Gardens, COVID and the new property hotspots in the UK

Lockdown “garden hunters” have driven a sales boom in neighbourhoods with plentiful private green space.

A major new study of more than a million private property transactions during a lockdown-hit 2020 has found places with the biggest gardens were the most likely to see a boost in both the number of house sales, and prices paid.

The trend increased as the year went on, with people becoming more accustomed to remote or hybrid working, and unpredictable restrictions on their everyday lives.

The analysis - the first of its kind - combines two key data sources. One is the Land Registry’s “price paid” data - a record of every property sale including the sum paid, the location, and the property type. The other is highly-detailed research by the Office for National Statistics that uses Ordnance Survey data to calculate the average private garden size for localities across the country.

The ONS divides England and Wales into 7,201 neighbourhoods, or “middle super output areas” (MSOAs). These are units with a population of roughly 7,000. We ranked these neighbourhoods according to average private garden size, then put them in 10 “buckets”. The 10 per cent of neighbourhoods with the biggest gardens went into the first bucket, the next 10 per cent of neighbourhoods went into the second bucket, and so on. The 10 per cent of neighbourhoods with the smallest gardens went into the 10th and final bucket.

Of the 720 neighbourhoods in the first bucket - those with the biggest gardens of all - 76.7 per cent saw average property prices rise in 2020 compared to 2019. That compares with 71.4 per cent for all properties, and just 67.9 per cent for those in the 10th bucket (the ones with the smallest gardens).

When we drill down into quarterly figures, we see the trend was more apparent towards the end of 2020, as people became accustomed to new ways of living and working. The Land Registry publishes a rolling 12-month house price average for each neighbourhood, updated quarterly. When we compare the year to September 2020 to the year to December 2020, we see that 72.8 per cent of neighbourhoods in the “biggest gardens” bucket saw prices go up, as did 72.9 per cent of neighbourhoods in the second bucket (those with the next biggest gardens). In contrast, only 58.5 per cent of neighbourhoods in the bucket with the smallest gardens saw average prices rise.

It wasn’t just that prices rose fastest in neighbourhoods with bigger gardens - there were proportionately more sales, too. Covid meant 2020 was a relatively slow year for the market overall: only 16.3 per cent of all neighbourhoods saw more houses sold in 2020 than in 2019. In the neighbourhoods with the biggest gardens, that figure rose to 25.0 per cent. Again, the signs are that the trend accelerated towards the end of the year. Some 66.1 per cent of neighbourhoods with the biggest average garden size saw more sales in the 12 months to December 2020 than in the 12 months to September 2020. That compares to 50.0 per cent of all neighbourhoods, and just 47.5 per cent of neighbourhoods with the smallest gardens.

So where are these neighbourhoods with the biggest gardens? If we look at the 20 neighbourhoods with the biggest average garden size (see table below), two things stand out: firstly, prices rose in 2020 in 90 per cent of those neighbourhoods (18 out of the 20), and secondly, they generally had very high median sale prices to begin with. This is to be expected: the places with the very biggest gardens are likely to be in wealthier areas with bigger individual plots, and where most of the stock is made up of detached houses (which have higher average prices).

