From Streatham to Banstead: Francesca De Franco with daughters Sofia, five, and two-year-old twins Maria and Gabriella. Image: Rebecca Reid
Despite being Streatham born and bred, and a lover of the buzz and whirl of city life, Francesca De Franco joined the legions of Londoners living in the Home Counties.
She and her expanding family moved from the capital two years ago in search of the home makers’ trinity: good-value property, better schools and a convivial community life.
Surrey was as far as she would go from the city, so Francesca, 34, her husband Matthew Collom, 36, who works for a financial website in the Square Mile, and their children Sofia, five, and twins Maria and Gabriella, two, went for Banstead.
“Being in the middle of nowhere wasn’t for me. Nature is nice for a week’s holiday but not full time,” says Francesca, founder of parenting website theparentsocial.com.
“I wouldn’t want to be on my own with three young children and with Matthew at work and nobody around me for miles.”
Francesca and her family left London in August 2011, selling a two-bedroom cottage in Streatham and buying a five-bedroom, detached Twenties house in Banstead for £620,000. “Surrey is not exactly cheap but if we had tried to buy a house like this even in Streatham it would probably have cost £1 million,” says Francesca.
For her the choice of a town has paid off. There is an Ofsted-rated “excellent” primary school, quality shops and children’s clubs within walking distance, and, door to door, the journey to London is less than an hour. There are also plenty of pubs, restaurants and cafés.
“I could never live anywhere I had to drive for 20 miles to do anything. Or get in the car for a pint of milk.”
£600,000: this cottage in Purleigh, Essex, is surrounded by open country. Through Hetheringtons.
Moving out of London is a huge decision and it is inevitably followed by the challenge of deciding whether to opt for one of the small towns around the capital, or to plunge deep into countryside living.
The decision is not only about lifestyle. At the end of the day it is about money and, surprisingly, a remote country house is more expensive than one in a county town.
Exclusive research from Savills on the town vs country price differential finds a 25 per cent premium on homes in the middle of nowhere. They cost an average £370,485 while in the Home Counties you pay an average £301,247. Nowhere is this “privacy premium” more marked than in West Sussex, where a home in a town will cost an average £259,123, while a rural property averages £361,665, a difference of 39.6 per cent.
The only anomaly is in Buckinghamshire, where there is almost nothing to choose between the price of urban homes, at an average £360,873, and country houses, at £362,964. This, experts believe, is thanks to the influence of Beaconsfield, named by Lloyds Bank as the most expensive market town in Britain, with almost exclusively wide avenues of large homes — average property price £861,371. The value of homes in this affluent town skews the figures for the entire county.
A key reason rural prices are so much higher is that country houses are generally larger than those in towns and have bigger gardens with, possibly, paddocks and outbuildings.
Guide price £995,000: five-bedroom Kentwater House, Cowden, Kent, has original fireplaces, views over the High Weald and a 1.3-acre garden. Through Jackson-Stops & Staff.
Savills calculates that prime properties in the semi-rural/rural locations — defined as the top five per cent most expensive in each region — are on average 40 per cent larger than prime urban properties.
Sally Randall and her husband Michael Reynolds went for a full-on country experience after more than 20 years in London. Sally, 49, a PR consultant for Hobbs Parker estate agents, and Michael, 51, who works in IT and still commutes to work in London, left their terrace in Crystal Palace for a converted oast house outside the village of Woodchurch, Kent, in 2005.
They have two children, Jay, 17, and Hope, 11, and went to Kent for the grammar schools, choosing a rural home partly because they fell in love with the property. They also felt that if they were going to quit the city, they might as well “do it properly”. They sold their London home for £560,000 and their new property cost just over £700,000. Sally works from home but says she does not feel lonely, though she admits there are times that “it gets to 4pm and I realise I’ve not spoken to another adult all day. I think I am just one of those people who does okay on their own.”
WORTH THE COMMUTE
Sally made friends at the school gates when the children were at the primary in the nearest village and found local people friendly. Although having to drive to the village shop (run by another ex-Londoner) if they run out of milk or want a newspaper is annoying, she made sure before they moved that supermarkets would deliver to the house and that it was served by broadband.
“You do need to get a lot more efficient about planning your life, and you have to work harder on your social life than you would in a town but it was worth it,” says Sally. “When we saw the house we just said, ‘Wow’, and we have got a great school for the kids and a really good life. It was worth the commute.”
TOWN: a four-bedroom, period end-of-terrace house in the centre of Weybridge, Surrey, below. South-facing gardens and one mile’s walk from the station. The guide price is £595,000 (johndwood.co.uk).
COUNTRY: Cameo Cottage, a Grade II-listed property in the village of Purleigh, Essex. The cottage, dating from 1778, is full of listed features and is surrounded by open country. Nearest station is North Fambridge, 3.7 miles away. The property is on the market at £600,000. (hetheringtons.co.uk).
TOWN: Wodeland Avenue, Guildford. A three-bedroom, period semi-detached house, below, in a great location 500 yards from the high street. The garden has a terrace and barbecue area and the price is £795,000 (savills.co.uk).
COUNTRY: Philpots, a Grade II-listed detached house (three bedrooms) dating from the 16th century and set on the outskirts of the village of Hambledon, Surrey. Witley station is 1.6 miles away. Philpots is on the market at £800,000 (struttandparker.com).
TOWN: Wisteria Cottage, Esher, Surrey. A 17th-century terrace cottage, below, with plenty of original features. The property has four bedrooms and a 150ft back garden with a detached office annexe. The cottage is within an easy walk of the station and town centre and is on the market for £995,000. (johndwood.co.uk).
COUNTRY: Kentwater House, Cowden, Kent. A Grade II-listed detached house, dating from the 16th century with original beams and fireplaces. There are five bedrooms, and views over the High Weald from the 1.3-acre garden. Guide price £995,000 (jackson-stops.co.uk).
THE COST OF ISOLATION
Buckinghamshire: urban £360,873, rural £362,964 (rural premium is 0.6 per cent).
Essex: urban £235,718, rural £295,065 (rural premium is 25.2 per cent).
West Sussex: urban £259,123, rural £361,665 (rural premium is 39.6 per cent).
Kent: urban £226,497, rural £306,188 (rural premium is 35.2 per cent).
Hertfordshire: urban £319,493, rural £443,954 (rural premium is 39 per cent).
Surrey: urban £405,776, rural £453,076 (rural premium is 11.7 per cent).
Home Counties average: urban £301,247, rural £370,485 (rural premium is 25.2 per cent)