thum_00Property sleuthing

Sally Fraser of Stacks Property Search offers advice on how to extract the most information from online property search.

Some inside knowledge is useful when browsing property portals. You can glean a lot more than the agents would generally like you to know from drilling down, looking at what isn’t included as well as what is, and knowing what the jargon means.

Stacks guide to reading the internet includes:


  • Start with what’s missing! No internals means that the property needs substantial updating
  • If all the lights are on, the property is probably challenged in the natural light department.
  • Assume the photographer has used a wide angled lens. Check different angles of the same room for a more realistic view.
  • Look at the way the external images have been cropped. If the cropping is close on one or both sides, there’s probably something there they’d rather you didn’t see. And if the front elevation shows little frontage, it’s probably right on the road. Google Earth and Google Streetview are your essential next stops to confirm the reality.
  • Don’t discount ugly property – if an unattractive property meets all your requirements apart from beauty, give it a chance and go and have a look. Of all the things to compromise on, it’s one of the least important. There’s a strong chance that that you’ll be pleasantly surprised, and even if not, there are many ways of improving the appearance of the exterior.



  • Beware association with a prized location – the words ‘near’ or ‘close to’ are often used to raise the game of a property that isn’t necessarily very well located. Always go to the map to establish exactly where a property is located.
  • ‘Newly developed’ or ‘newly refurbished’ isn’t a guarantee of quality. Look carefully and pickily at the pictures to give you an idea of how well the work has been done, paying particular attention to windows, flooring, kitchens and bathrooms. These will give you a good idea of the standard to which the work has been carried out.
  • Generally, bear in mind that ‘pretty garden’ means it’s not substantial.
  • If the description says ‘around ½ acre’, it might be much less. If you’re buying a property with ground, it’s sensible to ask the agent for a land plan or a Promap.



The element of the property brochure that often holds the most information is the floor plan. From it you can see whether the layout works for you in its current form, whether it has the potential to be improved or adapted, and how it interacts with the outside space. Pay attention to windows and doors, and restricted head heights.

Which portals to use:

When property portals were shiny and new, it was easy, there were only a couple to keep on top of. Now there are so many more. My advice would be to spend some time setting up customised property alerts on Rightmove, Onthemarket and Zoopla at the least – time spent drawing your own search criteria is time well spent. As soon as anything new comes on it will appear in your inbox.

But remember, portals are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to property search. It doesn’t completely replace traditional methods, and if you’re serious about buying, you will need to have good relationships with all the agents in the area. Or by using a search agent you can be sure you won’t miss anything, and you’ll also get to hear about property before it comes onto the market, or property that is never advertised in the press or on the portals.


Success story

We have just put a young family into a great new family home in Gloucestershire.  Mark works needs access to London, and Fran is looking to continue to work part-time while raising two children.

They came to us about 6 months ago at one of our regular London surgeries and we had a good chat about why they were thinking of moving.  There were also the obvious questions of when?, what could they get for their money? timing etc?  Timing is very important and we advised them to get on with their search as schooling needed to be planned and next academic year is always ‘tomorrow’ in property terms.  Their property in London was a lovely family home, but 3 bed and they were growing out of it.  It was clear that they going to benefit from the disparity in prices between London and the Country if we got on with the move.  We have great estate agents in the UK, and their house was quickly appraised and made ready for the market.


The Stacks team got busy in the Country – we threw the net wide initially looking around a number of different commuting points and showing a variety of properties so that Mark and Fran got their eye into the market, while Stacks firmed up the brief, so that we could really start focussing.

The local agents, as ever, could not have been more helpful and gave us good advance warning of what was coming to the market, and what was happening with properties that had been on the market for a while and, even, those that had been withdrawn the market.  It was the latter category that gave us gold.  Judy in one of the Gloucestershire offices dragged back up a property that hadn’t sold in 2014 – surprise, surprise, it had been overvalued, failed to find a buyer despite plenty of interest and taken off the market.  To be frank, the vendors hadn’t been in a rush to move – but a new grand-child had been born over the winter and they wanted to be closer to their own young family.

Through their agents, the vendors were contacted and agreed to a viewing.  Fran came on the first viewing and they both came on the second.  The vendors and their agent rediscussed price between themselves, and with our local office – and a price was agreed.  Mark and Fran’s London property had gone on the market when we had started looking and they had been offered a very reasonable price.

The conveyancing and surveying were relatively straight forward – there are always issues, but nothing that we couldn’t sort out.

Mark rang this morning asking where was the best place to buy a lawnmower!



Trot on for an equestrian property

Jo Aldridge offers her advice to those seeking the perfect but elusive equestrian property

There are three fairly distinct categories of equestrian property searcher – those simply wanting a cottage/house with a paddock for a pony or two; those wanting a family home with yard, paddocks, and possibly an all-weather arena; and finally the professional yards that need lots of land, specialist facilities, and accommodation for staff.

The modest house with adjacent paddock land, space for a pony or two, will always generate interest, and often attracts purchasers who don’t actually want to keep horses, but want land for other recreational purposes, or simply to provide a shield from surrounding property.

Larger equestrian properties and professional yards have held their value well; there’s a constant demand, albeit a relatively small one as they appeal to a limited audience. So while values remain robust, properties of this kind can be slow to sell.

But by far the highest demand is for a good family period property with around 20 acres, and a small stable block, manege, tack room, and other essential equestrian related outbuildings. Supply is restricted so buyers will often find themselves in competition for properties of this kind.

