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UK Property Hotspots - Special Report: Stratford, Gravesend, Folkestone, Dover

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Property Investment Special Report: Stratford, Gravesend, Folkestone, Dover

If you are looking for a near certain capital value gain, then you had better read this section. I am absolutely convinced the prices in these towns will rise. The reason: the new channel tunnel rail link to St Pancras that opens in 2007.

Before last year, you would be lucky to get from Folkestone to London in 70 minutes – since October last year, the travel distance from Fawkham Junction south of Gravesend to Folkestone was reduced to 15 minutes. When the rest of the track is finished in 2007 it will be possible to commute from St Pancras to Folkestone in 35 minutes.

The price of property is likely to rise strongly leading up to this time, and further for a few years after. Prices have already jumped recently in Folkestone and Ashtead as people have woken up to the opportunity to commute to London. Dover has been forgotten about, despite the fact it is only a 5-minute drive to the station along the A2 – historic Georgian terrace houses can be bought for 80,000-100,000 pounds.

Rental Demand

Demand for one and two bedroomed flats and terraces in Folkestone, Dover, Gravesend and Stratford is strong – void periods are minimal as long as the property is in reasonable condition and fairly priced. Yields are reasonable, though in Dover they are good.

Baby-boomer Retiring

I am particularly attracted to Folkestone and Dover because I believe many London baby boomers will want to retire to the south coast, and this will be a handy location for their visits to France and the continent. The climate is warm in the summer and mild in the winter. The towns are in the South Downs which will reportedly be designated a National Park in the next 5-10 years. There are nice beaches, cliffs, views, countryside, amenities and communications to London. It’s a forgotten about corner of SE England which should be transformed by the new high-speed link to London, Brussels and Paris. Gravesend will also become more attractive for retiring people because of its history – note the Pier and sea-front are world heritage sites.

Communications

The new high-speed link means you’ll be able to get to central London faster than if you lived in Richmond-on-Thames or Wimbledon. Paris will be 1½ hours away and Brussels 2 hours. The M2 is a direct road to London (65 minutes drive to Blackwall tunnel from Folkestone). The drastic reduction in the time proximity to London will lead people to want to live in Kent - I need say no more.

Countryside

Kent is known as the “Garden of England” – most of Kent is beautiful will forests, hills, farmland, the Downs and the Wealden Hills.

Coast

The county has many good clean beaches and interesting seaside resorts – such as Whitstable, Deal and Broadstairs. Pleasant cliff walks can be taken along the Downs as they crop out into the sea around Dover.

History

The coastal ports of Gravesend, Rochester, Dover and Folkestone have much interesting Georgian and Victorian history, much of it maritime in nature. Gravesend grew as a Steamboat health resort for day-tripping Londoners in the mid 1800s – it has a beach and a promenade. I believe this history will be appreciated more in the future and will entice the baby-boomers to want to retire there. Rochester has a similar impressive maritime history and trendy new marina. Dover and Folkestone history goes back many centuries – they were both Cinque Ports of medieval origin.

The Best Specific Locations to Invest In

Stratford

I write more extensively about Stratford in the London section. Stratford prices are almost certain to go up because of a combination of:

The so called “Stratford Village”, a ½ mile square series of Victorian terraces is possibly the best location to invest in, next to West Ham Park. Low prices off-plan is also a good proposition. Ex-council is also attractive – quite frankly, you cannot go far wrong buying any type of property as long as it's close to Stratford station! Rental demand is strong and I see only one direction for this area – and it’s up.

Gravesend

Windmill Hill and Echo Square areas are very nice Victorian and Georgian areas and offer good value – Windmill Hill reminds me of Greenwich Park on a smaller scale. In 2007, it will be as quick to get to St Pancras from Gravesend as Greenwich and the prices currently about a third of the price. There are good schools in the area – a Grammar School system and the public schools offering very good value. To the west, Northfleet is cheaper and is regenerating slowly, but expect these terraces and rambling Georgian flats close to the Thames to double in price by late 2007 – London will only be 18 minutes away via Ebbsfleet, being built some ½ mile south of Northfleet station.

