Good quality private education is often one of the reasons for an active local housing market, but even the status of Rugby School, one of Britain’s best-known institutions (and where the sport of rugby was invented), appears insufficient to keep the nearby market buoyant.
“Prices are significantly lower than in 2007 and offer even better value than a year ago. We estimate that since 2007, prices have fallen about 25 per cent,” says James Way of Knight Frank, an estate agency selling homes across the county of Warwickshire, in the east Midlands, where Rugby is located.
The latest Land Registry figures, released in September this year and applying to sales up to the start of July, show a typical home in the town of Rugby priced at just £176,678. This is slightly above the all-UK average but reflects a fall of 6 per cent in the previous three months and a 1.7 per cent drop over a 12-month period.
Homes in some other areas of Warwickshire – including Warwick, the county capital, Leamington Spa and Stratford-upon-Avon – are priced substantially higher but, even so, the market remains weak. The website Home.co.uk analyses transaction data and claims that, despite a 15 per cent fall in the past year in the number of Warwickshire houses with five or more bedrooms on sale, it is taking longer to find buyers: the average time is now 184 days, two per cent greater than in October 2011.
This picture of struggling property sales exemplifies what has been described as a two-tier housing market. Despite the downturn, much of southern England is seeing modest price rises. Areas such as Warwickshire, by contrast, are generally far less affluent.
In addition, Rugby retains a predominantly industrial centre, and Warwickshire county is surrounded by what many consider to be a relatively unappealing environment. There are large industrial cities including Coventry and Birmingham in the West Midlands, and distribution centres and spillover towns such as Northampton and Corby to the east.
Nonetheless, buyers that are appearing at the top end of the market in Rugby are drawn by three factors: a slower lifestyle than that of London; the relatively low prices of large homes in rural Warwickshire; and high-quality education.
“The dominant factors are Rugby’s commutability to London [most trains take just over 50 minutes] and to Birmingham [40 minutes] and the excellent value for money you can get in the area compared to London,” says Way. The villages around Rugby, such as Easenhall, Stretton-on-Dunsmore, Princethorpe and Dunchurch, have performed best in terms of prices and volume of sales for homes priced at £1m or more.
Estate agent Fine & Country is selling a six-bedroom, 7,580 sq ft Grade II-listed country house with 2.3 acres of land at Princethorpe for £1.75m, while 10 miles away in Leamington Spa, Knight Frank is selling a Grade II-listed Georgian property for £3m.
There are very few Warwickshire properties on sale above this level. Hamptons International is marketing an eight-bedroom house near Stratford-upon-Avon for £5.5m and the John Shepherd Collection has a four-bedroom modern country manor at Rowington for £4.25m, but both are about 25 miles from Rugby.
“We have an abundance of excellent state and private schooling, which has certainly made Rugby an attractive location for families,” says Fine & Country’s Sam Funnell. Pride of place goes to Rugby School. Mostly boarding and co-educational, it offers scholarship day places for children from nearby state primaries and now has a foundation to offer support to children from outside the local area.
There is also Bilton Grange Preparatory School, regarded as a “feeder” for Rugby School, plus the Crescent School – another co-educational prep institution – and Princethorpe College, a Catholic co-educational independent day school for 820 pupils.
Despite the fact that these schools attract many foreign students, international buyers tend to stay in London or buy in the Home Counties, according to local agents. As a result, much of Rugby’s market, even towards the top end, consists of what Funnell calls “aspiring local professionals”.
The local council has designated two sites for large-scale housing developments over the next 20 years – one for 900 homes and another for 6,200 – but although talks are under way with potential developers, the likelihood is that most of the properties will be affordable housing.
Top-end buyers are therefore likely to continue targeting more affluent neighbouring counties such as Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire to the south. Rugby School’s appeal remains strong, but it has yet to convince buyers about the merits of the town itself.
● In Warwickshire all categories of crime have fallen annually since 2006
● Rugby’s population is set to expand from 65,000 to 75,000 over the next 20 years
● Stamp duty thresholds at £1m and £2m are deterring top-end sales
● Over 65s set to rise from 16 per cent to 26 per cent by 2030
What you can buy for ...
£500,000 A four-bedroom detached townhouse in Rugby
£1m A seven-bedroom farmhouse on the edge of the town
£5m An eight-bedroom home 20 miles away in Stratford-upon-Avon