Londoners leaving the capital in the aftermath of the pandemic are tightening their belts and plumping for affordable, accessible locations rather than expensive commuter dormitories.
According to a new study published today by Hamptons International, Covid-19 has encouraged increasing numbers of buyers to make the big move beyond the M25. But instead of opting for traditional hotspots they are exploring a range of new options across Surrey, Berkshire, and Kent.
Before the pandemic, the most popular locations for exiting Londoners were expensive commuter honeypots: the glorious cathedral city of St Albans, the affluent horse racing town of Ascot, and Gerrards Cross, tucked in the Chiltern Hills.
Average property prices in these locations range from just over £580,000 in St Albans to £875,000 in Ascot.
Post-pandemic buyers are investing in towns where they can get more bang for their buck. And the study shows that swift rail links to the capital remain a major selling point despite working from home — which explains the presence of Ebbsfleet International in the league table.
While this dreary transport interchange has little to recommend it, beyond the ability to get back to St Pancras International in a super-fast 17 minutes, it is an excellent gateway to the villages and coastline of north Kent. The average price in the area is also an affordable £279,000.
These are the “south of the river” towns to which buyers are flocking.
Average price: £303,000
A lot of money has been pouring in on the back of the Elizabeth line and it is starting to make a real dent in the town centre, where an outpost of the Malmaison hotel chain has opened and lots of new homes have been built to augment its stock of period family houses.
Next up is the £750 million Station Hill development, which will see the town centre revived with new shops, cafes, and restaurants, with a large new plaza, flats and offices, too.
The poshest bits of Reading are its northern suburbs — Caversham, Wargrave, and Sonning — which are close to the feet of the Chiltern Hills and where you could pick up a classic Surrey-style arts and crafts house for a lot less money.
Eda and Yilmaz Bilgen didn’t set out with a plan to move to Reading but, with a growing family, they did need to get out of their rented flat in Richmond. “We wanted a family house with a garden, with neighbours to get to know, to really feel part of a community,” explains Eda, who works from home as a French tutor.
While house hunting online, Eda, 39, and Yilmaz, 43, who have a nine-year-old son, Baris, spotted new homes they could afford for sale three miles from the town centre and decided to have a look.
“We didn’t know much about Reading or the area at the time, but when we visited, we instantly fell in love with Green Park Village and its beautiful green setting,” says Eda.
The family spent £448,000 on a three-bedroom townhouse — they used Help to Buy to cut the deposit they needed to put down to five per cent — and moved in just before Christmas (greenparkvillage.co.uk).
Their mortgage comes in at £1,450, much less than their £2,050 a month rent in Richmond.
As well as its open space, Eda and Yilmaz chose Reading for its schools — the vast majority have either a “good” or “outstanding” report from Ofsted.
Yilmaz is an IT network engineer based in Waterloo. When he starts commuting again, the journey from Reading to Paddington will take as little as 23 minutes.
When Crossrail opens he will be able to get to central London direct in less than an hour on the Elizabeth line, and a new station planned for Green Park Village will provide direct rail access to Reading in six minutes.
The town itself has also impressed them. “There’s a great range of shops and restaurants,” says Eda. “We really enjoy having lunches in The Riverside and walking the pathways along the river towards Caversham, where there’s a children’s park. The nature around there is amazing, too.
“There’s also lots of water sports options in Reading, which is something we’re really excited about exploring.
“The only thing we miss about London is our friends and our closeness to a golf club, as our son plays, but there’s plenty of similar opportunities here and we have a far calmer lifestyle.”
Average price: £600,000.
An old-school affluent commuter town, Reigate has plenty of smart boutiques and cafes lining its pretty high street, an Everyman Cinema, a good choice of restaurants plus good-quality period houses. Schools are a really big draw to this Surrey hotspot; the majority get top marks from Ofsted.
Its also nice and leafy in Reigate, with several parks and Reigate Heath. The North Downs are close by, as is Gatwick airport for holiday flights.
“People are looking for a bit more green space and also office space,” says Steven Stokes, head of Savills’ Reigate office. “But most people are saying they also need to be near a station because they will have to get back into London one or two days a week.”
Reigate has a train station with journeys to Victoria taking just over three-quarters of an hour. But if you need to get to the City, you might be better to buy in east Reigate, which is within walking distance of Redhill Station’s direct service to London Bridge.
Partly because of this, Mr Stokes says the most sought-after spot in Reigate is around High Trees Road. Not only is it close to some of the town’s best schools but it is only a mile from Redhill Station. Expect to pay around £850,000 to £1 million for a Victorian semi in this area.
Average price: £461,000.
Set at the confluence of three rivers — Teise, Beult, and Medway — this is a good-looking village of pretty cottages, quaint taverns, and the wide open spaces of Yalding Lees. In many ways, Yalding has all you need for village life — a couple of shops, a few pubs, and a primary school rated “good” by Ofsted.
It also has a commuter station with trains to Charing Cross taking just over an hour.
But while this is a beautiful part of the world (satellite villages such as Mereworth and Nettlestead Green are also lovely), all that water does come at a price. There is a history of severe flooding in the village; before you commit to a property, do your due diligence.
You can check local flood risks with the Environment Agency (environment-agency.gov.uk) and estate agents should — we stress should — tell you if they are aware a property has a history of flooding. You should also get your solicitor and surveyor to investigate or hire a flood risk consultant to do a study.
Average price: £238,000.
First impressions of this Medway town aren’t brilliant. Its high street, stuffed with greasy spoons and discount shops, has been hit hard by its proximity to the monster Bluewater shopping centre. You’re not going to find the kind of cool bars and café culture you’ve left behind in London.
But there are reasons to consider the town, starting with affordability. With average prices of less than £250,000, this is a good option for buyers on a budget. The commute — about 40 minutes by train to St Pancras — is also good.
There are some other major plus points, too. Kent’s grammar schools are one, as is lots of green space. Other factors worth considering are the Kent Downs just to the south and the easily accessible Kent coastline for day trips.
You’ll also find some enclaves of lovely houses, a relic from the heyday of the Chatham Dockyard, once one of Britain’s most important royal docks. Brompton Village, just west of the town centre, has some glorious Georgian townhouses and cottages, its own little high street and a quiet, community feel.
The docks have been closed since the Eighties, blighting the town, but they are now the focus of a £650 million redevelopment, which will see hundreds of new waterfront homes built along with shops, restaurants and new leisure facilities.