28 October 2014

Wealth, quality and plenty of aspiration – this Yorkshire Teflon town has it all

It is Friday afternoon and Harrogate is buzzing with perfect decorum. Range Rovers circle the elegant terraces for parking spaces. Women with expe

Wealth, quality and plenty of aspiration – this Yorkshire Teflon town has it all

Montpelier Street

It is Friday afternoon and Harrogate is buzzing with perfect decorum. Range Rovers circle the elegant terraces for parking spaces. Women with expensive highlights drift around Space NK. Along the street is Jack Wills, the smart clothing emporium beloved by teenagers who wouldn’t be seen dead in any old hoodie. Cath Kidston? Molton Brown? Harrogate's got it.

Harrogate also has the Teflon town factor. While swaths of northern England have fallen victim to the credit crunch, with house prices plummeting by double digits and estate agents in despair of making a future sale, Harrogate is thriving. It was on the up before the recession and recent economic woes have only strengthened its position as a place where homebuyers know that their money will be safe.

The property website home.co.uk reports that the average asking price in Harrogate is £260,631. After two-bed homes, which take an average of 161 days to sell, the fastest-selling properties are detached five-bedroom family houses. These are on the market for an average of 211 days, with a typical asking price of £598,743.

Two things typify the Harrogate market: high prices (the average selling price of a detached home across North Yorkshire is £270,269, according to the Land Registry) and a swift turnaround time thanks to a ready supply of buyers with cash to spend.

In sought-after areas, such as Fulwith Mill Lane, the average selling price is more than £1 million, and the best houses sell for upwards of £2.5 million. Toby Cockcroft, head of residential in the north of England at Savills in Harrogate, says that the premium areas, which include Cold Bath Road, Victoria Avenue and Queen Parade, are within a few minutes' walk of the town centre. Prices for townhouses around Queen Parade, for example, start at about £650,000 and reach up to £1.75 million. Agents say that it is not uncommon for families to rent while they wait to swoop on a property as soon as it comes up, or even before it reaches the market. Savills property consultancy says that 60 per cent of Harrogate buyers are upsizing.

The town, developed as a fashionable spa in the 18th century, once was regarded as a bit, well, stuffy. But, thanks to a large stock of Victorian and Edwardian family homes, top state schools such as Harrogate Grammar, St Aiden's Church of England High School, and St John Fisher Catholic High School, and an influx of professionals finding work in Leeds, 16 miles south, Harrogate is now the most desirable town in Yorkshire. As one mother says: "You would be happy to let your 14-year-old out at night. You can't say that about Leeds."

According to Cockcroft: "It's all about the brand. Harrogate has always been linked with wealth, quality and aspiration. It's a Teflon town because of the people who live in it and work in it." He says that from the height of the market a few years ago, house prices had fallen by about 10 per cent. "But I believe that this is only because people expected them to drop. At the top end, certainly, we haven't seen cases of people having to sell. Most people who have moved out have done so because of job relocation."

Lisa O'Reilly, 41, moved to Harrogate from Naas, in Co Kildare, Ireland, in August, to be with her partner, Alex Deighton, 37, who was living in Chapel Allerton, Leeds. She has three sons, James, 14, Harry, 9, and Hugo, 5. They now live in a five-bedroom house off Leeds Road, where the agent Myring & Heward is selling a four-bedroom detached Edwardian house for £749,500.

O'Reilly was keen that her new home should be within the catchment area of the state primary, Oatlands, which her two younger sons attend. Her eldest son is at Ashville College, a co-ed independent school in Harrogate. "I wanted to live somewhere where I could have the same dynamics as in Ireland — schools, house and business close by," she says.

"Harrogate is a beautiful town. The people are friendly and it is a great shopping destination." She owns a clothing boutique in Naas and plans to open a branch in Harrogate, and is confident that the town has plenty of potential.

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