Ashford

Further down the new Eurostar line you will find Ashford International station. The town is fairly non-descript with many rows of small Victorian terraces and a town centre of no significant note. However, large new developments of good quality housing are planned with upgrades to infra-structure, town centre amenities and of course – 30 minutes in 2007 to London. Canny investors started buying the terraces a number of years ago – but it's still not too late. The prices have been rising a little above trend, but this is likely to accelerate further closer to 2007. It has access to some beautiful surrounding countryside and should be a vibrant place to live with strong rental demand in years to come. If it was on the coast with a beach and less building was planned, it would be a lot more attractive proposition – hence I tend to favour Folkestone.

Folkestone

Folkestone is a nice town generally – no really bad areas. Down by the harbour it’s got “further to go” than other parts of the town. Much of Folkestone is large elegant Victoriana – three story terraces many in leafy avenues. Any property with sea-views will command a premium in future years (re: baby-boomer retiring and London professionals). Close to the town centre is a plus if you rent your property. There is no University, but there is a town centre International Language College that needs student accommodation. Price are rising fast – from last October, so get in quick before it’s too late!

Dover

Prices were depressed in 2003 because of the amount of Asylum seekers residing in bedsits in the town and troubles that broke out. This all changed earlier this year when most moved to special hostels in other UK towns across the country. There is now a bit of a flood of property on the market that has depressed prices, but this is likely to be swept up soon – I would expect prices to rise dramatically in the next 1 to 5 years. The employment from the port is increasing and the town has started regenerating – albeit it seems a number of years behind Folkestone in its progress and there is less light industry.

It still feels like it has a bit of a hangover - it was once at the edge of the Kent coal mining district. Compared to Folkestone, it is less prosperous – less of a “feel-good factor” – this should change because it's only a 5 minute drive along the A2 to Folkestone International station (London 35 minutes in 2007). Properties with sea views are preferred if you can get them for a reasonable price.

Employment Prospects

Unemployment in Gravesend, Ashford, Folkestone and Dover has been generally above the London and Kent average for the last 30 years – all areas have suffered to some degree from deprivation. The towns have very few if any high-rise council blocks which is good. Employment has risen broadly in the last ten years and this is set to continue as more businesses move in to take advantage of the high-speed train links and European trading/business.

Ashford has been earmarked for a big expansion in housing and infra-structure and the area around Ebbsfleet station 2 miles SE of Gravesend will also be a big development area for commercial, retail and residential property and employment. This area is part of the Thames Gateway development corridor, supported by Ken Livingston (Mayor of London) and John Prescott (Minister for Environment). I am very optimistic that after 2007, this new train link will help transform northern Kent (Dartford, Northfleet, Gravesend) and help rejuvenate Folkestone, Dover and Ashford.

Ripple Effect

(See house price charts). The charts show the difference in house prices moving from Dover (90,000 pounds) to St Pancras/Islington (500,000 pounds). The jump in Islington prices happened 5-6 years ago and Kent has lagged the rest of SE England in part because of its poor communications. I would envisage Stratford, Gravesend, Ashford, Folkestone and Dover to play “catch-up” over the next five years.

Imagine a nice Victorian 4 bedroomed terrace house in Folkestone looking out south over the sea (current cost 200,000 pounds) – what will it be worth in 2007 when you can get to London in 35 minutes? I would predict between 300,000 and 400,000 pounds – the prices for such a property in Brighton is currently 500,000+ pounds. Dover is even more of a bargain with even greater upside in the long term. If you thought you were priced out of SE England, visit Dover, pick up a bargain and enjoy the 35-minute train journey from 5 minutes down the road in 2007 – I just cannot see how prices cannot go up above national trend in these areas.

Summary

This is a great investment opportunity now – don’t wait until after 2007 otherwise you’ll be too late. Just make sure you buy something close to the station at low price/good value.

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