Despite being home to centuries of history, a Championship football team, a major shopping centre, a thriving tech and business scene, and some lovely Thames-side walks, Reading remains somewhat unloved compared to some of its more illustrious near neighbours such as Henley, Oxford and Marlow.
If you asked people what Reading was most famous or iconic for, other than its annual festival, people might struggle, but could the Berkshire town be about to have its moment in the sun in terms of property investment?
It already benefits from excellent connectivity to the capital – with trains as quick as 23 minutes to London Paddington, although these do come at a cost. Transport links are set to get even better when Crossrail is finally fully operational. At present, TfL Rail is operating trains between Reading and London Paddington, but at much reduced speeds.
Great transport links, combined with strong rental yields and a fast-growing economy, could make properties in this vibrant, diverse town particularly attractive to investors – drawn to Reading’s potential for growth.
The town has experienced extensive investment over the past decade, transforming it into a dynamic town with one of the best modern railway station in the whole of the UK. It is forecasted to be one of the UK’s fastest-growing locations over the next three years (2020-2023), is ranked among the UK’s top five performing innovation economies and has been named as one of the best places to live and work in the UK.
Mike Shearn, chief operating officer at Haslams Estate Agent, which covers the Reading and wider Berkshire area, said: “Reading – and the wider Thames Valley region – is demonstrating an incredibly buoyant job market and when this is coupled with interest rates remaining at an all-time low and people with an appetite to move home, the result is an incredibly strong lettings and sales market. This in turn has driven capital values, rents and yields.”
According to the Haslams Price Index, house prices in the town have increased by 4% year-on-year and 1% compared to the last quarter. Meanwhile, for new builds, the average value is now £527,250 according to Rightmove, versus a national average for all properties of £338,462.
Part of the reason for its growing popularity is its status as one of the UK’s most prominent technical hubs. A host of international companies are based in the town, including global brands like Microsoft and PepsiCo - all employing many skilled people seeking high-quality lets. On the downside, the town can sometimes feel like one big, hollow business park with no centre point, and suffers a bit from a lack of independent shops and restaurants.
That said, it has the Hexagon (an excellent regional theatre built in the shape of an elongated hexagon and in the Brutalist style), cinemas, good pubs, the Thames on its doorstep and plenty of green space in and surrounding the town.
It’s also home to the University of Reading, which has a large student population (around 17,000), many of whom hail from overseas. Many stay in the town after graduation, providing a steady supply of potential tenants.
“Data from Goodlord has shown that 94% of tenants no longer have any cause for concern over the pandemic affecting their income and ability to rent a home, which follows high levels of activity in the market,” Shearn added.
“In terms of rental values, the last three months saw a 5% increase caused by the lack of stock and the resurgence in the number of international tenants; travel has opened back up and students and foreign businesspeople returned. In the same period, we also saw an all-time low for void periods.”
He continued: “As we enter the last three months of the year, there is an exciting opportunity to achieve an excellent return on investment, with demand continuing to remain at a high.”
One potential offering that might be catching the eye of investors is Bankside Gardens, a new St Edward’s development, which aims to offer London-style living in ‘a superb Reading location’.
The one and two-bedroom apartments at No.6 – the latest phase of homes - have been designed for modern living, with living areas that lead out onto to a balcony or terrace for views over the landscaped gardens. The kitchens feature the latest Bosch, Beko and Smeg appliances, while every two-bedroom home provides an en-suite bathroom for the main bedroom.
Residents also benefit from access to a co-working studio, state-of-the-art gym, cinema and concierge service. Commercial and retail space will be located on the ground floor of some of the apartment buildings, while private landscaped gardens are complemented by acres of surrounding parkland. Prices at Bankside Gardens start from £290,000 for a one-bedroom apartment.
Paul Vallone, executive chairman at St Edward – a joint venture company owned by M&G Investments and Berkeley, said: “Reading is a serious hotspot for people who are looking for an out-of-London property. We expect these homes to be especially popular with young professionals; Bankside Gardens offers all the lifestyle benefits of urban living, from superb travel connections to luxury amenities, as well as the advantages of living out of the capital – lower price points and immediate access to plentiful outdoor space.”
Green Park Business Park is just a short walk away and home to offices, a public gym and a range of eateries. Meanwhile, the new Reading Green Park railway station will be located directly next to Bankside Gardens, making travel ‘extremely easy’ with services reaching Reading Station in just six minutes.
When Crossrail finally opens in Reading, direct services will reach Heathrow in 38 minutes, Bond Street in under an hour and Canary Wharf in just over an hour.
At present, Reading is undoubtedly best known for football and festivals, but a combo of ever-improving transport links and its growing reputation as a tech hub to rival the best on offer in the UK could see it become a property investment hub of note.