town and country homes. So this makes it all the more surprising that the town’s high-end housing market is at present much quieter than many others.
In the approach to Easter, local estate agents reported that more than 60 per cent of homes priced up to £500,000 within a five-mile radius of the town had offers accepted from potential buyers, according to sales website Rightmove. However, when it came to properties in the £900,000-to-£1.5m price bracket, only 26 per cent were under offer. “The renewed strength of the market is only just reaching the high end in Horsham and its surrounding villages. Prices have remained fairly static until quite recently, when we’ve seen modest increases of about 2 per cent in the last six months,” says Tim Wenning, of the agents King & Chasemore.
Another property website, Zoopla, reports the average sale price of a detached house in Horsham as £534,400, only 4 per cent higher than a year ago. This is a far cry from the heady increases seen in London, just 35 miles north.
The relatively stable housing market in this town of 55,000 residents may be down to road access, which is more challenging from Horsham than it is from rival commuter destinations. The drive to central London is a hefty 100 minutes, but for many Horsham residents, this serves as a strength, not a weakness. “We see a number of savvy buyers and developers who recognise Horsham and its surrounding villages as offering good value,” says Rebecca Sullivan, of Savills estate agency.
Horsham’s most desirable street is considered to be the Causeway, with its well-preserved range of timber-framed Georgian and Victorian houses. They rarely come to the market, but one sold last autumn for just under £1m.
The town centre’s retail offering, which was rather provincial until recently, has in the past two years attracted more high-end names and independent shops. “East Street [a busy shopping area] has become a lot more cosmopolitan and is favoured by affluent residents,” says Rupert Nicholson, of the buying agency Property Vision.
The paucity of high-end homes within the town means most buyers head for nearby villages. “Slinfold, Warnham and Mannings Heath are the most popular, providing access back into town within a few minutes,” says James Machell of Knight Frank.
About four miles northwest of Horsham, near Warnham, Strutt & Parker is marketing a six-bedroom, detached house, built in the 1920s and on sale for the first time in 32 years. It has seven acres of land and a tennis court and is priced at £1.33m.
Three miles from the town, the same agent is selling Sayers Farm, a four-bedroom house with 3.6 acres of land, for £1.3m. In Patridge Green, eight miles south of Horsham, a seven-bedroom, Grade-II listed farmhouse is on sale with an additional three-bedroom lodge and 250 acres of land. The property is being marketed by Smiths Gore for £3.9m. Both this farmhouse and Sayers Farm have facilities for horses; the area has several equestrian and field sport venues, including the Knepp Castle Estate, Cowdray Park and Hickstead.
The villages close to Horsham appeal particularly to family buyers, attracted by the area’s unusual combination of access not only to London but also the coast: Brighton can be reached in 40 minutes by car.
Access is also good for the area’s respected schools. Places at Handcross Park and Cottesmore prep schools are highly sought after, with the former a feeder school for the independent Brighton College, which has an international college in Abu Dhabi and is one of the UK’s leading co-ed schools.
Yet despite this Middle Eastern link, and proximity to Gatwick airport, there are few overseas buyers in the area. Agents report a handful of buyers from the Netherlands, Russia and the US last year.
The rental market, by contrast, is more international, with some local agents reporting growing numbers of tenants from Asia and North America, many seconded to work at the town’s numerous pharmaceutical companies.
Many agents are now hoping to see a ripple effect from central London’s on-fire housing market that will kick-start an increase in domestic sellers and buyers in the local area.
The theory is that as owners move out of London to buy homes in spacious and better value Surrey, a 30-minute commute to London, so some from Surrey (and younger buyers who cannot afford to be closer to the capital) will, in turn, consider Sussex.
“There are more selling in London and moving to the country to take advantage of the price gap. It’s bigger than ever,” says Property Vision’s Nicholson. That has not translated into price rises in Horsham so far. Yet, one suspects it is only a matter of time before this town’s unassuming charm, not to mention its current good value, turn the market round.
● There were 223 reported crimes in Horsham in March, almost half of which were for antisocial behaviour
● A number of new housing developments are being built on the outskirts of the town
● Horsham was listed in Halifax’s top 20 places to live in Britain in 2013
● Plenty of small businesses – 73 per cent have five or fewer staff
What you can buy for . . .
£500,000 A modern, four-bedroom, detached house on the edge of town
£1m A rarely available town centre period house
£2.5m A listed, six-bedroom village house with at least five acres