Sunday, February 19, 2023

Bustling Bristol lures homebuyers


Bustling Bristol lures homebuyers 

The English city’s vibrant culture, schools and surroundings have driven up prices in recent years

Street art at Upfest, Europe’s largest urban art and graffiti festival © Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images

Smitten with the energy and character of Bristol, in south-west England, Chris Amaral, originally from Toronto, bought a two-bedroom flat there in June. Previously living in Bath — where he is assistant professor of marketing at the university — he had been spending time in Bristol at weekends and realised it was a better fit for him. “The vibrant music scene, the cultural diversity and the arts reminded me of back home,” says Amaral, who lives in Factory No1, a former tobacco factory in Bedminster, on the southern side of the River Avon. 
“Bedminster is central enough, but not in the heart of Bristol. The area’s street art lifts your mood — Banksy is everywhere. It reminds me of Toronto’s Queen Street West.” Regional employment hub, university city and gateway to south-west England, Bristol continues to draw buyers for its lifestyle, schooling and affordability compared with London. 
But this has driven up prices. The number of new homes built in the city has not kept pace with its population growth — 10 per cent between 2010 and 2020, higher than the national average — adding fuel to the city’s housing crisis. Last year there were nearly 3,000 homeless people in Bristol on any given night, according to the housing charity Shelter.

In 2022, the average house price rose above £400,000 for the first time — increasing from £394,230 in 2021 to £436,420; and the proportion of houses sold for £1mn-plus, at 3.8 per cent, was the highest on record, according to Hamptons, using Land Registry data.

But the market slowed in the fourth quarter of 2022 as mortgage rates rose in the wake of September’s “mini” Budget. This month, the proportion of homes for sale that are subject to contract or under offer is 62 per cent, down from 77 per cent in July 2022, according to the data company PropCast.
 Buyers of new-build homes returned in the new year but there are fewer of them, says George Cardale, head of residential development sales for Savills, who is selling four large schemes across the city: “We have sold 15 new-build homes [in Bristol in] a month, not the average 25.” 
For the 142 flats in McArthur’s Yard, a warehouse conversion on one of the city’s last available harbourside sites — not yet released for sale — they’ve had “over 350” inquiries, he says. It was the hassle-free nature of a new-build and the chance to take up the government’s Help to Buy scheme — now closed to new applicants — that persuaded Chantelle to purchase her first home. The teacher, who preferred not to give her surname, bought a one-bedroom flat in Everard’s Printworks, another industrial-to-residential development in central Bristol. She moved there in December, after living in London and Spain. “London is too hectic, and I also considered Brighton, but I was born in Bristol.
 I feel very safe living in the centre, walking to restaurants, theatres, music venues,” she says. “I love biking to Bath along the cycle path at weekends.” She prizes the easy access to green spaces — the Chew Valley and the Mendip Hills to the south, but also Durdham Downs and Leigh Woods in the north-west of the city, close to the prime neighbourhoods of Clifton, Stoke Bishop and Sneyd Park. It was in these postcodes (BS8 and BS9) that 40 per cent of houses sold for more than £1mn last year, according to Hamptons.

Proximity to popular The Downs Preparatory School and Clifton College independent primary/secondary also draws buyers spending £1.5mn-plus on a house, according to Rupert Oliver, an estate agent. “Families tend to get the school place, then try to find a house.” One from Shanghai did this recently with a place at Clifton College, he says.

The Georgian town houses close to the cafés and restaurants of Clifton Village are often top of buyers’ wishlists, but the scope for a larger garden and more peaceful streets also push buyers west of the Avon Gorge to Leigh Woods and Abbots Leigh, where they can find detached houses with half-acre gardens for the same £2mn budget. “It’s not cheek-by-jowl living [like in Clifton] but the compromise is that you are not near bars and restaurants,” says Adam Lock of Hamptons.

Nearby Redland’s practical Victorian terraced housing, proximity to good state schools and the shopping artery of Whiteladies Road keeps it popular with those spending £850,000 to £1.5mn. Those searching for a bit more value look north to Bishopston where the shops and cafés of Gloucester Road are an attraction, along with it being around 15 minutes each way between both Bristol Parkway and Bristol Temple Meads stations. The city’s hop-on, hop-off e-scooters are a popular way of avoiding getting stuck in the city’s infamous traffic congestion; a survey by traffic data analyst Inrix found it the second most congested city after London. 
Buyers also look south of the river Avon to the hipster-favoured areas of Bedminster and adjacent Southville, home to the colourful street displays to which Amaral refers, and Europe’s largest urban art and graffiti festival, Upfest. In south Bristol’s BS3, these are both popular areas for those upsizing for more space, according to Lock. “A couple with a flat in Clifton — where one-bedroom period flats cost £350,000 plus — will typically look there,” he says.
 Racing values have priced out many. In the year to September, the average second-hand property in Bedminster sold for £379,323, an increase of 39 per cent on the same period in 2017, according to Savills Research. In Southville, the average price climbed 35 per cent to £415,985. Inner-city Easton and suburban Filwood — areas undergoing significant regeneration — grew even faster, at 42 and 45 per cent respectively.

When Lizzy, who works for an agricultural consultancy and didn’t wish to disclose her surname, decided to move to Bedminster last year, she found bidding wars and just managed to find a property on the area’s periphery. Moving from Balham in south-west London, it took her more than seven months to find a two-bedroom terraced Victorian house, as she kept losing out on properties.

“I had a budget of £400,000 and in 2021 that would have got me a three-bedroom property. The competition was unbelievable, with 15 offers on each property. I ended up paying £20,000 over asking [in June 2022].” 
This competition dropped in the final months of 2022. According to property portal Rightmove, 27 per cent of homes listed for sale in the city have had their prices reduced — across the UK, the figure is 32 per cent. Rental rates have increased significantly in Bristol’s most popular areas, according to data from 
Although the average rent citywide increased 10 per cent between January 2020 and January 2023, in BS8 a three-bedroom house is up from £1,708 a month to £2,937; in BS3 such a property has increased from £1,349 to £2,034. 
There has been a call for rent controls from Bristol mayor Marvin Rees and Tom Renhard, cabinet member for housing delivery and homes. “Unaffordable private rents are deepening inequality,” Renhard has said. Lizzy feels relieved to have managed to make the jump from the instability of the rentals market to home ownership. 
“The street of little Victorian terraces is a very nice mix of original Bristolians and first-time buyers like me. I realise I am very lucky.”
 At a glance The average price for a house in Bristol rose 11 per cent in 2022 to £436,420; flats rose 5 per cent to £286,870, according to Hamptons using Land Registry data. Just under half Hamptons’ applicants last year were first-time buyers, the highest proportion since before the pandemic. Average journey times to London from Bristol Parkway and Bristol Temple Meads stations are around 1h30.