Search for Bicester online and Bicester Village – not a quaint collection of thatched cottages (though there are plenty of those in this area of Oxfordshire) but the discount designer mall – will almost certainly top the listings.
Since the outlet opened in 1995, Bicester’s historic centre has played second fiddle to cut-price fashion. However, the town has undergone major redevelopment that local people believe will bring improved prosperity to the area.
In recent years Bicester and the surrounding Cherwell district has become a growth area, resulting in the construction of new homes, improvements to infrastructure and new businesses setting up in the town. About 3,000 homes are being built in and around Bicester, including the Ministry of Defence site at Graven Hill, while a proposed “eco-development” could bring 5,000 carbon-neutral homes to the area by 2034.
“We’ve just completed £70m of upgrades to the town centre,” says Barry Wood, a councillor at Cherwell District Council. “There’s a new shopping centre, multi-screen cinema and hospital. Bicester Village is also expanding by a third. Upgrades to the road network have enabled us to create a new business park and companies are realising there’s a strategic advantage to being in this area because of the road and rail links.”
Bicester sits close to junction nine of the M40 and there is a regular 55-minute train service to London’s Marylebone station. There are plans to make the town the intersection for two new rail extensions by 2016.
One will run from Oxford to Bicester, and from there to London, cutting journey times to Oxford to 15 minutes. The second will link Oxford with Milton Keynes and Bedford, via Bicester.
According to Savills, house prices in Bicester were more than a third lower than Oxford in 2012. As a result, local agents, such as Paul Quigley of Fine & Country, are seeing a pick-up in demand from buyers who can no longer afford Oxford or who want to move from London.
“We’re getting a lot of inquiries about the town, the area and new developments, and have seen more professionals move here because they want to put their children in good, independent local schools,” he says. “There are also people who have relocated here for work or who commute to Oxford or Brackley, as well as London.”
The number of residential properties sold in Bicester between March 2012 and February 2013 was up by 17 per cent on the previous year. However, house prices in the town rose by only 0.4 per cent between 2011 and 2012, according to Savills.
Most property in the town is mid-market, with standard two-bedroom apartments priced from £140,000 and three-bed semis from about £200,000.
Quigley says prime properties tend to be in the surrounding villages, such as Souldern, Kirtlington, Blackthorn and Marsh Gibbon.
He says £500,000 will buy a three- to four-bedroom village house with character and a decent garden. Stone-built farmhouses with a couple of acres will fetch between £750,000 and £1.5m but he adds that there is a lack of properties over £2m.
Fine & Country has an attractive five-bedroom, beamed cottage with inglenook fireplace and two acres in Blackthorn for £895,000, and a high-spec farmhouse with five bedrooms and an acre of grounds with a guide price of £1m in the village of Launton, on the periphery of Bicester. Meanwhile, Savills is offering a six-bedroom, thatched cottage on the canal in Lower Heyford for £1.47m.
It is also possible to find two- and three-bedroom terraces and cottages, even in popular villages from £300,000. Local agent Cridland, for example, recently sold a two-bedroom cottage overlooking the green in Kirtlington for £279,950, and has a three-bedroom, Grade II-listed cottage in pretty Soulden on the market for £395,000.
International interest in the area has so far been limited. However, Quigley says there have been sales to eastern European buyers who appreciate the space and value of the area. “They always want houses with huge plots of land, 50 or more acres, with total seclusion.”
Quigley says quality homes are selling fast, often within a month of coming on to the market. “We’re also seeing developers who are looking to buy property in need of renovation. Such opportunities are rare in many areas of the southeast now.”
The good levels of employment in the area are also benefiting buy-to-let investors, according to Dan Channer, managing director of Oxfordshire lettings agency Finders Keepers. “Transport has always been strong in Bicester. We have tenants who commute from here to London, Birmingham, Milton Keynes and Oxford,” he says. “But there’s a lot of local employment too, at Bicester Village, for example.”
Channer says the buy-to-let market is thriving in the town and rents are averaging yields of four to five per cent gross. One-bedroom apartments and two-bedroom properties with gardens are in high demand, and can fetch rents of about £795 per month.
Popular locations, according to Channer, are Langford Village, a residential estate on the edge of town, and upmarket developments such as City and Country’s Garden Quarter, where Finders Keepers rents a one-bedroom property for £750 a month and a two-bedroom property for £950 a month.
As a place to relocate or buy-to-let, Bicester could offer more long-term financial opportunities than simply saving money on a designer handbag.
● Bicester Village attracts 3m shoppers each year, 65 per cent of whom are from overseas
● The average property price in Bicester in 2012 was £244,778
● The population of Bicester is 30,000 and in 2006 was predicted to grow by 28 per cent by 2016
● Figures for Cherwell district for 2012-2013 show there were 54.9 crimes per 1,000 people, a fall of 9.1 per cent on the previous year
What you can buy for . . .
£500,000 A five-bedroom barn conversion in a nearby village
£1m A modern five-bedroom farmhouse
£5m A five-bedroom farmhouse with guest cottages and a working 300-acre commercial farm