As space-seeking buyers from London have continued their march westwards armed with work-from-home contracts and the proceeds of high-priced sales in the capital, they have been snapping up properties in Wiltshire.
A largely rural county in south-west England, Wiltshire is home to areas of natural beauty, chalk downs and valleys. Yet rail journeys to London from Wiltshire’s stations are in some cases one hour 15 minutes or even shorter. Families taking advantage of flexible commuting patterns can live within two hours of both the City and the popular holiday county of Devon.
The influx of buyers with higher budgets is evident in Wiltshire’s house prices. In the two years to February, the number of property sales in the county for above £1mn more than doubled, according to data from estate agents Savills based on Land Registry figures. Wiltshire’s 102 per cent rise was faster than the 82 per cent increase recorded in Hampshire, the 56 per cent in Berkshire and the 61 per cent in Oxfordshire.
Yet, while the average price paid for all residential properties in Wiltshire rose over that period by 14 per cent to £323,890, it remains below Hampshire’s £376,544, Berkshire’s £467,652 and Oxfordshire’s £467,118.
“Wiltshire might not be as fashionable as Somerset but it’s a great halfway house,” says Jo Henry of Jess Simpson Property Search, a buying agency. The area is not too heavily populated, as parts of the home counties nearer London are, she adds, but it is more accessible from London than Devon.
“The Chalke and Nadder Valleys are especially popular for their attractive housing stock in beautiful countryside and easy access to Salisbury,” she says, referring to the cathedral city in the south-east of the county.
Emma Langlands, of Property Vision, a buying agent, says that buyers from south-west London typically have a budget of £2mn-£3mn and are looking for a five-bedroom house on a couple of acres. They prioritise proximity to good schools and rail links to London.
“The number of new buyers is slowing,” Langlands says. But she adds that because many would-be buyers are renting and waiting to buy, bidding on the best properties is still going to “best offers” — the stage of the sales process where buyers are invited to compete in a bidding contest.
The Chalke Valley, part of the Cranborne Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, between Salisbury and Shaftesbury, has relatively few villages. The two largest are Broadchalke, which is especially popular and famed for its watercress beds, and Bowerchalke.
One resident of Broadchalke, Annabel Venning, lists among the area’s attractions the Hub village shop and café and the annual Chalke Valley History Festival. She also enjoys visits to Messums Wiltshire, an arts centre in Tisbury.
Venning and her husband Guy Walters, who, like Venning, is an author, moved to Broadchalke — also known as Broad Chalke — 15 years ago with their two children from Heytesbury, a village half an hour north.
The Chalke Valley is “even prettier” than the area around Heytesbury, according to Venning, and there is more to do. “Bowerchalke’s Saturday market is a real meeting place of people coming to sell their produce,” she says. The railway station in Tisbury, in the neighbouring Nadder Valley, is “very easy to use”, she adds. The station is 15 minutes’ drive from Bowerchalke and a two-hour journey from London. Trains from Salisbury, a little further away, are more frequent and faster.
According to Fiona Pengelly, of estate agents Strutt & Parker, the Messums Wiltshire gallery and local gastropubs have made Tisbury “very fashionable” in its own right.
One seven-bedroom property in the village, which had been on the market for £3.75mn, is under offer for more than the asking price, Pengelly says. While there was “lots of interest” from London buyers, it went to a local purchaser trading up from a smaller home, she says. The house, which comes with 1.5 acres, was built in 2016 in a traditional country-manor style.
“These sort of [recently built] properties are like hen’s teeth because planning permission is so strict in the protected area,” Pengelly says.
She says other popular villages are Donhead St Mary and Donhead St Andrew, Semley, with its upscale Compton McRae delicatessen, Newtown and Fonthill Bishop. In nearby Chilmark, close to the A303 trunk road, the average house sold has increased from £546,800 in the 24 months prior to February 2020 to £980,585, again reflecting the trend towards larger homes.
Tula Goodwin, an advertising copywriter who moved back from Singapore with her husband and three children in August 2020, is renting a home near Chilmark until they find one to buy.
“We are looking for a five-bedroom home with a garden,” says Goodwin. “We’ve been outbid on two properties, and a lot sells off-market.”
