FEATURE: Estate agents optimistic RAF Mildenhall closure will not hit housing market
There are only 109 residential properties at RAF Mildenhall, meaning estate agents in Mildenhall and further afield in Bury St Edmunds are required to plug the gap.
Following the announcement of the base’s closure we asked some local agents about how it could affect the property market and their own businesses.
Beatrice Carter Properties, in Mildenhall, deals primarily with customers from the USAF. Office manager Angela Lynch said: “We are very saddened and shocked by the news RAF Mildenhall is closing but hopefully with the F35s coming to Lakenheath the effect shouldn’t be too bad.
“The housing market may change around here but nobody can tell really what the effect will be.
“There are a lot of people employed on the base in civilian jobs.
“We hope that all of our customers will want to stay with us and we will carry on as we are doing.”
Tennens Properties, in Bury St Edmunds, also caters to a large American market. Manager Barry Tennens said: “I think the overall picture is not that bad and will make very little difference to the Bury housing market.
“At RAF Mildenhall you have 2,000 military and 100 or so civilians and the plan is to close the base over four to seven years.
“They are planning to bring new aircraft to Lakenheath so the area will not lose that many people.
“At Lakenheath you have around 8,000 people – if it were Lakenheath closing it would be a different story.
“In the grand scheme of things I don’t think it will have much impact to the housing market or our business.”
Paul Fleckney, director at Elvin Estates in Mildenhall, said: “I think there will be a small impact in the housing market. But remember Mildenhall is a much smaller base than Lakenheath.
“We have had these scares before and this time it is actually happening but we are looking at five to seven years in the future and a lot can happen in that time. We will have another US government in place by then and they may even go back on the decision. If Lakenheath were to close then we would be worrying.
“As far as we are concerned it is business as usual. It will have some impact and we may have to evolve to take advantage of the growing English market.”
Robert Lewis, managing partner at Balmforth Estate Agents in Mildenhall, said: “We don’t think that it is as disastrous as first thought for the housing market. That’s for a mixture of reasons.
“Some of the personnel will relocate to Lakenheath, it is also five years until the base will close. Some businesses, local shops for instance, may do better as the Americans don’t usually use them. Houses are not going to be empty as they will be rented by the English and they do use the local shops.
“Whilst the headline is negative, and no-one would want the base to close, it may not have the bad effect that some people may have thought.
“We look after 500-600 houses and we have had not more than 20 worried calls from landlords.
“If Mildenhall was closing tomorrow we would be panicking but with Lakenheath strengthening there are positives too.”
Motor trader Mark Bloomfield currently lives near Bury, but is looking to move to Red Lodge with his wife, Amanda, and their young child.
Following his experience of the change in the market since the Pentagon’s announcement, he predicts the local housing market will ‘fall flat’.
“My wife arranged viewings at five properties that had come on the market the day after the base’s closure was announced, a Friday. The viewings were for the following day, Saturday. In that one day, three of them were sold and one had an offer of the asking price put on it.
“We looked at another house around the same time – by the Wednesday after the announcement, its price had been reduced by £10,000.
“The housing market is going to fall flat, and there will be people with buy-to-let mortgages who will not be able to afford them. I don’t know what is going to happen, but there must be a lot of other people who feel the same as me.
“The rental market has a premium on it because of the USAF personnel, and landlords prefer them as tenants because they are more guaranteed the money. Now the premium will go and there will be a glut of property. As a result prices will come down, which will be advantageous for people like me.
“At the end of the day the housing market is led by supply and demand, and the demand is gone, especially in Mildenhall.”
Despite talk of many more properties becoming available around Mildenhall as military personnel filter out, county councillor Colin Noble believes these assertions may be premature.
“There are a lot of people who wanted to talk about the mass of housing coming to the market, but I think it will be a slightly differently reality,” he said.
“Because Lakenheath is a fighter base for the USAF, the personnel who are stationed there have a limited drive-time requirement, meaning they can’t live too far away in case they are called upon for an emergency.
“The likelihood is that you won’t see more housing become available around Mildenhall and Lakenheath, because they will want to condense their workforce. One of the things they will start looking at are those personnel living in Brandon, Thetford, Ely and Cambridge and seeing if they can move them closer, into Mildenhall and Lakenheath.”
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