  • Table 1: UK neighbourhoods with the biggest gardens
    Neighbourhood Local Authority % of houses with garden Median garden size (m2) Median sale price (2019) Median sale price (2020) % Change
    Chelwood & Nutley Wealden 92 1067.0 600,000/td> 610,000 1.7
    Rickmansworth North & Loudwater Three Rivers 93 907.6 683,000 710,000 4.0
    Ifold & Wisborough Green Chichester 96 896.4 550,000 620,000 12.7
    Hindhead, Beacon Hill & Frensham Waverley 113 876.1 565,000 620,000 9.7
    West Chiltington Common Horsham 97 868.4 570,000 675,000 18.4
    Shiplake & Binfield Heath S Oxfordshire 95 844.7 939,975 985,000 4.8
    Earlswood, Tanworth-in-Arden & Sambourne Stratford-on-Avon 96 843.1 550,000 540,000 -1.8
    Farnham Moor Park & Bourne Waverley 97 842.5 805,000 940,000 16.8
    Darras Hall, Stamfordham & Heddon Northumberland 95 841.6 429,998 490,000 14.0
    Prestbury & Adlington Cheshire East 96 838.4 625,000 730,000 16.8
    Buxted, Framfield & Rotherfield Wealden 92 821.1 420,000 537,000 27.9
    Penyard, Llangarron & Goodrich Herefordshire 85 819.0 345,000 393,000 13.9
    Gerrards Cross South Bucks 95 800.2 930,000 1,180,000 26.9
    Bures Hamlet, Maplestead & Belchamp Braintree 93 797.8 410,000 448,995 9.5
    Little Cawthorpe & South Wolds East Lindsey 91 794.6 250,000 249,995 0.0
    Milland & South Harting Chichester 91 785.1 570,000 667,500 17.1
    Rhaglan & Llantilio Crossenny Monmouthshire 90 781.8 352,500 390,000 10.6
    Dymock, Hartpury & Huntley Forest of Dean 87 780.8 322,500 390,000 20.9
    Frant & Groombridge Wealden 88 780.4 481,000 570,000 18.5
    Fownhope, Tarrington & Marcle Herefordshire 87 771.9 332,500 380,000 14.3

Of the 720 neighbourhoods in the first bucket - in other words, the 10 per cent of neighbourhoods with the biggest average garden size - 201 are in the South East of England. A further 129 are in the South West. Only 30 are in Yorkshire and the Humber, and only seven in the North East of England.

When we try to find those places with the largest gardens that offer the best value, a different picture emerges. None of the 201 neighbourhoods in the South East that fall into the “biggest gardens” category had average property prices below £250,000 in 2020; nor did any of the 27 in London. But there were plenty to be found elsewhere:

  • Table 2: UK neighbourhoods with the biggest gardens that offer the best value
    Region Neighbourhoods in the top 10% of biggest gardens Number where average property price was <£250,000 in 2020 % where average property price was <£250,000 in 2020
    All regions 720 92 12.8%
    South East 201 0 0.0%
    South West 129 4 3.1%
    East of England 114 10 8.8%
    West Midlands 69 2 2.9%
    East Midlands 54 23 42.6%
    Wales 53 41 77.4%
    North West 36 3 8.3%
    Yorks & Humber 30 6 20.0%
    London 27 0 0.0%
    North East 7 3 42.9%

So, can we start to identify Covid-era hotspots which offer plenty of properties with very large garden space, where the market has been heating up, and where average house prices remain reasonably low?

Let’s filter all 7201 neighbourhoods in England and Wales by the following criteria: they must be in the 10 per cent of neighbourhoods with the biggest average garden size; the average property must have been below £250,000 in 2020; the median price must have risen by at least five per cent in 2020; and house sales must have increased in 2020 compared to 2019. We are left with just three neighbourhoods:

  • Cilgerran & Crymych in Pembrokeshire, Wales.

    A neighbourhood in rural Wales, dotted with fine houses and rolling countryside and based around two villages: Crymych (which translates as “crooked stream”) to the south, and Cilgerran (with its spectacularly sited round-towered castle) to the north. The full MSOA area takes in a stunning stretch of the Pembrokeshire coast north of Fishguard. The median garden in the area is 528.1 square metres, and 110 houses were sold there in 2020 - up from 93 the previous year. The median price paid for a property rose from £164,950 in 2019 to £179,975 in 2020.

  • Mundford, Weeting & Forest in Breckland, Norfolk.

