London Waterloo is the UK's busiest mainline station: almost 90 million passengers negotiate its congested concourse each year. And for about £500,000, depending on how far they are prepared to travel, commuters can find a smart family home in an affluent commuter town, a pretty village or a market town set among some of the loveliest countryside in England.
Research on the best destinations to be reached from Waterloo, carried out by Savills estate agents, has highlighted Woking, Winchfield and Petersfield as three locations with similar detached property prices but dramatically different lifestyles.
Marcus Dixon, a director of Savills, says Petersfield, at 60 minutes, is "right on the edge of the acceptable commuting distance" to London. But it offers a prime position on the South Downs and quality period homes. "Buyers there are trading proximity to London for views and quality of life. Imminent improvements to the local road network also put the town in line for a price hike next year."
Winchfield is a bit closer to the office, a super-quiet and quintessentially English village. Woking, on the other hand, with a journey time of just 29 minutes, is faster to central London than living in the suburbs and has better amenities, but you don't get the village feel desired by people who are moving out."Winchfield is the tipping point before plunging into seriously rural territory," says Dixon.
Journey time: 29 minutes.
Annual season ticket: £2,444.
Average house price: £307,000 (London saving: £32,000).
Average detached house price: £507,000 (London saving: £90,000).
10-year price growth: 109 per cent.
Woking is less than half an hour from London with great facilities. There are two shopping centres, a well-stocked library, endless bars, pubs and restaurants, a cinema, theatre, arts centre (designed by Marks Barfield, the architectural practice behind the London Eye), swimming pool, skate park and leisure centre.
Sports enthusiasts can enjoy tennis, gymnastics and crazy golf; foodies can study at Tante Marie, the UK's largest independent cordon bleu school, partly owned by Gordon Ramsay.
On the downside, Woking is practical but not pretty. Housing stock is, however, excellent. Charity Holden of Savills says that the smartest address in town is The Hockerings, an upscale Thirties development where the detached homes with big gardens sell fast and for more than £1 million.
In Hook Heath, to the south-west of town, which has a more rural feel, you can pick up a four-bedroom family house for between £400,000 and £600,000.
If you prefer modern, there are newly launched penthouses at Enterprise Place (enterpriseplace.net) in the town centre priced from £270,000. They are part of a scheme of 129 flats a short walk from the station and designed by award winning architects Broadway Malyan. One-bedroom apartments are priced from £172,500, with two bedrooms from £199,950.
Education standards in Woking are generally high, and parents battle to get into St John the Baptist Catholic comprehensive, rated "excellent" by Ofsted and one of the UK's best-performing state schools.
Pretty duck-pond-on-the-green villages Pirbright and Worplesdon are less than 10 minutes' drive from the station.
Journey time: 49 minutes.
Annual season ticket: £3,052.
Average house price: £366,000 (£27,000 higher than London average).
Average detached house price: £500,000 (London saving £97,000).
10-year price growth: 99 per cent.
Perfect for the quiet life, Winchfield is small, but its station puts it on the map and commuters get a train seat, unlike travellers from nearby Fleet. It's a bit low on amenities, though. There are two pubs including the well-rated Winchfield Arms, a village hall (with activities including a fencing club) and 12th-century St Mary the Virgin Church, with its biennial music festival.
Property includes the award winning Beauclerk Green development, about 20 years old and in a Dickensian-pastiche style that will not appeal to all. Prices start at about £250,000 for a two- to three-bedroom home. About half the residents are London commuters.
Homes in Winchfield Court, a former hospital, start at about £300,000 for an apartment. Louise Brown of Mackenzie Smith estate agents says £1.3 million to £1.5 million will buy you a substantial manor house with land.
For shopping, Basingstoke is big and eight miles' drive away. There is no village school and most senior students attend Robert May's School, rated "outstanding" by Ofsted, in the pretty Georgian village of Odiham, about three miles away.
Journey time: 60 minutes.
Annual season ticket: £3,360.
Average property price: £313,000 (London saving: £26,000).
Average detached property: £499,000 (London saving: £98,000).
10-year price growth: 90 per cent.
A thriving market town on the northern slopes of the newly anointed South Downs National Park, Petersfield is the gateway to some of the loveliest countryside in England - but there is a lengthy journey to London.
It's a country town with regular markets, two museums and a fascinating physic garden off the high street. Petersfield's Festival Hall hosts a busy programme of theatre and music, with an active youth theatre. There are more than a dozen pubs, football and rugby clubs and the Taro leisure centre.
The main local senior school is The Petersfield School, rated outstanding. Parents of younger children vie to get them into the junior schools in the surrounding villages of Steep, Sheet and Langrish. For fee-paying parents, Steep has Bedales. Its alumni include Daniel Day-Lewis and Lily Allen - day fees are a steep £7,550 a term.
Petersfield is surrounded by open farmland and forests, including the 95-acre Petersfield Heath, with ancient woodland, a pond and a picnic and recreation area for children. Colin Williams of Neilan Williams says that homes overlooking the heath, in particular the Victorian and Edwardian piles in Heath Road, are the most in demand - expect to pay £1 million-plus for a four- to five-bedroom house.
For those on a more modest budget, there are two-bedroom Victorian terrace houses near the station from £250,000, and a four-bedroom family house within 15 minutes' walk of the station would cost about £500,000.
Property prices in the area have almost doubled in the past decade, and Williams says that the opening next year of the Hindhead Tunnel, ending a notorious bottleneck on the A3 to London, will be a boon to drivers and have a big impact on the local market.
All London price comparisons are based on an average property price of £339,000, and an average detached property price of £597,000.