The Government’s Help to Buy scheme has opened up a huge swathe of the commuter zone to Londoners looking for a complete lifestyle change.
The upper price limit of the scheme, which offers state-backed 95 per cent mortgages, is £600,000. This probably wouldn’t stretch beyond a two-bedroom flat in much of central London — but in the home counties your choice is tantalising, with country farmhouses and seaside townhouses in the mix.
Prices in commuter hotspots such as St Albans, Guildford or Sevenoaks remain as hot as those in quality London suburbs but if you are prepared to make a small journey, there are some jewels out there.
Thanks to its half-hour train journey to Charing Cross with an annual season ticket from £3,156, great schools both state and private, plenty of restaurants and safe, affluent feel, Sevenoaks has long been one of London’s most sought-after commuter belt locations.
If you want to be within walking distance of the town’s station and shops you could consider a high-spec two-bedroom flat in a converted period former courthouse, which is just within the Help to Buy limits — on the market with Knight Frank for £595,000.
If you are prepared to double your commuting time, four-bedroom, Grade II-listed Forge Cottage in the charming village of Lynsted is on the market for £560,000 with Strutt & Parker. The 18th-century weatherboard home was recently refurbished, and has a garage and walled garden. Lynsted is about a mile and a half from Teynham station, from where trains to London Victoria take an hour. The annual season ticket is £3,904.
In St Albans, the jewel in Hertfordshire’s commuting crown, a four-bedroom detached bungalow with good-size gardens is on the market with John D Wood & Co for £550,000. Aesthetically, this is perhaps not the dream family home in the country, but it is within an easy walk of the historic city centre and its London-standard array of boutiques, bars, restaurants, cafés, and pubs.
Local schools are excellent, and transport is a huge St Albans plus point. Fastest trains to St Pancras International take from 19 minutes, and an annual season ticket costs £3,112. Hertfordshire’s other towns, while not quite as nice, offer far greater value for money. Trains to Liverpool Street or Moorgate from Hertford take from 48 minutes, with an annual season ticket costing £2,320. A Grade II-listed thatched house with three bedrooms plus a detached annexe is on the market for £599,995 with William H Brown. The town centre has decent shops, gastropubs, and weekly markets. Hartham Common is great, and schools are very strong.
Guildford is classic commuter belt — an affluent town heavy on designer homewares shops, hairdressers and health spas. You can be at Waterloo in just over half an hour and an annual season ticket costs £3,224. Choice within the Help to Buy threshold isn’t huge in this expensive town, but you could consider a four-bedroom end-of-terrace house, in a great location for the town centre and overlooking Stoke Park, on the market with Foxtons for £565,000.
If you really want some bang for your buck head to Ottershaw where you could buy a slice of a Grade II country mansion set in parkland, with private tennis courts and an indoor swimming pool. This end-of-terrace, three-bedroom property is on the market for £599,950 with Seymours. The nearest station is Woking, with services to Waterloo from 25 minutes. The annual season ticket is £3,604.
The downside here is that Woking is far from Surrey’s prettiest town, although it does have some great satellite villages, such as Chobham.
Hove is the grown-up big sister of neighbouring Brighton, with fewer students and nightclubs and more pretty cafés and yummy mummies. The beach is lovely and less crowded than in Brighton, while the South Downs are an easy hop.
Hove’s nicest properties are its fine Regency townhouses with sea views, most of which are divided into flats. A great option would be a two-bedroom flat in an imposing period house on the seafront, with two balconies, a roof terrace and fabulous sea views. It is on the market for offers over £600,000 through Goldin Lemcke.
The quickest trains from Hove to Victoria take one hour and six minutes, and an annual season ticket costs from £3,860.
If you need a family home and want seaside on a relative shoestring then Hastings, just along the south coast, might be a better choice. This historic fishing town is not as refined as Hove, nor as funky as Brighton, but Hastings has its charms. The cobbled Old Town is very pretty, and there has been extensive regeneration since 1997, including the new Jerwood Gallery of contemporary British art.
While Hastings remains rough around the edges with high levels of local deprivation, it is great value and ripe for gentrification. You could buy an immaculate 17th-century four-bedroom farmhouse with good-size gardens on the outskirts of town through Rush, Witt & Wilson, with a guide price of £550,000 to £575,000.
The value for money of Hastings will need to be balanced against the cost in both time and money of the commute. Trains to Charing Cross take from one hour 32 minutes, and an annual season ticket costs £4,304.