Location in relation to competitions and activities has a significant effect on value. But the holy grail of equestrian properties is having good outriding on the doorstep. As country lanes become more populated by drivers ensconced in expensive and speedy German metal, unaware of the likelihood of rounding corners to find four legged traffic, the ability to access bridle paths direct from the property is incredibly valuable.

Buyers should be aware of the competition for equestrian property and not be in a rush to buy. Finding a property in exactly the right location may be challenging, so some compromise may be required. Many buyers consider the location, the land and its suitability of much more importance than the human accommodation and are prepared to compromise on the property.

Buyers who aren’t prepared to compromise on location sometimes choose to create their own equestrian package, finding the property that suits their requirements perfectly, with outbuildings that can be converted, and maybe a small amount of land, then renting or buying land adjacent or nearby. Buying land is of course by far the most secure method, but my advice would be to research the market very carefully, and secure the land and the property deal simultaneously.

A good awareness of local land values is crucial for this exercise. In broad terms, an acre of prime pastureland now costs well in excess of £7,000. If you’re a homeowner wanting to add some land to your property, or a buyer seeking to simultaneously buy some adjacent land, don’t expect the land owner you’re approaching to be ignorant of the lifestyle premium. Anything under £30,000 an acre for land that’s well positioned for the property is a bargain. The smaller the package of land you’re buying, the higher the cost per acre will be.

Jo Aldridge’s advice for equestrian purchasers:

  1. “Don’t be seduced by the property and the setup; you can change all of this, but the most important aspect of an equestrian property is its location.
  2. Big American style barns that stables and other essential space can be built within are a great asset.
  3. Good draining land is crucial, as is good access for lorries, trailers, hay delivery etc.
  4. Look carefully at fencing and security, and factor in the substantial costs if the existing fencing isn’t adequate.

Don’t expect to create a state-of-the-art equestrian property with immaculate facilities and expect to see a premium when you sell. There’s a tendency to over-individualise equestrian property, and there’s a fair chance that when you sell it will be to someone who wants something different!”


What makes a top market town?

George Barkes of Stacks Property Search says that buyers are fleeing urban lifestyles are seeking a gentle change, and turning to small towns in preference over rural isolation. The market town has come of age and it seems can do no wrong.

Property price increases in popular market towns are surging ahead of more rural neighbours. But what makes a town a market town; and what makes a market town a good market town?

What makes the market town attractive is that it still has the sense of community that a lot of bigger towns have lost, that it remains in tune with the surrounding countryside, and that it has more and better facilities than a village.

A good market town should have good pubs, schools, social clubs, health facilities, cultural entertainment; it should be small enough so that its residents recognise each other when they pop out to buy a loaf of bread; it should have a good cross-section of residents; it should have excellent healthcare facilities, a public library, a hardware shop, a clothes shop, butcher, baker, delicatessen, greengrocers, a leisure centre and/or gym, not too many antique shops, some great cafes and restaurants, a good bus service, preferably a river (and good flood defences), it should be no more than ten miles from a large town, there should be a Big Issue seller – oh, and a proper market square that continues to hold a regular ‘destination’ market.

The best way to establish whether a particular market town is right for you is to go and immerse yourself in the community – preferably by living like a local for a couple of days. Your best source of information is the residents, so hang out in pubs and cafes, and be prepared to chat. Buy the local papers and magazines to find out what’s going on and what the local issues are. And have a look at the Town Plan, generally available on the Internet to see what direction the town’s going in.

“Stacks’ list of top market towns:

  • Buckingham, Bucks – quaint streets and wonderful independent shops
  • Marlborough, Wiltshire – The second widest high street the country which regularly doubles up as a market place
  • Shipston on Stour, Warwickshire – Cotswolds without the tourists
  • Winchcombe, Gloucestershire – thriving town with country values
  • Wallingford, Oxfordshire – A home to Midsomer Murders
  • Ledbury, Herefordshire – its Grade I Listed Market Hall was built by John Abel in 1653 and still hosts two markets every week
  • Monmouth, Monmouthshire – a beautiful location in the Wye Valley
  • Tetbury, Gloucestershire – friendly but classy
  • Sherborne, Dorset – one of the prettiest towns in England.
  • Wokingham, Berkshire – cosy and independent
  • Henley-on-Thames, Berkshire – hard to ignore its regatta
  • Wellington, Somerset – not so precious and bijoux that it’s littered with London 4x4s at the weekend. Top ‘buy’ tip for ’15
  • Midhurst, West Sussex, in the South Downs National Park – a great sense of community, and polo at Cowdray Park
  • Alresford, Hampshire – everything you want from a market town, with the added bonus of the Watercress Line, a steam train that runs from Alresford toAlton
  • Frome, Somerset – a lively art and music scene, and considered an extremely cool place to live
  • Tavistock, Devon – unspoilt, friendly, surrounded by rolling hills
  • Lewes, East Sussex – a lovely Norman castle and a strong business community
  • Saxmundham, Suffolk – Southwold without the sea or the ££££££s


In the news:

We’re proud that a wide variety of journalists and bloggers seek out our opinion on everything from market movements and trends to buying and negotiating techniques.

Recently our directors have been quoted in publications as diverse as the Sunday Times, Sunday Telegraph, Cotswold Life, Country & Townhouse Magazine, The English Home, Independent on Sunday and the Daily Mail. All these articles, and many others, can be found here.

We’re always willing and happy to share our expertise, so if you have a blog or a newsletter that you’d like us to contribute to, please do get in touch with our PR department.

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