Move to St Albans and you get two cities for the price of one

Moving out of the capital doesn’t have to mean a longer commute or even a change of job
How long will it take you to get home from work this evening? Half an hour? Maybe 45 minutes, or even longer? Any commute under an hour is considered good going — and yet you could live in a completely different city, and still be at St Pancras in only 18 minutes.

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St Albans Cathedral and Verulamium Park
© Alamy
Green in the city: St Albans Cathedral and Verulamium Park

It was this superswift commute that lured Nilima Patwardhan, 40, and her fiancé Matthew Willis, 33, who works in business analytics, from south London to St Albans just over two years ago. They wanted to start a family and be closer to relatives. Matthew’s family live in St Albans and Nilima’s parents are in Essex, an hour’s drive away.

Nilima Patwardhan and fiancé Matthew Willis with their daughter, Maya, at home in St Albans
© Graham Hussey
Happy family: Nilima Patwardhan and fiancé Matthew Willis with their daughter, Maya, at home in St Albans
When they were expecting their daughter Maya, now 18 months, they moved into a three-bedroom detached Victorian house in Fleetville, five minutes’ walk from the station, costing £360,000.

“That sounds really cheap by London prices but we are in a central location and previously we were in Tooting Broadway, way out of the centre of London and would have paid the same or more there for our house,” said Nilima, who works in marketing and communications.

Nilima’s daughter Maya is in nursery but she advises parents-to-be to put their name down for a place during pregnancy: “I couldn’t get her into our top choice and ended up having to take three months’ unpaid leave from work until she could start,” she said.

BEST OF BOTH WORLDS


Chrissie Campbell, 32, also moved from London, in her case, Islington, to St Albans two years ago.

A public relations director, she had been renting a small flat in a great central location with her husband and was in denial about leaving London.

“We were about to get married and were looking for more space. My husband has always really been a country boy but I am more of a city girl and St Albans was our compromise. I actually describe it as being in north London.”

The couple rented in St Albans while they had a trial run. Their central two-bedroom flat was twice the size of their London home, and at £1,000 a month was £600 a month cheaper.

St Albans has a metropolitan feel about it but they said they were definitely saving money on eating and drinking, and shopping at the busy twice-weekly market. There was even a huge choice of individual boutiques.

The only sting in the tail was the £2,988 season ticket but this was well covered by the saving in rent, though Chrissie found it irritating not being able to get a seat nine times out of 10 as a peak-hour commuter.

But on balance they decided their quality of life was better in St Albans so they began to house hunt. What surprised Chrissie was the competitive market.

"It was really, really competitive for the good, central locations. You have to know where you want to buy, go look and buy fast if you like it. They are now negotiating to buy a three-bedroom semi-detached house for just over £400,000. In Islington an average semi would cost £1.17 million.

But Islington is very high density and they are enjoying all the green space, with the 100-acre Verulamium Park on the doorstep and open countryside easily accessible. “We are out riding our bikes a lot more. I was too scared to do that in London,” says Chrissie.

There are also enjoying the stacks of good pubs, with Sunday lunch at the Six Bells a favourite.

It is not goodbye to their London social scene as they still meet up with London friends. “It’s a breeze with just an 18-minute train journey at the end of the evening.”

The average price of property in St Albans, according to the Land Registry, is £391,421, with the average semi selling for £417,967 and the average flat for £218,548. The Greater London average is £406,424, with semis selling for an £420,708 and flats for £349,420.

“Prices are competitive with London but that was not our motive for moving. St Albans is really gorgeous, it’s friendly and has great shops and restaurants and so much green space. I go running in Clarence Park,” Chrissie says.

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