The million pound question: What will £1m buy you in the St Albans area?
PUBLISHED: 07:30 24 November 2017 | UPDATED: 08:05 24 November 2017
£1m won't buy you an enormous mansion in our part of Herts, but decent-sized family homes remain within reach. Richard Burton looked at what Wheathampstead, St Albans and surrounding areas offer buyers with a budget at around the million-pound mark.
One of my early attempts to become a first-time buyer saw me looking at a two-up, two-down in the mini-maze of terraces off Victoria Street in St Albans. That was back in 1979, just as Margaret Thatcher was moving into a slightly larger terrace of her own in Whitehall.
The property market had enjoyed month-on-month rises and while I saved every penny I could for a deposit, my newly-reburbished starter home had crept steadily out of reach and, by the time the sale board went up, was worth £25,000.
I looked further afield to Wheathampstead where, for an affordable £21,000, I could get something similar overlooking the River Lea with a modest garden. Having been pipped to the post on that, I was delighted when the sale stalled and the agent called to ask how quickly I could exchange.
There was only one snag. In five weeks the price had risen. They now wanted £22,000, putting it out of reach of a young reporter facing interest rates of over 11 per cent. I recall asking the agent: How am I supposed to afford that? Do the pools, he said, helpfully. You could win a million.
I could probably have bought half the cathedral side of Holywell Hill if I had. But given that property values have risen by an average of 6.9 per cent a year since then, the perception of today’s million-pound home is a long way from that – or the 200-acre country estates featured in Country Life.
So just what does a million get you today?
Business Insider magazine conducted one of those obvious-but-compelling surveys a while ago looking at various parts of the country and found everything from one-bedroom flats in Bayswater and Chelsea, two two-bed apartments in Highgate Village and three bedroom Georgian maisonettes in Brighton.
As you’d expect, there was also a six-bed stone detached up north in Ryton, near Tyne and Wear in the mix, along with a grand, seven-bed Victorian villa in Malvern, Worcestershire.
Hertfordshire today sits somewhere favourably in between, but there are still telling variations when it comes to value for money. The county may be widely regarded as one of the best places to live, especially if you’re a commuter with a young family. But it’s not where you’d necessarily fare best in terms of floorspace.
A survey by Savills Research looking at current values saw Herts trailing behind its near-neighbours in terms of the number of square feet a million would buy, with an average of 2,042 against 3,022 in Beds and 2,282 in Bucks. Even Surrey yielded more, with 2,112.
As for areas within the county itself, St Albans came bottom of that table too, with a million buying on average 1,740 sq ft - a long way behind best-value Broxbourne where you could expect to get around 2,754 sq ft for your money.
The latest house price data from the Nationwide Building Society revealed that prices in London have fallen for the first time in eight years, with those in the million-plus range worst affected. Some experts have suggested this may have a “ripple effect” on homes in commuter areas such as Herts, although local agents are confident the market is holding its own for now.
“It’s true that this is a price-sensitive market, not one in which you can start quoting bullish figures and not one where people tend to take unnecessary risks,” said Rozanne Edwards, associate partner at Strutt & Parker in St Albans. “But having said that, while there’s high demand and a shortage of stock, prices will hold.
“A million is a regular figure we see in St Albans and there are more and more coming on in that price range all the time. Anything from £750 up is pretty normal to be honest. And there are always people prepared to pay what they need to get what they want in the area they want, especially if there’s competition.”
And St Albans in particular? “The city, particularly the centre, is going to be more resilient because there are so many drivers to coming here. People are making lifestyle moves and it suits them.
“Take somewhere like Fishpool Street; you can get a cottage worth £600,000 and, nearby, a house worth £2.5-3 million. Same area, same road. In that sense, it’s a city in every sense of the word.”
What a million will get you there is a Grade II listed three-bed, two reception-room terrace with the exposed beams and inglenook fireplace you’d expect in the old town. It’s being marketed by agents Frost’s, who also have a four-bed detatched with double garage, summer house and Jacuzzi a little further out on Wynches Farm Drive (see cover image).
Similarly, Raine & Co are marketing the Old Post Office in Hatfield Road which they describe as “substantial”, given that it has five bedrooms and room to convert part of the frontage into a shop where there’s room for several cars.
Otherwise, you could be looking at an extended four-bed detached a short walk to the station in Elm Walk, Radlett, a five-bed detached in Park Rise Close, Harpenden, or a five-bed former stables on the Wall Hall Farm development in Aldenham.
Strutt & Parker has a contemporary link detached family home with a corner plot on the popular St Albans cul-de-sac that is Monks Horton Way. For a relatively affordable £960,000, you get a roomy, high-spec four-bed family home with a fabulous, private garden with terrace entertaining space - though it’s currently under offer.
If your budget’s a little bigger, Savills has a Grade II-listed bay-fronted former coaching Inn - The Crown House - on Wheathampstead High Street with three reception rooms, four double bedrooms, a cellar, garage and landscaped garden for £1,15m.
So that’s what my pools win would net me these days. Except it wouldn’t quite.
Recent tax changes mean anyone paying more than a million now has to shell out an extra £43,750 in stamp duty, a figure that rises to £93,000 at £1.5 million - and a massive £153,750 when you reach £2 million.