What makes Hickstead so appealing to equestrian buyers? Douglas Bunn’s All England Show Jumping Course, with its top-class jumping, showing and dressage action, is obviously a powerful draw, but the area is hardly short of other charms.
“This part of Sussex has everything: lots of equestrian centres, racing, reasonable hunting, outriding on the Downs and beaches and plenty of property choice,” says Diana Rowell of Churchill Country & Equestrian.
Leisure riders enjoy the bridlepaths that cut across the mid-Sussex countryside, while equestrian businesses know that they can count on a large pool of prospective customers. Professional riders, who account for about 30% of the overall demand, and amateur competitors come here because it is close to many show centres — from the All England course to the South of England Showground at Ardingly — and has excellent links with the rest of the country.
“This area has very good roads. You can be in Birmingham in 2½hr and are not very far from the continent,” says Edward Bunn, who runs the Hickstead showground with his father and other members of his family.
Such a wide range of buyers ensures a lively property market. Over the past few months, houses in the Hickstead area have been sold in just four weeks, according to the latest survey by independent research company Hometrack.
Sales have recently quietened down a bit, perhaps in reaction to the Bank of England’s suggestion that house prices may fall. An increase in the supply of quality properties for sale may also have contributed.
Plenty of stock means that “properties are selling at the correct price”, according to Rowell, although the Hickstead area remains extremely expensive compared to other parts of England.
Land Registry figures for the first quarter of 2004 show that prices for detached houses in the area have recorded a 11.9% increase over last year, and Hometrack reports a 2% rise since February. The average value of a detached house in the Hickstead postcode sector is now more than £500,000, against a national average of £254,906 — but properties with equestrian facilities fetch an even higher premium.
“You are looking at £550,000 upwards, unless the house needs a bit of work,” says Hannah Morgan of specialist agent Equus Property.
Noise pollution — especially relevant in a place so close to Gatwick airport — also plays a crucial role in the asking price.
“A house with two acres and stabling will cost around £650,000 if it’s affected by airport or road noise and somewhat less if it is directly under the flight path — we’ve just sold one for £500,000,” says Green. “If it’s in a quiet location, it will fetch at least £750,000.”
With these kind of prices, it is hardly surprising that a new breed of buyer is starting to emerge in and around Hickstead. These are investors who buy to rent.
“This is particularly true if a property has secondary accommodation,” says Rowell. “The owner will live in the country house and will rent out the yard and cottage as well as some of the grazing.”
With rents fetching in the region of £1,800 a month, return on investment can be quite high — up to 4% or even 5% — and certainly help pay the mortgage.