Goodwin says the family originally wanted to be further west, nearer Devon, where she was brought up. But they settled on Sandroyd school for their children and realised that it could take less than two hours to drive to London via the A303.
Summer congestion on the A303, which has only a single carriageway in places and passes close to the Stonehenge prehistoric site, puts some buyers off the area. Pete O’Donovan, who moved with his wife last summer from Buckinghamshire to the village of Hanging Langford in the Wylye Valley, says that locals quickly learn back-road routes to avoid the worst traffic.
O’Donovan, a gas engineer, says the couple had never been to Wiltshire before last year and had been planning a move to Devon until they happened on the Wylye Valley, which lies between Salisbury and Warminster.
“We . . . pulled off the A303 and discovered this area of well-kept villages of beautiful, thatched cottages,” he says.
The couple are already looking to upsize locally from their three-bedroom thatched cottage. Their existing property sold within four days, for more than its £650,000 asking price, to a buyer from Dubai.
Sarah Cull of Strutt & Parker Salisbury says that one property it was marketing in the area — at Upton Lovell — attracted such strong interest that it went to best offers. Codford, close to the A36, is also popular, she adds. Proximity to Warminster, a vibrant army town, and good schools around Salisbury are factors, she says.
To the north of Salisbury, starting around the top of the Woodford Valley — an increasingly popular area of picturesque villages along the river Avon — is Salisbury Plain, a 300-square-mile plateau, much of which is devoted to military training. North of that, the Vale of Pewsey and areas around the market town of Marlborough have long been popular with buyers moving out of London. Part of the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it features steep chalk downs, tiny lanes and pretty villages such as East Chisenbury and Alton Barnes.
Mark Lawson of the Buying Solution, a buying agency, says that key factors in properties’ desirability are access to Marlborough for schools, shops and restaurants, and Pewsey railway station, from where trains take 67 minutes to London Paddington. “Prices can be 30 per cent less than comparables in well-known Cotswold villages,” he says.
Part-time commuters have also been attracted to northern Wiltshire, near the town of Chippenham, from where the fastest trains take just one hour 10 minutes to reach London. Proximity to the M4 motorway and easy access to Bath have also put the prettier honey-hued stone villages of the south Cotswolds on buyers’ radars, according to Alistair Heather of Savills Bath. The villages include North Wraxall, Yatton Keynell and Castle Combe.
“Over half our buyers are from outside the area and are typically looking for a five-bedroom home for £1.2mn-£2mn,” he says.
He adds that the small town of Corsham has a good choice of price brackets and that prices for a family home there start at about £500,000.
Sutton Benger and Christian Malford have also become more popular, according to Michelle Hallas of Allen & Harris estate agents. Both villages are close to Junction 17 of the M4, offer access to two good state secondary schools in Chippenham and have good amenities.
“Buyers from London, Newbury and Oxford have realised how far their money goes here,” says Hallas — though she adds that they still face competition for the best properties.
What you can buy . . .
Thatched cottage, Orcheston, £450,000
A Grade II-listed, three-bedroom cottage in the village of Orcheston, on Salisbury Plain and near the A303 trunk road. The property has exposed beams, a log burner and farmhouse-style kitchen with range oven. For sale with Connells.
Stone house, South Wraxall, £1.325mn
A four-bedroom stone house in the village of South Wraxall, near Bradford-on-Avon and a 20-minute drive from Bath. There is 2,400 sq ft of living space, including two bathrooms and three reception rooms, as well as a study and a garage. On the market with Savills.
Arts & Crafts house, Heytesbury, £2.95mn
An eight-bedroom Arts & Crafts-style house built in 1933 and retaining some original features. There are 33 acres of grounds, including a separate two-bedroom cottage, stabling, barns and a log store. Listed with Strutt & Parker.
The M4 motorway provides north Wiltshire with access to London or Wales; the southern part is reached via the A303 trunk road, then the M3.
Mainline rail services from north Wiltshire go to London Paddington, while those from further south arrive at London Waterloo.
Council tax for Wiltshire Council for an average (Band D) property for 2022/23 is £1,638.16.