The seaside bohemia that’s in your backyard

EVEN the most devoted Londoners can tire of the big smoke – especially those raising families. But rather than heading to established commuter havens in Kent, Hampshire and Hertfordshire to pursue your pastoral dream, you could do far worse than consider Brighton. It’s cheaper, cheerful and offers a totally unique combination of sea, beautiful countryside and real, commuter-worthy proximity to London – the train to Victoria take 51 minutes and runs every 15 minutes. Then there’s the sun factor – so close to London, yet so different, with nearby Eastbourne holding the UK’s record for the highest number of sunny hours in a month – at 383.9.

There is good value for money to be found as well in this bohemian, beach-side enclave. John Hoole of John Hoole estate agent says: “We sell to a lot of Londoners who work in the capital and want a lower-priced property to buy.” Whereas £300,000 in the capital would buy you a nice one-bedroom in zone two, in Brighton it can get you a three-storey, three-bedroom family home.

With the market getting tougher for many agents, it is worth looking now to take advantage of reductions that have, in some cases, knocked £100,000 off the asking price. Graham Mishon of Mishon McKay estate agents says: “People who want to sell are having to cut their prices invariably.” So values could edge downwards slightly in the next year but the current market offers a good combination of wide choice and reduced prices. And with demand for housing in the south so intense, prices are sure to rise in the long run.

Brighton is not just about good deals – it's the lifestyle and atmosphere that has attracted buyers from City commuters to A-list celebrities. Famous residents include DJ Fatboy Slim, Steve Coogan, journalist Julie Burchill and singer Peter Andre. The mix of liberal bohemia, a vibrant arts and music scene and beach-side living is not to be found elsewhere in the UK.

Hamptons International’s Paul Taggart emphasizes Brighton’s days as a quaint holiday town are long gone: “The penny arcade machines are nearly all gone. Now you’ve got a café culture; you see people promenading and socialising, with live music venues on the sea front. When I was a lad you never used to have things like that.”

And in the winter, the tourists might flee but the town’s social scene stays lively: The gastropubs fill up with patrons angling for log fires and Sunday roasts.

As for homes, buyers will encounter a variety of options. Those who want to make a beeline for the beach can find sea-view apartments with wrought iron balconies in the Brunswicks area. Those hunting late-Victorian townhouses should search in Hove – officially a separate town but integrated into the same metro area. Taggart summarises the distinction: “You’ll find things a bit more gentile in Hove and a bit more vibrant in Brighton.” Gentile Hove also offers big gardens and good schools.

So whether you’re a city-weary single or a family in search of sunshine and the good life, your best bet is to move south. It will last longer than a brief winter escape.

FOCUS | COUNTRY LIVING

If country living is more your style than seaside bohemia, you can still seek out the space and sunshine of Sussex.

Some of the most popular areas, which offer ready access to the scenic Sussex Downs, are Lewes, Haywards Heath and Burgess Hill.

They all have their own train connection into London, varying between 45 and 70 minutes to get to Victoria, with trains leaving at least every half hour.

These towns offer buyers ready access to the sea as well as the countryside, with more space and neighbours not on your doorstep.

There’s an abundance of good schools in the county, including Christ’s Hospital Boarding School, Roedean School, Eastbourne College, Lancing College, Hurstpierpoint and Ardingly College.

CLIFTON ROAD, BRIGHTON
Price: £995,000
Houses in this desirable villa block in the Clifton Road conservation area rarely come up for sale, so buyers should snap up this four-bedroom property quickly. The house features high-spec decor and stylish mosaics in its two bathrooms. Contact: 01273 230 230, www.hamptons.com.

HOLLAND MEWS, HOVE
Price: £475,000
Located on a quiet cul-de-sac, this three-bedroom mews house places you close to the sea front and its spacious kitchen gives access to a private garden. It is also close to the shops and bars of Church Road and has its own private parking space. Contact: 01273 677 365. www.bonetts.co.uk

SUSSEX SQUARE, BRIGHTON
Price: £555,000
This elegant first-storey balcony apartment captures floods of light from its garden-facing bay windows. It offers buyers a sea-view and east-facing roof terrace, as well as access to a residents’ garden. There is also a private garage. Contact: 01273 677 365. www.bonetts.co.uk

BUCKINGHAM ROAD, BRIGHTON
Price: £699,950
This three-storey, five-bedroom family home is walking distance to Brighton station and has beautiful wood flooring throughout. For ready access to the town’s cosmopolitan bars and restaurant scene, you could hardly do bettter. Contact: 01273 775 588, www.mishonmckay.com.