December 2020

Back to the Eighties: Housing It may sound counter intuitive but people are generally happier in urban areas than they are in villages. Built up areas allow for interaction, for contact and for the use of shared infrastructure. Then, along comes a deadly defect to disrupt this norm. Alongside people, there’s now a virus. Suddenly, cities and social distancing become something of a contradiction in terms. This has resulted in some people rethinking where they wish to live. Then, there’s this whole cultural shift called working from home. What, then, are the consequences for the local housing market and for us? One measure of an urban area’s success in economic terms is its property prices. Other things being equal, Ruthin’s tend to be higher for like-for-like dwellings than its neighbouring towns (and Llandbedr even more so). This summer & autumn, the local housing market has been heated, according to an estate agent boss. After the easing of lockdown, the market really took off. This, I was told, was because of a number of factors: there was pent-up demand constrained by lockdown; people became bored with their homes during lockdown; and some houses were seen as unfit for working from home. The market is currently undergoing a change in buyers’ requirements, away from ultra-modern kitchens and bathrooms (though these are obviously important) to a general requirement for more space and more land or at least somewhere near open spaces. Over the summer and into the autumn, houses in the sub-£250,000 category were flying off the shelves, helped by a reduction in Wales’ version of stamp duty. As at the beginning of November 2020, in town, two-thirds of such homes were under offer. It has helped vendors that the supply was relatively low. Asking prices seemed to be holding up. This had a knock-on effect on middle-market homes, together with people wishing to move to what they felt were better locations. Ruthin was one such: you don’t need us to remind you why the town and its villages are so attractive an area in which to live. Perhaps it melds the advantages of urban living on a scale that is now much more acceptable. The sluggishness elsewhere regarding middle- market homes was therefore not usually the case in Ruthin, with nearly half under offer at the beginning of November. Working from home and commuting less certainly offer more freedom in terms of location. Ruthin is probably as far west of Merseyside and Manchester you wish to go, doable if only once, twice or thrice a week. Ruthin benefits from being slightly out of view, beyond Offa’s Dyke and, above all, it sees fewer of the crowded streets associated with larger settlements. An ideal hideaway, in fact, but still making the most of the benefits of urban living. But, there were also people accepting good offers for their homes who subsequently struggled to gather sufficient finance for their next step, as some of the houses in their sights were not at reasonable prices. In the current conditions, people certainly seem reluctant to trade up to homes over £400,000. In early November, of the eight homes in town over £400,000, only two had sold. This is the more difficult area of the market. Yet, even in this class, there is a cause for optimism for vendors. Coetmor, which reached the market in late September, had sold five weeks later, in spite of an asking price of £599,500. It last sold in 2014 for £455,000. Here, though, was a property of extreme rarity. From mid-September, the general market subsequently slowed down, alongside fears of the second wave of the virus, not to mention concerns over redundancies. But, even so, compared to previous years, there remained some optimism. And, some of the houses that had proven difficult to sell have shifted. Well over three quarters of houses for sale entered the market in 2020. Those doing so in February and March were effectively on hold till June, owing to lockdown. 10 and as little as six years ago, some houses were stuck for over a year, some well over that. Now, those added for sale in the summer and autumn have generally not hung around. Half of the houses marketed during the summer and the record number introduced over the autumn to the end of October had sold. Estate Agencies In spite of the supercharged post-lockdown environment, the Ruthin branch of Beresford Adams closed in July. It did re-open after lockdown but it seems that the writing was on the wall. It was marketing only about half a dozen homes in town, plus some others in local villages. Its owners, Countrywide, were closing a number of branches across Britain. This included Beresford’s Abergele office. In a statement, Countrywide stated, ‘Sadly, due to the impact of covid- 19 and in particular the closure of the housing market during lockdown, we have had to make the difficult decision to close some branches’. Given that the housing market has seen a 50 per cent increase in sales (according to The Times), one wonders about the Countrywide’s thought process. Clough & Co finished in Ruthin in 2015. At that time, Williams Estates and Beresford Adams were virtually neck-and-neck. The shake-out which has now seen Beresford Adams disappear has not been filled by online agents. In fact, town centre-based agencies have proven to be remarkably resilient. As at the beginning of November, just five homes were on with agents operating solely online. By contrast, Cavendish Ikin had a commanding lead, with double the number of homes for sale when compared to Williams Estates. Villages For those villages without the benefit of new builds, the number of houses on the market was unusually small, no doubt a further indicator of the way the market was working. Of the six homes for sale in Clocaenog, four had sold. Nearby Clawddnewydd, usually with its plentiful supply of reasonably-priced 1980s bungalows, had one such, hung over from October 2019. A second dwelling, a large house with converted outbuildings at £599,950, had sold within six weeks. Gellifor offered two dwellings only and Cyffylliog managed three, none of which were sold. 12 of the 15 properties in Rhewl were sold. One of only three on the market in Graigfechan had sold. Llanfair was distorted by the large number of new houses available, few of which appeared to have sold. Llanbedr is perhaps the most sought after village locally, being east of Ruthin yet convenient for town and with its commanding views over the Vale. Castell Gyrn has an offer, not for the £3.9m original 2016 asking price but for £1.75m. Half of the 20 conventional homes were sold, including six of the 12 at, about or over £400,000 and in this bracket, Llanbedr was doing better than Ruthin. The average price of sold houses in Llanbedr was about 1.8 times that in Ruthin. Clwyd Bank: a piece of history, dating from the 16th century, with a rare Ruthin Borough Council plaque. At £355,000, it was on between June & sold September Estate Agent Speak You have to hand it to the Purple Bricks online estate agency for at least trying to use imagination. So, accompanying an ordinary house along Llanfair Road, we find, ‘We love this deceptively spacious home which is ideal for growing families or those who like plenty of room to entertain’. The only downside is that the term ‘deceptively spacious’ is code for ‘small for the asking price’. There’s evidence that Williams Estates is now moving away from the formulaic ‘Williams Estates are pleased to offer to the Market… in the Historic Market Town of Ruthin’ approach, in favour of something more jazzy. Williams usually capitalises For Sale, Market and Historic, words that they accord Importance. Alongside the ordinary, we also like the way Purple Bricks tosses in ‘a castle’ into the amenities available in Ruthin, as if every town naturally has one: ‘Ruthin town offers a variety of amenities to include quaint independent shops, supermarkets, traditional inns and restaurants, a church, a castle, GP, dentist, garage and schools.’
Archive from 2013 Historic Interest