Currency fluctuations around the world have influenced global capital flows and prime buyer preferences over the last few months. As the dirham continues to outperform many currencies worldwide because of its peg to the US dollar, those denominated in the dirham find themselves in a unique buying position. The weakness of pound sterling, and the relative discount this offers dirham and dollar-denominated buyers, has helped stimulate demand from global investors looking to secure assets in prime central London, reports Knight Frank. However, of late there has also been a shift in buyer activity across the UK’s property market, with smaller, lesser-known regional towns quietly emerging as areas of increasing demand and house price growth.
Such towns include Bicester in the district of Cherwell just outside Oxford, Bracknell in Berkshire, which neighbours Ascot, home of international horse racing, and larger towns such as Slough, which is fast shaking off its previously dull image to emerge as a serious contender along the Crossrail route. All three examples have several things in common: extensive regeneration and investment projects planned and under way, lower house and rental prices than expensive neighbouring counterparts and considerable current and projected growth.
Lesser known by those who don’t live locally, and certainly by overseas buyers, these areas represent a significant change and opportunity within the UK’s diversifying property market.
Renowned internationally for its designer shopping outlet, there’s more to this vibrant Oxfordshire market town than cut-price designer items, particularly when it comes to property. Just 15 minutes into the centre of Oxford and around 45 minutes into central London, Bicester is a dream for commuters who like to work or play in either city. Crucially, its major benefit over both cities is its significantly more affordable house prices: Average house prices in Oxford and London currently sit at £510,753 (Dh2.48 million) and £729,105 respectively, against a much more affordable £329,165 in Bicester.
With such high city prices now outpricing increasing numbers of buyers and renters alike, nearby areas such as Bicester have begun to increase in popularity.
Bolstering this popularity, Bicester is currently enjoying millions worth of investment through its status as a Garden Town and Cherwell District Council’s 20-year Growing Bicester initiative, which includes the development of a ground breaking new “green” village, Graven Hill, comprising a range of self-build homes and buy-to-let apartments.
Furthermore, due to its location along the growth corridor between Oxford and Cambridge, Bicester has been named as one of the fastest-growing economic centres in Oxfordshire. As a result the town’s population is predicted to nearly double by 2032, from 30,000 to 50,000.
Sitting at the heart of the UK’s Silicon Valley, Bracknell is also enjoying a significant amount of investment. However, the town is growing in appeal for very different reasons to Bicester. In recent years, Bracknell town centre has been completely transformed by the arrival of The Lexicon — a £240-million, 1-million-sq-ft retail and leisure destination, which now boasts top retailers including Fenwick, Waitrose, Joules, L’Occitane and Marks & Spencer as key tenants.
However more impressively, Bracknell is tipped as the top centre for technology companies. Located near to Ascot and the famous Ascot Racecourse, Bracknell is also just an hour commute from London. However, with average house prices in Ascot currently sitting at £826,804 (higher than the London average), Bracknell offers an opportunity to buy at less than half the price, with its own average currently just £362,338.
Slough has already seen significant investor interest over recent years due to its position along the anticipated Crossrail railway line into central London. Already just 18 minutes direct by train into London Paddington, Slough has already been named twice as a top place to live and work by leading UK recruitment platform Glassdoor, and recently named in the top three most popular locations for London commuters.
More than simply location though, Slough’s appeal is building so fast due to a £1-billion, 15-year regeneration project that started back in 2012 and has already delivered key commercial and community developments such as The Curve. It’s also set to benefit from the Western Rail Access to Heathrow (WRATH), which will see access to Heathrow Airport in as little as six minutes. More importantly, as a key commercial centre, the town is home to the largest concentration of global businesses in the UK outside of London, including O2 Telefonica, Ferrari and Mars.
Despite house prices having already grown more than 66 per cent since the announcement of Crossrail in 2009, the town remains more affordable than London, with a current average of around £400,000.
For savvy property investors, areas such as Bicester, Bracknell and Slough all represent the new wave of UK investment hotspots, each presenting three significant opportunities: lower entry price for investment, higher proportionate capital growth potential, and the ability to generate higher rental yields due to the better affordability for tenants.
— Inputs from Seven Capital