Mark Charter: Partner and Head of Carter Jonas Oxford

Towards the end of last year we highlighted the mixed nature of Oxfordshire’s housing market; overall annual house price growth contrasted with a decline in transaction volumes. Whilst this trend has continued into the first few months of this year, not helped perhaps by an unseasonably cold March, the onset of spring has already started to provide an added momentum that the region’s market needs.

Warmer weather aside, a number of key elements can help to attract interest from buyers. Location is obviously key, and Oxfordshire is fortunate in that it benefits from outstanding schools, great retail destinations, and established transport links. In October 2017, the 800,000 sq ft Westgate Oxford opened its doors, a renovation which, whilst a long time in the making, provides a great new retail and leisure destination in its own right. One of the big plays for the scheme is the introduction of a large entertainment facility led by a Curzon cinema. This much-needed, post-work leisure offering is a real magnet for the city and helps support Oxford’s ranking as the second in the Fastest Growing City league table.

Another appealing development is the recent advancement of various infrastructure projects in the region, which help to endorse the Oxford-Cambridge arc initiative, with the aim of channelling the success of both cities beyond their typical boundaries. The Oxford to Cambridge rail route – the historic Varsity Line – which will be completed by the mid-2020s will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the corridor itself as well as a ripple effect on its surrounding areas.

Perhaps one of the more fashionable factors that has had a noticeable influence on Oxfordshire’s market over the last 18 months is the opening Soho Farmhouse on the Great Tew Estate. Even more exclusive than the Waitrose effect, when Nick Jones of the Soho House Group announced plans to open an outpost of his feted private members club in the region, agents agreed that this would mark a step change in the fortunes of the Oxfordshire residential market. It has certainly increased the desirability of an area that is a commutable distance from central London – just 90 minutes – and within easy reach of Oxford Parkway station. But it’s not just commuters who are enjoying a new rural way of life; the down-from-London cohort also now regularly pack up the car on a Friday evening, sequester themselves in the Oxfordshire greenery for the weekend, before returning to reality on either a Sunday evening or early on a Monday morning.

Whilst many had heard of Chipping Norton and the Daylesford triangle, Soho Farmhouse has thrust Great Tew and its surrounding villages into the spotlight and served to shift the perimeters of the search focus. A similar effect was seen when Babington House (another Soho House hotel) opened its doors in Somerset in the late nineties. As well as providing an ideal location for celebrity weddings, the venue has served to increase the popularity of its adjacent villages, which now regularly appear in the property sections of national newspapers – not to mention the pages of Hello! magazine.

The appeal of these destinations reaches well beyond star-studded guest lists and even the five star facilities that they offer – for an annual fee. They also provide and ideal environment in which to work. Indeed, if you visit any private members club before 6pm, they are often awash with a sea of laptops. All manners of industry can be accommodated; from one-person start-ups to executive business meetings, which mix within informal, comfortable spaces. The added benefits being first-class service, endless networking possibilities, and no distractions of home.

Over the next few months, Carter Jonas’ residential team is set to launch a number of properties in the area onto the market and we expect to see strong demand from local buyers looking to benefit from the growing popularity of the area and its amenities, as well as those looking for a weekend bolthole.

The fact that their proximity to Soho Farmhouse will feature high up on the marketing material is no coincidence. In the current climate, perhaps more than ever before, location is everything and, thanks to some quite magical elements, Oxfordshire remains one of the most desirable living destinations in the UK – long may it continue.

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