East Anglian market sees few acres for sale

The number of acres on the open market in 2009 has been significanly lower than last year. But nowhere has this been more pronounced than in the eastern counties, agents say.

Farmland sales in East Anglia have dropped sharply in 2009, with strong demand pushing values up. Publicly marketed farmland in the East of England totalled just 15,228 acres in the eleven months to the end of November, says Savills. That is 47% down on the same period last year – the largest drop of any region in England and Wales.

“The better quality land in our part of the country is an asset that people want to retain, rather than part with,” said the firm’s Adrian Wilson. “There has been good demand, which, with the lack of supply, has pushed values back up again over the past four to five months.” Values rose by 5% in the last quarter, and Mr Wilson expects them to increase by a further 6% in 2010.

Andrew Pearce, head of rural agency at Chesterton Humberts, said farmland has been viewed a safe investment in turbulent times. “The level of tight supply has had the effect of ensuring that most of the land price reductions which occurred during the autumn of 2008 have now been made up.” Despite a lack of Danish and Irish interest this year, prices are regularly reaching £5,000-£6,000/acre.

James Brooke from Bidwells has concluded a number of sales recently, notably White House Farm near Norwich, which was guided at £8.53m for 680 acres of land, a developing business park, Georgian farmhouse and farm buildings. The firm has also purchased almost 1200 acres of tenanted land at Docking, King’s Lynn, for an investor client, guided at £5000/acre, while 119 acres of bare arable land at Bunwell, Norwich, sold very quickly for well over its £5300/acre guide.

“Good root cropping land with an irrigation license is going for substantial sums of money – as subsidy support diminishes so demand for top quality land increases,” said Mr Brooke. “The expectation is that it will be another thin market in the New Year, dominated by farmer purchasers – and my view for the next year is that prices are going to remain relatively steady.”

There was little land reminaing on the 2009 market, said Anne Barker of Brown & Co. Sales in Norfolk have been rapid, with farmer buyers snapping up land parcels before Christmas. “The cupboard is literally bare in East Anglia – even blocks which had been hanging around have sold recently.”

Lisa Scrivener, rural surveyor at Robinson & Hall, agreed that land has been selling quickly in the region, with 32 acres of Grade 1 land at Ardleigh, Essex, fetching over £8500/acre. “We’ve even had offers coming in since it sold.” Some 49 acres of tenanted arable land at Little Clacton sold for around the £325,000 guide, while 26 acres of Grade 3 arable land near Eye, Suffolk, has just come onto the market at £140,000. “Offers over the guide are already coming in.”

In Essex and Suffolk some 80% of the 5200 acres of land marketed in 2009 has now sold or or had a sale agreed, said Tim Fagan at Strutt & Parker. “It’s farmers who have been in the market, although outside money has been prevalent for the good looking estate that represents a rarity value.” Although residential farms have been knocked by the recession, they are likely to bounce back quickly because of tight supply, he said.