Prince William's Real Estate Revival in the English Countryside


Prince William's Real Estate Revival in the English Countryside - In moving to Norfolk, Prince William and Duchess of Cambridge, Kate, may add some glamour to a sleepy county in the English countryside.

The news that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge intend to make Norfolk their home has brought some badly needed glamour to this remote county at the eastern tip of England.


One of the more upscale areas of Norfolk is Burnham Market, where this home, called Burnham Westgate Hall, is on the market for $9.255 million. The property includes 36 acres. Sowerbys

The royal couple, plus Prince George and their second child expected in the spring, will live at Anmer Hall, a 10-bedroom house on Queen Elizabeth's Sandringham Estate. And their decision has put a spotlight on an area that, until now, has been somewhat ignored by relocating urbanites.


The dining room of Burnham Westgate Hall, which has 13 bedrooms and 12 bathrooms. Sowerbys

At present Norfolk's prices are subdued. According to the latest Land Registry data, the average home price stands at just over $250,000, up 5.1% in the past year. In Oxfordshire, a far more in-vogue county west of London with excellent transport links, average prices are just over $430,000, up 8.6% in the same period.

At the root of Norfolk's unpopularity are slow train and road links from London, which have long stifled growth—along with the ignominy of becoming a Norfolk Dumpling, the nickname given to residents in honor of what was once a staple of the local diet. Lindsay Cuthill, head of the country department at Savills, SVS.LN -0.08% says the Wills-and-Kate effect could stimulate interest in Norfolk, as could ongoing improvements to the A11, the main road linking the area to the British capital.


The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will live at the queen's Sandringham Estate in Norfolk. Patrick van Katwijk/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

"The presence of William and Kate will make a difference in terms of perception," said Mr. Cuthill. "It will give the area a bit of a sheen; you can hardly move in Tetbury—the town closest to Prince Charles's Highgrove Estate—for tourists, and interest in an area breeds commercial success."

Perhaps the closest thing that Norfolk has to a fashionable addressis the village of Burnham Market. "It is different to anywhere else in the area because it has a very cosmopolitan atmosphere," said Max Sowerby, owner of Sowerbys estate agents. "It has amazing shops and restaurants and pubs, and a lot of Londoners have their second homes here."

Mr. Sowerby theorizes that the village has gained traction as a gateway to the beautiful North Norfolk coastline, which includes Holkham Beach, the broad stretch of sand that was the location for the final scenes in "Shakespeare in Love."

"I think that a lot of people came here on holiday as children, got successful, and have brought their own children back but have gone up a level from staying in hotels and have bought a place," he said.


Other local attractions include several upscale golf courses, including the Royal West Norfolk, which counts the royal couple among its members. And Burnham Market's Georgian properties are both beautiful and, relative to London prices, affordable. A typical three-bedroom cottage would cost, on average, $810,000.


Ben Rivett, an associate director of Savills, says Norfolk's low profile is precisely what attracts buyers. "It is very discreet and laid back, there are no paparazzi in Norfolk," he said. "We do actually have quite a lot of high-net-worth individuals, but people don't know they are there."

Historic Blakeney, a former fishing village with a scenic waterfront and a multitude of boutiques and food shops, is increasingly popular. A two-bedroom brick-and-stone cottage would cost around $565,000; a five-bedroom family home here would be priced at closer to $2.42 million.

An even lower-profile option would be the quaint market town of Diss, located on the southern end of the county. Diss also has the advantage of a train station, with services to London's Liverpool Street station taking around an hour and a half. This, by Norfolk's standards, is considered well connected.

Alastair Brown, a partner at Strutt & Parker, says Diss is surrounded by unspoiled farmland where many U.S. Air Force bases were located in World War II. "You get some really wonderful timber-framed farmhouses out there, and yet you can be in London pretty fast," he said.


A two- or three-bedroom cottage dating from the 17th century, in one of Diss's desirable satellite villages, like Pulham Market or Pulham St. Mary, would cost from around $485,000, while a farmhouse with an acre or so of land would start at about $890,000, Mr. Brown says.

As to whether the "Wills and Kate effect" will hike these prices, Mr. Brown isn't certain. Writers from Sir John Betjeman to Virginia Woolf have been inspired by its landscapes, but he notes that Norfolk remains a mystery, even to many of the British. There is a story, likely apocryphal, that local doctors devised the shorthand NFN ("normal for Norfolk") as a way to tactfully describe peculiar attributes or behavior in patients' notes.

Mr. Brown says such stories stem from ignorance. "We have sea on three sides and no motorways, which means it is an effort to get here," he says. "It is not on the beaten track or trendy, but I would say you get between 20% to 50% more house for your money here than in the counties closest to London."

Mr. Sowerby says Norfolk's quiet, cut-off feel, its open expanses of countryside, and its lack of razzmatazz are precisely what attracted the Cambridges. "They won't have anybody bothering them in Norfolk," he said.

This article originally appeared in : Prince William's Real Estate Revival in the English Countryside | wsj.com | Ruth Bloomfield | Sept. 10, 2014 11:20 a.m. ET




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