From the fake-tanned charms of Brentwood to the Quaker roots of Saffron Walden — and everything in between — the sheer variety of Essex means there is something in this much-maligned county for everyone considering a move out of London. With up to £600,000 to spend under the Government’s Help to Buy low-deposit scheme, there’s certainly plenty of choice.
This medieval market town, with its strong Quaker influences, has old-fashioned charm in spades. Its wonky, timber-framed cottages are delectable, the march of the chain store has been largely repelled and there are traditional tea shops and pretty pubs aplenty.
You can be in the City in less than an hour, but there’s easy access to the countryside, too. There are independent shops around Market Square and in King Street, and top-grade schools include RA Butler Academy, St Thomas More Catholic Primary and Saffron Walden County High. Property ranges from Tudor onwards, and the average price is £334,229, up 2.28 per cent in the last year according to Zoopla. For £600,000 you could expect to buy a four- or even five-bedroom period house in the town centre.
The nearest station is Audley End, a couple of miles from the town centre, and you can be at London Liverpool Street in just under an hour. An annual season ticket is £3,728. On the downside, there’s a lack of nightlife — although Cambridge is at hand — and an expanded Stansted airport could increase flightpath noise.
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PLESHEY, STOCK, DANBURY and WRITTLE
Chelmsford is a commuter favourite, with Liverpool Street about 40 minutes away by train and an annual season ticket costing £4,472. But smart buyers should forget the town and opt for one of the lovely local villages. In Pleshey, Stock, Danbury or Writtle you could buy a modern four-bedroom house from £500,000, or a similar-size detached period property from £600,000. If you are willing to travel a little further, Felsted, on the River Chelmer, has four-bedroom detached period cottages from £500,000-plus.
Pleshey was a best-kept village award finalist this year, Danbury residents can walk and ride on vast National Trust-run Danbury Common, Writtle residents have a front-row seat for the southern leg of the annual V Festival, plus one of the biggest village greens in England, and Stock is a quintessential English village with great pubs.
Children from these villages have access to Chelmsford’s top-performing state secondary schools, King Edward VI Grammar and Chelmsford County High. There are plenty of shops, bars and restaurants in town, plus first-rate sports facilities and Stansted airport 20 minutes’ drive away. If you want to live in town, the nicest part is Old Moulsham, just south of the centre, where Regency and Edwardian houses sell for between £400,000 and £600,000.
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Leigh-on-Sea has London’s nearest beach, and trains from this down-to-earth former fishing village take just 45 minutes to Liverpool Street. An annual season ticket costs £4,236.
Old Leigh is the prettiest part of town, speckled with fishing boats, and the area is earning itself something of a reputation as a 21st-century artists’ colony. The town has a small but sandy beach, a village-like feel, and a fun — as opposed to stuck-up — annual regatta, while Old Leigh, with its cobbled streets and clapboard cottages, has some lovely traditional pubs to explore. There are also plenty of seafood restaurants, or you can sample the day’s catch direct from the town’s cockle sheds.
There is also a good choice of schools: Leigh Infant School and West Leigh Junior School are rated outstanding by Ofsted, while Westcliff High School for Girls and Westcliff High School for Boys, half a mile away, also received top marks from the Government’s schools watchdog.
It is not hard to see why one recent survey anointed Leigh-On-Sea the UK’s second-best coastal location, after Christchurch in Dorset.
The average property price in the town is £258,415, up 5.82 per cent in the last year according to Zoopla. Value here is strong. Property ranges from fishermen’s cottages in the town centre, selling for between £200,000 and £300,000, to detached Twenties family homes on the popular Marine Estate from about £400,000.
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