This week, Marc Da Silva travels west – a long way west – to continue his weekly series of interviews with senior figures in the UK property industry, posing the questions to Carol Peett, managing director of West Wales Property Finders.
What makes West Wales a great place to live?
Community spirit and old-fashioned values are still very much alive and well in West Wales and we have one of the lowest crime rates in the UK. Children are still able to be independent and free – go out to play unsupervised, ride their bikes, ponies, walk the dog, build dens, climb trees, among other activities.
With fabulous beaches (Tenby Harbour Beach won the award for the best beach in Europe in 2014 and Barafundle Bay often appears in the list of the top ten beaches in the world), glorious mountains, castles, rivers, golf courses and a race course, West Wales offers a wonderful outdoors life style. It also offer fantastic music and literary festivals, art galleries, woollen mills, theatrical productions, antiques shops to browse, castles, historic houses and The National Botanic Gardens to visit – in fact, it offers something for everyone.
The 186-mile Pembrokeshire Coast Path not only provides wonderful walking, with stunning scenery, but also the chance to spot seals, dolphins, whales, sunfish, choughs, and a trip to the islands allows you to experience close encounters with puffins, guillemots and razorbills.
A number of films have been shot on Pembrokeshire’s beaches – Freshwater West, Pembrokeshire was the location for the shell house and Dobby’s grave in Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows and also the battle scenes in Robin Hood starring Russell Crowe; while Snow White & the Huntsman and Lion in Winter were filmed at Marloes, Pembrokeshire. Penbryn beach, Ceredigion featured in James Bond’s Die Another Day, Newquay and Laugharne, Carmarthenshire were venues for Keira Knightley and Sienna Miller in The Edge of Love about the life of Dylan Thomas, who lived and wrote his most famous play, Under Milk Wood in Laugharne and there have been many others. Many local people enjoy working as extras on these films.
With easy access to the M4, rail links to Cardiff, Bristol and London and Cardiff airport, transport links are good plus there are ferries to Ireland from Pembroke Dock and Fishguard.
West Wales produces superb local produce from cheese, fish and meat to honey and vegetables and these is plentiful and easy to obtain. The lifestyle encourages shopping from local producers, farm shops, farmers’ markets, fishermen and village shops rather than supermarkets; although there are, of course, chain supermarkets in the larger towns.
Why should more buyers consider using the services of a professional property finder?
People think that the use of property finders is the preserve of the rich and we only conduct searches for multi-million pound houses. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our clients range from people looking for a holiday cottage or a bungalow to retire to, to those making a lifestyle move to a smallholding to someone wanting a large country estate. With our in-depth knowledge of the local market, we are able to provide our clients with sound advice on all aspects of their purchase; from where would best suit them to live, to negotiating the best possible price for their property for them.
Over 90% of the properties we find our clients never hit the open market meaning that, by using us, they can choose from the pick of the crop. We save our clients time, money and wasted journeys viewing properties that sound great on paper but in reality can be a disappointment. We view any properties we think would suit our clients and then send them a ‘warts-and-all’ report with numerous photographs on a shortlist of the most suitable, which we then take them to see.
Although the internet is now the popular way to search for a property to buy, often people miss out on superb properties, particularly in rural areas where postcode areas can be huge, by looking at a particular property on Google Earth and dismissing it as being too close to, say, a railway when, due to the large postcode area, the house they are looking at is not in fact the property described.
Once we have found our clients their ideal property, we conduct the negotiations and micro-manage the purchase right through to exchange of contracts, removing the stress from the clients and ensuring that the process moves forward smoothly. We are able to recommend solicitors, surveyors and other relevant professionals and tradesmen to help clients plan every detail of their move and provide on-going support to help them settle in to their new area and get the very best from their move once the process has been successfully completed.
Where in West Wales do you source properties?
We have contacts throughout West Wales who keep us informed of anything likely to come up for sale. These include farmers, land agents, builders, estate agents, solicitors, developers, architects, surveyors, shopkeepers and local residents. Once we are retained to find a property in a particularly area for a client, we speak to all our contacts in that area. We approach owners of suitable properties to see if they may be interested in selling, undertake targeted leafleting and even pay a visit to the village pub and post office to talk to the locals who are often a fount of information.
What types of properties are on offer?
Everything from traditional Pembrokeshire cottages to bungalows, new-builds, farmhouses, grand Georgian town houses or country mansions; there is something for everyone.
What are housing market conditions like in West Wales?
Property is still superb value in West Wales, particularly in Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion. For instance, an eight-bedroom mansion in Carmarthenshire, set in 120 acres with lodge, original coach house and stables is currently on the market for £1.335m which is less than the price of a two-bedroom flat in Chelsea.
A five-bedroom converted watermill with two-bedroom annexe and 3.5 acres of land just outside Carmarthen, perfect for a couple with elderly relatives wanting a lifestyle move where they could keep chickens, is on the market for just £289,950.
A two-bedroom terraced house in Carmarthen or Cardigan will set you back around £80,000, while there is a picturesque character cottage in Ceredigion currently on for just under £150,000.
Have you noticed any particular buying trends recently?
We are seeing an increasing trend for people in their 50s buying detached character houses with land, or by the sea, in Pembrokeshire to use as holiday houses for the time being to which they will then retire when the time comes.
We still see lots of people moving here from London and the South East for a better quality of life. With the internet allowing people to work remotely, more and more people are escaping the high cost and unhealthy lifestyle of London and swapping it for country life; working from home and perhaps commuting to spend two or three days a week in London.
We are also seeing the return of younger couples buying holiday cottages for their own use; something which has not happened since the beginning of the recession and also people investing in cottages to holiday let. The numbers of tourists vacationing here, both from the UK and abroad, have risen considerably over the past two years so holiday lets are in great demand and therefore a good investment.
What impact is the looming general election having on the local housing market?
Historically the market is very quiet in the run up to an election and this is followed by a flurry of activity in the three months after the election has taken place, whatever the result. Therefore, the next couple of months are likely to be a buyers’ market in the lower- and mid-market, with prices beginning to increase once the election is over.
At West Wales Property Finders we have seen a noticeable rise in enquiries from people wishing to downsize in London and the South East to minimise their liabilities should a mansion tax be introduced. They are looking instead to purchase large country houses here where, for example, a seven-bedroom Regency mansion set in 59 acres of gardens, paddocks and woodland with a self-contained cottage, stables and coach house is on the market for £1.6m. Agricultural land is also sought-after as it attracts generous tax breaks.
What’s your property market prediction for the rest of 2015?
With interest rates set to remain low for some time to come I think the market will continue to rise here in West Wales. The market here always lags behind that in England but I predict a steady annual rise of 4-5%. The change in stamp duty levies brought in by the government at the beginning of December will, of course, help purchasers of all houses that fall into the lower and mid ranges in West Wales and boost the market.