Not many of us are in the habit of taking a regular dip in therapeutic waters. So why are we still so fond of spa towns? New research shows that home buyers are prepared to pay a premium to live in a spa town, with Epsom, Tunbridge Wells, Boston Spa, Bath and Ilkley commanding particularly high property prices.
The survey from Halifax Estate Agents showed that of the eighteen spa towns studied, sixteen had higher average house prices than neighbouring towns in their county. Fifteen out of the eighteen had average house prices above £200,000 and five had seen house prices double since June 2001.
Spa towns tend to rank highly for factors affecting quality of life. Houses are generally larger than average, with plenty of period properties around. Owner occupation rates are also high, indicating that spa towns are places where people like to settle down. Halifax also identified low traffic levels and high employment levels as factors boosting the value of property in the spa towns studied.
A separate study carried out by Haart identified the top external influences affecting property prices across the UK. 250 agents provided information on factors increasing and decreasing property prices.
Positive influences on house prices
Proximity to a mainline tube or railway station came at the top of Haart’s list of positive influences, adding an average of 12% to property value. Access to a top state school was found to add 11%. Links to a motorway or a duel carriageway can add 9%, as can nearby green spaces. A vibrant social scene, including restaurants and pubs, increases value by 6%.
Buyers are prepared to pay 4% more to have a top-notch food store nearby. Other high street facilities, such as banks and newsagents, add 3%. Proximity to a sports club or exercise facility raises house prices by 2%, as does having a good NHS hospital close by. A cinema or similar entertainment venue adds 1%.
Negative influences on house prices
The top negative influence on property prices was identified as proximity to run-down and derelict houses, taking off 12%. Late licence music venues and takeaways are also turn-offs for buyers, bringing down prices by 11%. Being near derelict land or an airport flight path reduces value by 9%, while proximity to a waste/refuse station brings prices down by 8%.
A house on a busy road can be worth 8% less than those in quieter areas. Nightmare neighbours should also be avoided since they bring down value by 7%. The importance of education is demonstrated again as poorly rated comprehensive schools reduce house prices by 6%. While transport links are desirable amenities, being too close to a railway line takes 5% off property value. Mobile phone and telecom masts are also unpopular, bringing down prices by 4%.
So how do the top spa towns measure up in terms of these property perks and turn-offs?
Epsom’s status as a spa town is evident in the name of the famous health product Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate), which were originally prepared by boiling down Epsom’s mineral water. The prosperity of the town in the 17th century caused many large, impressive homes to be built.
Epsom came top of the list in the Halifax research, with house prices averaging £297,354. While this is high in a national context, it is about average for prices across the desirable county of Surrey. The area enjoys excellent transport links to the Capital, with the mainline stations of Epsom, Ewell East, Ewell West and Stoneleigh all within an hour of central London.
Easy access to the bright lights of London is contrasted by plenty of peaceful green space. Epsom Common is a 435 acre nature reserve open all year round for walking, picnicking, cycling and horse-riding. There’s also the famous Epsom Downs racecourse and numerous golf courses scattered around.
Epsom and Ewell came first in Channel 4’s 2005 list of the best places to live in the UK, slipping a few places down to number eight in the 2006 list. The study used crime, education, employment, environment and lifestyle statistics to judge local authorities across the UK.
“Georgian Elegance, Natural Beauty”, boasts the main tourism website of Royal Tunbridge Wells. Perhaps it is these qualities which make property prices here the second highest in all the spa towns covered by Halifax. Prices average £279,987 and are 31% higher than the average property value in Kent.
Tunbridge Wells has been popular with well-heeled buyers since the 18th century. In 1909 King Edward VII gave the town its ‘Royal’ prefix in recognition of its popularity with royal and aristocratic visitors. Regency architecture makes for fine residential property and also houses stylish shops and prestigious hotels and restaurants. The Michelin-starred Thackerays, in a Grade II-listed building just off the main road, is renowned for its first-rate food and wine.
The town also scores highly for transport links. It’s only 30 miles from London and within easy reach of Heathrow airport, Gatwick airport and the south coast.
The Haart survey showed that buyers are prepared to pay more to be near a good school. It seems that living in Tunbridge Wells gives children a good chance of academic success. The area has the fifth best results in the country, with 75.5% of fifteen-year-olds achieving five or more GCSEs at A*-C.
The third spa town in the list, Boston Spa, takes us out of South-East England to West Yorkshire. Prices are slightly lower in Boston Spa, with houses selling for an average of £277,215, but this is a whopping 95% higher than average prices in the rest of the county.
Boston Spa is a small town occasionally eclipsed by its popular neighbours Harrogate and Ilkley. But a majestic high street and the River Wharfe sweeping through the northern edge of the town make for a picturesque scene. A home here must feel a million miles away from those buyer turn-offs of dereliction and noise.
Boston Spa is certainly not short of value-boosting green space. It’s surrounded by rolling countryside and has good access to not one but two national parks: the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors.
In contrast to Boston Spa’s modest charms, the fourth spa town on the list is known as one of the grandest cities in the UK. The average property price in Bath is £268,721, which is 38% higher than the average value in the area.
Bath boasts Britain’s only hot spring, around which the Romans constructed an impressive temple and bathing complex. The extensive ruins now form the heart of Bath’s World Heritage Site, attracting thousands of visitors every year. Those therapeutic waters are still being put to good use today in Thermae Bath Spa, a modern spa complex with four thermal baths and a range of complementary therapies.
The stunning Georgian stone crescents in Bath surely play a part in upping average property value. Even a one-bedroom flat in the famous Royal Crescent can set you back £320,000. With 5,000 listed buildings in the city, fans of period property will be in their element.
Bath certainly ticks the box for a vibrant social scene. There are some charming places for afternoon tea, award-winning restaurants and traditional pubs. The centrally located Theatre Royal Bath regularly hosts stand-up comedy, music and plays. Bath also scores highly for transport links with London and Cardiff both around an hour and a half away by direct train.
Like Boston Spa, Ilkley lies in West Yorkshire on the banks of the River Wharfe. It’s a prosperous town, with property prices averaging £266,671, an impressive 88% more than the average value for the county.
Victorian architecture makes for a beautiful selection of period homes, while wide main streets house shops, restaurants, pubs and cafes. At White Wells, the town’s Lido, locals and tourists can enjoy 18th century plunge baths and even take a dip in the icy spa water which made the town famous.
Since buyers are easily put off by derelict land and houses, the pride that Ilkley takes in its appearance is sure to maintain those high prices. It won the Britain in Bloom award in 2004 and its annual celebration of literature has become one of the UK’s top arts festivals.
Buyers seeking to escape the rate-race for a healthy outdoor life can’t go far wrong in Ilkley. Residents can enjoy countryside walks from their doorsteps, rock climbing on the Cow and stunning panoramic views on Ilkley Moor.
While spa towns vary in size and character, a number of common features serve to attract buyers and raise prices. A history of prosperity tends to lead to the construction of large, desirable properties and encourages thriving local business and high-performing schools. Good access to green space and low levels of traffic and noise provide advantages over big-city living. The towns which grew up around Britain’s precious mineral waters continue to provide a healthy balance in today’s property market.