    Another neighbourhood based on twin villages, this time in the heart of England’s East, between Cambridge and Norwich. Mundford has a strong community spirit and a host of facilities - including a village school, sports clubs and a fine church - while Weeting is home to one a fine castle and one of the UK’s longest continuous lines of thatched-roof houses. The two villages straddle Thetford Forest Park. The median garden size in the area is 484.2 square metres, and house sales rose from 92 in 2019 to 106 in 2020. Median property prices were up from £222,498 to £239,500.

  • Tuxford, Markham & Rampton in Bassetlaw, Nottinghamshire.

    A stretch of rural communities in the East Midlands, equally handy for Nottingham, Sheffield and Lincoln. Tuxford is a thriving market town with a high-performing academy school; East Markham is a picturesque conservation area with a fine church and walking routes. The median garden size is 401.1 square metres; house sales rose from 105 in 2019 to 107 in 2020. Median property prices were £207,599 in 2019, but £225,000 in 2020.

If we raise our median price threshold to £300,000, we get 11 property hotspots for those seeking the biggest garden space.

  • Table 3: UK property hotspots with the biggest garden
    Neighbourhood County Median garden size (m2) House sales 2019 House sales 2020 Median price 2019 Median price 2021
    Trefonen & Pant Shropshire 671.3 76 79 233,500 269,000
    Cilgerran & Crymych Pembrokeshire 528.1 93 110 164,950 179,975
    Lydbrook, Newland & St Briavels Forest of Dean 514.2 62 71 263,000 287,500
    Mundford, Weeting & Forest Breckland 482.4 92 106 222,498 239,500
    Niton, Shorwell & Godshill Isle of Wight 463.6 80 100 269,000 282,500
    St Germans & St Mellion Cornwall 453.0 88 98 260,000 279,000
    Hartland Coast Torridge 446.4 81 83 255,000 272,250
    Crickhowell, Llangynidr & Llangorse Powys 414.6 62 68 253,750 253,750
    West Winch, Marham & Shouldham King's Lynn and West Norfolk 406.6 104 106 230,000 262,500
    Tuxford, Markham & Rampton Bassetlaw 401.1 105 107 207,599 225,000
    Gnosall & Haughton Stafford 370.3 126 128 230,000 287,500

Hotspots in Cumbria

So what of Cumbria? Of the 13 neighbourhoods in the county with a median garden size of more than 300 square metres, nine have seen year-on-year house price increases, and 10 have seen a quarter-on-quarter rise.

  • Hawkshead and Cartmell Fell

    The neighbourhood with the biggest average garden size in Cumbria - Hawkshead and Cartmell Fell, with an average size of 543 square metres - saw 57 house sales in the year to December 2020, up from 51 in the year to September 2020. The average price paid rose from £290,000 in 2019 to £300,000 in 2020.

  • Bolton, Warnell and Solway Coast

    The neighbourhood with the second biggest gardens - Bolton, Warnell and Solway Coast, in Allerdale - saw an even more dramatic price bump, from £238,000 to £267,500 over the same period. Again, sales volumes were increasing sharply towards the end of the year, with 63 house sales in the year to September 2020 to 79 in the year to December 2020.

  • Langwathby, Kirkoswald & Alston Moor

    Langwathby, Kirkoswald & Alston Moor in Eden, with prices up from £226,750 in 2019 to £242,500 in 2020. House sales rose from 70 in the year to September 2020 to 73 in the year to September 2021.

  • Wetheral, Corby & Geltsdale

    Wetheral, Corby & Geltsdale in Carlisle. Prices rose from £235,000 in 2019 to £260,000 in 2020. Sales were up from 131 in the year to September 2020 to 148 in the year to December 2020.

  • Coniston, Broughton & Kirkby

    Coniston, Broughton & Kirkby in South Lakeland. Overall property prices were up from £250,000 in 2019 to £274,000 the following year, while house sales rose from 51 in the year to September 2020 to 68 in the year to December 2020.

  • Kirkby Stephen, Tebay & Brough

    Kirkby Stephen, Tebay & Brough in Eden. Property prices were up from £200,000 to £217,500, while sales were up from 70 to 75