The English harbor city of Bristol, near the Welsh border, is emerging as a vibrant alternative to increasingly expensive London.
Concrete and Glass in an English Meadow
Andy Haslam for The New York Times
A Three-Bedroom Retreat Near the Welsh Border
$3.8 MILLION (2.895 BRITISH POUNDS)
This modern three-bedroom house is set on a hillside on the edge of Brockweir, a village in South West England about 25 minutes north of the city of Bristol. Designed by Loyn & Co Architects, a Welsh firm, for the current owners, who are artists, the single-story, concrete-and-glass home stretches horizontally across the landscape, providing sweeping views of the Wye Valley below.
The rooftop is planted with greenery and merges neatly with an upper meadow to act as an extension of the field. Called the Outhouse (which doesn’t mean quite the same thing in England that it does in the United States), the structure “is absorbed within the insulating hillside,” said James Klonaris, the prime appraisals manager with the Modern House, an estate agency that has the listing. “Its stealthy profile neither imitates nor entirely juxtaposes its surroundings, but complements them with a lack of ornamentation.”
Completed in 2015, the 5,000-square-foot home is built to high efficiency standards, with solar panels supplying all its energy needs, including charging capacity for the owners’ electric vehicle. There is under-floor heating throughout the house, and the airtight construction keeps the interiors at a consistent 70 degrees Fahrenheit year-round, Mr. Klonaris said.
The home is divided into east and west wings along the route of the property’s original driveway, with a long gallery running in between. One end of the gallery, reached through a covered carport, serves as the main entrance. The owners use the gallery to display art, Mr. Klonaris said, and often glide along its travertine floors on scooters.
The green roof serves as an extension of the meadow above, providing natural insulation. A courtyard below overlooks the Wye Valley.Credit…Andy Haslam for The New York Times
In the back of the house, three large artists’ studios with skylights are arranged around an interior courtyard with a koi pond. Farther down the back side of the gallery is a bedroom with an en suite bath.
The front of the house, which faces south toward the valley, contains open-plan living areas with polished concrete floors. Enclosed in glass to maximize views, the living-and-dining space wraps around another courtyard that receives sun through an opening in the roof. The connecting kitchen has a granite island with a stainless steel work top and Gaggenau appliances. A large cold-store pantry is off the kitchen.
An outdoor terrace separates the living areas from the master suite and a third bedroom. The master suite has a dressing area and a free-standing tub in the bedroom, positioned for valley views.
The four-acre lot also has a garden with raised beds bordered by an original stone wall and a grazing meadow where the owners once kept sheep.
The property is in the Forest of Dean district, a section of Gloucestershire County known for its ancient woodlands. This region, which includes the Wye Valley, a protected area straddling the border between England and Wales, is a popular destination for hiking, fishing, kayaking and cycling.
The village of Brockweir, which is about seven centuries old, sits on the eastern bank of the River Wye. Just over the border in Wales are the stone ruins of Tintern Abbey, a Cistercian monastery that dates to the Middle Ages, and the bustling town of Chepstow, which has a variety of restaurants, shops and cafes.
Thirty minutes south is the English harbor city of Bristol, known for its Georgian architecture and modern shopping district, and for its role as a hub of British music and culture. It offers rail service to various places around England, including London, about 120 miles east, and an international airport, about 45 minutes south of the property.
Across the River Severn, Bristol’s metro area has become more popular with home buyers as prices in London have stretched out of reach for many. The city has about 460,000 residents and an increasingly vibrant economy, with a mix of tech, engineering and creative-media industries, all within a 75-minute train ride of London, said James Petherick, the director of residential development in the Bristol office of the property investment company JLL.
Home prices in Bristol have increased rapidly over the last five years, Mr. Petherick said. While ongoing uncertainty around Brexit has recently dampened that, he added, “I think we will still see a 1 or 2 percent increase in prices this year, because we’re not building enough new housing to satisfy the demand.”
As of November 2019, the average price of an attached townhouse in Bristol was 301,488 pounds (about $400,000), according to a market report from Nexa, a local estate agency. Semidetached properties sold for an average of 324,000 pounds ($425,000), and apartments averaged 242,750 pounds ($320,000). In all, the report said, while property values in Bristol dipped slightly in 2019, they are nearly 17 percent higher than in January 2016.
“Prices are just marginally down from where we were 12 months ago,” said Jake Gready, the managing director of Nexa’s Bristol office. “We’re seeing an awful lot of investment from business and in the city’s infrastructure. And a lot of people moving from London.”
The historic city center and Harbourside districts are in high demand, brokers said. Popular suburbs for buyers looking for homes priced over 700,000 pounds ($920,000) include Clifton, Cotham, Redland and Abbots Leigh, said Amanda Ake, the Bristol regional director for Stacks Property Search.
The city also has a very strong rental market, due in part to demand from students attending the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England. Rents for a two-bedroom in the city center average 1,200 to 1,500 pounds ($1,575 to $1,975), Mr. Petherick said. The Nexa report noted a 3 percent increase in the average rent across the city from November 2018 to November 2019.
Farther north, in the rural area that includes the village of Brockweir and the town of Chepstow, home prices range from about 140,000 pounds ($180,000) for a two-bedroom house built in 2004 to 500,000 pounds ($660,000) for a five-bedroom house built in the 16th century.
Who Buys in the Bristol Area
About 40 percent of buyers in the area are from abroad, Ms. Ake said, but more than half of those are British expatriates who have decided to return to the country. “Some just see the weak pound as an opportunity to invest and use the money made to boost income or fund their retirement,” she said.
Americans buying in Bristol tend to prefer Clifton, an upscale area known for its Victorian and Georgian architecture, she said.
Mr. Petherick and Mr. Gready both said that Chinese buyers predominate among their agencies’ small percentage of foreign clients. “There’s quite a lot of foreign students now, many Chinese, so there is a small pocket of foreign investment from China,” Mr. Petherick said.
There are no restrictions on foreign buyers in England. But it can be hard for them to obtain a mortgage if they don’t have easily verified income, Ms. Ake said, noting that the interest rates they pay are typically higher than those paid by domestic buyers.
A lawyer handles the transaction. Legal fees average around 1,500 pounds ($1,975), but can be much higher for complex deals, agents said. A full survey of the property is advisable, which costs around 900 pounds ($1,200).
The seller pays the agent’s commission, typically around 1 percent of the sale price.
Languages and Currency
English; pound sterling (1 pound = $1.32)
Taxes and Fees
Stamp duty land tax is due on the portion of the sale price above 125,000 pounds ($164,000), starting at 2 percent and gradually rising to 12 percent on the portion above 1.5 million pounds. An additional 3 percent is charged on purchases of second homes.
The property tax on this home is 2,600 pounds ($3,420) annually, Mr. Klonaris said.
Corey Hemingway, the Modern House, 011-44-020-3795-5920; themodernhouse.com
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