The run on Bath
It’s filling up with those escaping the capital
One in four homes in the Roman city is bought by people leaving the capital in search of more property for their pound and good schools, finds Liz Rowlinson
Back in Jane Austen’s day, the city of Bath was a fashionable place for taking the waters or finding a husband. Today the Unesco World Heritage Site has become a magnet for Londoners looking for good schools and more period townhouse for their pound than they can get in the capital.
This exodus has intensified in the past decade, according to Hamptons International, which reports that one Take the plunge: a two-bedroom flat on Duke Street, main, is £365,000 with Winkworth; a five-bedroom house in Ashley near Bath, below, is £1.95 million with Carter Jonas; Savills has a refurbished house, below right, for £1.35 million in four homes sold in Bath is bought by Londoners looking to escape high-stress, high-cost life in the capital. Buyers from London now account for 25.1 per cent of the Bath market, up from 17.6 per cent in 2007. Almost a fifth (18.4 per cent) of Bath home buyers in the past year have been from central London, accounting for 357 of the 487 purchases by those from the capital.
“The number of Londoners buying outside the capital hit 70,000 last year with around two thirds ending up in the commuter belt. But with price rises outside the M25 outstripping those in the capital for 12 months, London leavers have been pushed ever further afield,” says David Fell, a research analyst at Hamptons. “Buyers leaving central London travel twice as far and spend twice as much as the average Londoner, often ending up in prime parts of towns and cities. Bath, Oxford, Cambridge are all wellestablished destinations.”
Londoners are overlooking the nearby, larger city of Bristol, which offers a lively buzz and greater choice of employment opportunities, in favour of historic Bath, with its Regency heart, small-town feel and improving restaurant scene. The Gainsborough has an exciting new chef, Dan Moon, while the Michelinstarred Lucknam Park, The Pig and Babington House are within easy reach. A branch of the fashionable Cos clothing brand opened this summer, and the city is so famed for its independent businesses that they have their own digital loyalty card, Pixie.
With only 83,000 residents, Bath is a “nicely manageable size”, says Luke Brady of Savills. “It only takes 20 minutes to walk from one side of the city to the other, so you can be very close to schools, universities, theatres, the rugby club – in fact, it’s more like a large village,” he says. “Londoners don’t want to swap one city for another, and when weighing up Bristol, Cheltenham or Bath for a move, good state and private schooling is the big driver for Bath.”
Superb schools combined with the beautiful countryside of Wiltshire was the draw for the Wright family, who last year swapped Clapham in southwest London for the village of Wingfield, 10 miles south-east of Bath. With a budget of just over £1million, they purchased a five-bedroom detached house with three acres. Holly, 13, attends Monkton Combe School and Evie, nine, is at King Edward’s – two of Bath’s five independent schools.
“We’d had enough of London and wanted more space for the children,” says Peter Wright, a legal consultant in his 40s. “There is such a great choice
of excellent schools, and the 20-minute school run is a much nicer one than in south London.”
It seems many would agree. Bath’s independent schools confirm an increase in so-called DFLs (down from Londoners). Chris Wheeler, the principal of Monkton Combe, says that enquiries from London families have more than doubled in the past year. “The trend towards academically focused, single-sex day schools in London is stripping parents of the breadth of choice,” he says.
Royal High Junior School reports that 10 per cent of its current intake has relocated from London in the past five years, while James Murphy O’Connor, headmaster of Priory Park College, confirms this trend. “Many families come from west London: Chelsea, Fulham, Chiswick and Twickenham,” he says. “London parents say there is too much pressure to get into the top schools and they don’t want to subject their children to it. Most people make the move in Year 5, and rent first to get a feel for where to live.”
Buyers looking for state school places for their children need a local address to meet the application criteria, says Winkworth’s Maddie Pollen, so the rental market for four-bedroom family homes is competitive. “London buyers walk in our office every day. They typically have a budget of £1million to £1.3million to buy a four to sixbedroom property,” she says. “Yesterday, we had a London family with three boys looking at a sixbedroom Edwardian semi in the catchment area for Beechen Cliff School, one of the best boys’ state schools. It’s on for £1.5million. They have been renting a four-bedroom home for £2,200 per week until the right property comes up. It makes sense to live the same side of Bath as the school, as the traffic is bad getting across town.”
Location is usually dictated by schools or transport links. For those who commute to Bristol (12 minutes by train) or to London (90 minutes), proximity to the station makes the south popular, although the north is better for motorway access, says Chandra Devadason of Hamptons’ Bath office. “Electrification of the Bath-London line, with a projected journey to Canary Wharf of two hours, will make access even better,” she says.
Bear Flat in the north is popular for access to Hayesfield Girls School, Beechen Cliff and several primaries. A four-bedroom Edwardian terraced house costs from around £600,000. With roads named after Shakespeare, Milton, Kipling and Chaucer, “Poets’ Corner in Bear Flat is full of DFLs about the same age as us,” says Vicki Day, a 42-year-old former Londoner who moved from Kentish Town with her husband, Chris, and children Tom, now 12, and Izzy, eight. They live in Oldfield Park, handy for Ralph Allen School. “We love the fact that our children have more freedom – I feel safe letting Tom go off on his own, which I’m not sure I would have done in London,” she says. “The children have access to great sports clubs at the university and we can easily get out into the country on biking trips.”
Day, who grew up outside Bath, is one of a wave of people with local connections who are returning to the area – whether grandparents looking to follow their children, University of Bath alumni or expats. “We are seeing grandparents who are downsizing from a larger country property or wanting city amenities,” says Tom Leonard of Knight Frank. “There are those who have moved out into the country and then find it too quiet, and we have seen an influx of former Londoners moving here from the New Forest.” For those who want village life close to the city, popular spots include Wellow, Limpley and Norton St Philip to the south, or Marshfield, Lower Wraxall, North Wraxall, Castle Combe and Yatton Keynell to the north.
The good news for buyers is that, while good homes were going for sealed bids six months ago, there’s now scope for negotiation. “When the London market suffers, so does Bath,” says Leonard. “We have a few buyers from the capital struggling to sell their London properties, so this has a knock-on effect. The strongest price band is the sub-£1million sector, although there’s still demand in the £1.6million to £1.8million central townhouse market.”
Bath sales volumes have steadily risen since 2012, according to a Knight Frank report, with an increase of 4.7 per cent in the year to June. Bath’s supply of homes is being boosted by the sale of three Ministry of Defence sites on the perimeter, which are being turned into new-build schemes. Homes at Holburne Park in the Lansdown area, for example, start from £545,000 through Savills.
Second-home buyers and buy-to-let investors have dropped off in Bath due to tax increases, but there’s also an international market, with interest largely from south-east Asia, especially Hong Kong. “Expats with future plans (including schools) in mind are taking advantage of the 20 per cent currency discount,” says Savills’ Brady.
While prices on Royal Crescent and The Circus are at London level, you can get a two-bedroom apartment on Queen Square for £450,000 through The Apartment Company, which could rent for £1,350 a month. You’d get all the Georgian architecture and village-like central amenities of Bath, even if you can’t escape the London neighbours.
‘Londoners don’t want to swap one city for another. Bath is like a large village’
Happy Days: the Day family, below, moved to Bath from Kentish Town in London; a flat on Queen Square, above, is listed with The Apartment Company for £450,000