Three and a half years after she completed a knockdown and rebuild of her family home in Henley-on-Thames, Rebecca Myers, 42, has put it up for sale for £1.7mn.

It’s the same price as she would have listed it a year ago, she says, despite the market slowing significantly since then — a fact she accepts. “Homes aren’t going for top whack today — you look on Rightmove and many have been on there for quite a while; you see several price reductions.”

But Myers thinks her home will sell for £1.7mn — and if it doesn’t, she will simply stay living there until demand recovers. “Yes, it would be frustrating, but if all we get are offers at £1.5mn, we’ll just take it off the market.”

The affluent Oxfordshire town, long popular with movers leaving London, experienced a surge in home sales following the start of the pandemic, increasing 97 per cent in the first two months of 2021 compared with a year earlier, according to Rightmove.

But rising mortgage rates have reduced what buyers can afford or are prepared to pay — since many fear that prices are set to fall. In the first two months of 2023, the number of agreed home sales in the town was 41 per cent lower than in the same period last year, the property portal found.

Carina Clark, head of sales at Hamptons’ Henley office, says in roughly a third of cases, customers ignore her advice and insist the agency list their homes for more than they are worth, before lowering their prices because of lack of interest. “Normally, it takes two to three weeks,” she says.

A plant market in the town centre © travellinglight/Alamy

“In Henley people overestimate their house price,” says Stephen Christie Miller, who runs Savills’ Henley office. “All their friends are telling them they can get that price and they are practically spending [the money] before the sale has happened.”

Henley’s appeal is manifold: attractive period homes and a good range of restaurants, pubs and art galleries located along and beyond its pretty high street. “It feels like a village,” says Katie, 29, who moved from south-west London, buying a two-bedroom cottage with her partner in September 2021. “You can walk into real countryside within minutes, but at the same time there is plenty going on.”

The river Thames, which runs along the eastern edge of the town, is one of the main draws. The annual six-day Royal Regatta at the end of next month is the most prominent of its annual events and is a major date in the social calendar for many. There is also the Henley Festival — a music and arts festival in the week following the regatta — and a literary festival in the autumn.

The area also offers a range of homes, from sprawling country mansions with private river access beyond the confines of the town, to more affordable flats or small town houses within it, appealing to those moving out of London in search of garden and more space and — following the pandemic — a decent-sized home office.

Map of Henley-on-Thames

Katie, who declined to give her surname, bought her home for £550,000. “In south-west London that would have got us a flat or maybe — just — a maisonette with a garden,” she says.

With the growth of homeworking, many of Henley’s local clubs and businesses report increasing demand for their facilities and services at times when users would previously have been at work.

A year ago, Phyllis Court, a private members club located on 18 acres, comprising a grand riverside manor with a hotel, sports and dining facilities, relaxed rules on mobile phone use and the ban on working from the club, and installed a new, faster broadband connection.

“On a daily basis, we’ll now have up to two dozen people doing serious work — Zoom meetings and so on — and twice that number doing a bit of work on a laptop or the odd phone call,” says Chris Hogan, the club secretary.

A couple enjoy a summer barbecue by the Thames at Henley-on-Thames
Enjoying a barbecue by the Thames © Harry Harrison/Alamy

He says the rule changes attracted criticism from some older members — the average age is 69 — who opposed its use for work.

“Nothing had changed for 20 or 30 years. It was very old-fashioned,” he adds.

Today, the club has 100 people on the waiting list — the first time in its history it has needed one, says Hogan — and the membership has increased from a pre-pandemic average of around 3,300 to 3,500 this year, a record size. The club is also appealing more to younger members, Hogan adds, in part because of the greater value it presents to those who are spending more of their time at home and able to use the facilities for work or play.

At nearby Henley Rugby Club, commercial manager Alistair Beynon has also noted a shift in how and when the club is being used.

“Many more parents are accompanying children to midweek training sessions, making use of time they would otherwise be commuting back from work,” he says. Last autumn the club also installed better WiFi to facilitate people working there during the day.

Thanks to this increased attendance, takings from the café and bar are above pre-pandemic levels, providing a valuable additional revenue source, according to Beynon.

Following the first Covid outbreak, the club was closed entirely until September 2021. Beynon said members and local residents turned out in large numbers to show support last year. But in 2023, ticket sales have fallen, Beynon says, and membership numbers are dropping as concern grows over the long-term effects of concussion and the increased publicity given to cases of early-onset dementia suffered by rugby players.

“We’re seeing this across the club but particularly in the take-up of membership among minis and juniors,” he says.

In the past, when there was a shortage of supply of homes for sale in Henley, it was less of a problem, says Clark, as properties often have large enough plots to accommodate house extensions. Today, however, the problem is finding tradesmen to do the work due to rising costs and a skills shortage.

Woman at the regatta wearing a hat, with two dogs, sitting on a boat
The annual six-day Royal Regatta begins at the end of next month © Peter Smith/Alamy

She says that contractors’ quotes are often now not valid for longer than a few weeks, or they refuse to give a binding quote at all, instead charging as they work. “All the time, people are asking me if I know any good builders, plumbers, electricians, but they have become very hard to tie down.”

Meanwhile, Katie has been waiting two months for a quote for the single-storey extension she has been granted permission for on her house.

“Getting builders round — or even getting them to reply — is really difficult,” she says.

When they planned the work last year the couple budgeted £100,000. Even without a quote, she expects the final cost to be around £150,000.

Despite increasing prices, Myers is still scanning the market for her next house to renovate, which she hopes to buy when her current home is sold. She estimates increasing materials and labour costs will drive up her project costs between 25 per cent and 30 per cent compared with pre-pandemic levels.

“Yes, we’re worried about this inflation. And it will be challenging to find somewhere, and we’ll have to be relatively creative, but I can’t wait for the next project,” she says.

At a glance

  • In the first three months of the year, prime property prices in Henley fell 0.7 per cent, according to Savills. Prime rental prices grew by 1.5 per cent over the same period.

What you can buy . . . 

Cottage, Gravel Hill

Cottage, Gravel Hill, £499,950

A characterful two-bedroom house a short walk from Market Place in the centre of town. The property, which is Grade II-listed, measures just under 70 sq m. It has a south-facing courtyard garden and parking area. Sold chain free. Available with Savills.

Riverside house, Lower Shiplake

Riverside house, Lower Shiplake, £2.75mn

A four-bedroom detached house on the Thames, with a separate two-bedroom cottage. The property, on Bolney Road, is near Shiplake train station and a short drive from the centre of Henley-on-Thames. With Hamptons.

house interior
© Justin Paget Photography

Riverside house, Mill End, £4.95mn

A four-bedroom house and boat house on the Thames in Buckinghamshire, about a 10-minute drive from the centre of Henley-on-Thames. The main house has more than 300 sq m of living space and is built on a plot of one acre. Available with Knight Frank.

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