In March of this year, multi-award winning estate agency, Sears, opened a new branch in Wokingham. Property journalist Simon talked to its manager, Oliver Hewitt, about their plans.
Simon: So why did you choose Wokingham?
Oliver: Our Bracknell branch that also covers Warfield and Binfield are market leaders which allows us to expand our offering, from both a geographic perspective as well the type of properties we have to market.
Simon: I see, that sounds very logical. So, tell us a bit more about what’s it like to live there.
Oliver: As a traditional market town, Wokingham has a lot of charm and a picturesque centre with plenty of quirky, character buildings. It also boasts an excellent selection of schools, which makes it extremely popular with families. There’s plenty to do, too – there’s a wide range of shops, restaurants and leisure facilities. If you then add in its transport links – close to M3 and M4 and direct trains to Waterloo, it’s a really attractive place to live. In fact, it’s so attractive it has won several awards. It has just been named the healthiest place to live in England and, a few years back, it was hailed as the most desirable place in England and Wales to bring up a family. With all that it offers, it’s no surprise, to find that that once people move there, they tend to stay.
Simon: What sort of property can you find there?
Oliver: It’s very a broad mix, from houses to apartments, big and small, towards the centre of town, there are many period properties. As you move further out, the houses get larger and more modern and often have more substantial gardens. There are also a number of new developments on the outskirts to choose from, too.
Simon: What’s the market like at the moment? What sort of effect is the stamp duty holiday having?
Oliver: The market is probably as good as it’s been in years. Demand is incredibly high, with lots of people moving from more urban areas in search of more space. They’re not just coming from London, either, they’re also coming from Windsor, Reading and similar larger towns and cities. Because people tend to stay in the area, there are high levels of demand from upsizers and downsizers and those looking to move closer to their chosen schools.
Simon: Talking of which, have you noticed buyer’s priorities changing over the course of the pandemic?
Oliver: Yes, very much so. People are looking for more space, especially green space, and they want distinct work and living areas, so, things like garden offices are proving particularly popular. It’s also led to many people swapping apartments for small houses–especially since the price difference is relatively small.
Simon: So, what about those with smaller deposits? They’ve not had an easy time recently, have they?
Oliver: No. Since the start of the pandemic, access to 95% mortgages has been severely restricted. However, the introduction of the new Help to Buy Scheme for those with a 5% deposit should really turn things around. And, with all of Wokingham’s new developments, there should be plenty of choice for anyone looking to get their feet on the property ladder.
Simon: What about local prices?
Oliver: Prices have gone up by between 6% and 7% over the last twelve months and many properties are selling within weeks, sometimes even days. There are also reports of house sales going to sealed bids.
Simon: And how do you see the market progressing?
Oliver: Wokingham already has a very mature housing market and with plenty of new developments, it’s likely to keep on growing. That will, in turn, drive the town’s infrastructure– more shops, restaurants, micro-businesses and leisure facilities.
Simon: That all sounds incredibly positive, but how about the rental market?
Oliver: Wokingham has always had a very strong rental market and the stamp duty holiday and rising prices have led to quite a lot of new investment by landlords. With the average price of a house at £506,000, plenty of young professionals opt to rent rather than buy, so demand levels are very healthy, and then you have to add in everyone that needs to move into the catchment area of a new school.
Simon: I think I’m beginning to see why you wanted to open an office there.
Oliver: Yes, all very exciting.