In the first four months of this year, Londoners bought 14,700 homes outside the capital, spending an average of £330,000, which is just enough to buy a garage in prime central London or a starter flat in Zone 4.
“The flow of families out of London has been suppressed over the downturn,” says Johnny Morris, Hamptons’ head of research. “But the price gap is now too good to resist. Even with commuter fares and the hassle of the journey, people crave space and family homes.” You get a lot more house for your money beyond the M25, but as some of the latest exiles explain, leaving London isn’t without its drawbacks.
A NEW BEGINNING IN BRISTOL
Patrick and Rhiannon Southwell moved from Queen’s Park to Bristol last summer, with sons Macsen, four, and Dylan, two. “Our eldest son was due to start primary school. The local schools were okay but we wanted better for him,” says Patrick, 33, who is in PR.
His firm has offices in Bristol, while his wife, 34, is a freelance fashion designer and works from home. They bought their London flat at the peak of the market in 2007 for £270,000 with a 100 per cent mortgage from Northern Rock. They sold it for £350,000.
Their new home is a four-bedroom Victorian house in Bishopston, a suburb with the same kind of independent shop and organic deli vibe as Queen’s Park. They paid £386,000. A similar property in Queen’s Park would have cost them about £4 million.
Patrick misses London’s cosmopolitan feel and its infrastructure — you don’t realise the value of the Tube until it’s gone. But Bristol is a fabulous city too, and the couple are closer to their families. Many of their friends have also moved out and keep in touch. And because they chose a city rather than splendid isolation in the country, they are finding new friends.
- Search houses and flats for sale in Bristol
Samantha Hatherall and her husband Craig are both from Swindon but moved to the capital seven years ago, buying a two-bedroom maisonette in Northfields, west London. They now have a 26-month-old son, Rocco.
Family ties: Samantha and Craig Hatherall with their son, Rocco
“If you had told me even a year ago that I would be moving back to Swindon I would have laughed,” says Samantha, 34, a teacher.
But their home was too small for a growing family. Samantha wanted to be a stay-at-home mum, but on one salary they could not afford to buy a bigger place in London.
So in December she and Craig, 35, who works as sales and marketing director at Universal Music, moved into a rented home and went house hunting. They had bought their maisonette for £220,000 three years previously, and were able to sell it for £316,000.
They found their perfect family home — a four-storey Victorian stone cottage in a prime spot within Swindon’s surprisingly pretty Old Town — that was also near their families. They moved in during spring this year.
The cottage cost £245,000 but at 1,500sq ft, it’s more than three times the size of their London home, which was a tiny 400sq ft. So now Samantha is at home, and Craig has negotiated working from home two days a week, cutting commuting costs. He drives into London for the other three days.
However, Samantha has reservations about leaving the capital. “I don’t want to talk Swindon down, but it is a very small town, without the choices of London,” she says. In the future they may consider Brighton — still less expensive than London, but with plenty of life. Going back to London now would be unaffordable.
“The house is fantastic, amazing, I love it,” adds Samantha. “I can’t honestly say I wanted our children to be brought up in Swindon, but you can’t have everything.”
IN A WEEK WE KNEW EVERYONE IN THE AREA
Lynda and Phil Hansen left a three-bedroom Edwardian terrace house in south Wimbledon for their dream home in Nailsworth in the Cotswolds, Gloucestershire.
Public relations consultant Lynda, 49, says: “I have always loved the Cotswolds and I was determined to live there one day.”
The couple bought their London house in 2003 for £227,000 and played the waiting game. In February last year, it was worth £527,000. They were tempted by a self-built house in an acre of grounds which they remodelled.
The property cost £575,000 and renovations added another £120,000, but it is now double the size of their London home and they are in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
They moved in January and Phil, 44, now runs his marketing company from home while Lynda makes the four-hour round-trip to London three days a week for work.
On the other days she is travelling around the UK or Europe — journeys which she says are no more difficult than they would have been from the capital.
Commuting isn’t any fun, what with the frustration of cancelled and delayed trains, but Lynda says the advantages of country living more than make up for the hassle.
“On the first day someone was knocking on the door, and that was it — within a week we had been introduced to everyone in the area and we have made very, very dear and good friends,” she adds.
“We plan time to go and see our London friends but this move was my dream and I have absolutely no regrets at all.”