Young singles and couples unable to afford London homes are heading for the commuter belt, attracted by developers trimming prices and offering other incentives, especially in areas where recent transport upgrades have greatly reduced journey times.
Home ownership is up to 53 per cent cheaper in several well-connected commuter towns, according to a study by property analyst CB Richard Ellis.
Basildon in Essex, 37 minutes by train from Fenchurch Street, is the most affordable of the South East's commuter towns, with average monthly mortgage and travel costs amounting to £1,129. Luton, Gravesend, Crawley and Harlow offer similar "discounts". Even well-established career professionals are heading for areas where train links are good and they can get much more for their money.
First-time buyer Kedra Goodall, a 31-year old barrister, bought a new four-bedroom townhouse in Ashford, Kent. "I had been renting in Limehouse, but need to be in Paris at least once a week and all the travelling started to take its toll on my life," she says.
So she searched for a location where she could commute more easily from her home to each city - and get more space for her money. Average house prices in Ashford are 29 per cent lower than in London and 10 per cent below the South East average. "Bullet" trains introduced in 2009 have slashed the journey time to London by up to an hour.
"My home is a short drive from Ashford International station. The fast train to London takes 42 minutes, while Paris takes just under two hours. I now feel more relaxed. I go horse riding, impossible when I was living in London, and I am painting."
She has converted a bedroom into a gym and another into an office/library. Homes at the same scheme, Evolution, start at £109,995. Call 0800 883 8149.
Ashford is a key growth area with a £2.5 billion development strategy in place, and the town's population is forecast to double in the next 25 years.
Join the renaissance
Historic Medway towns on the north Kent coast also have high-speed trains and are a good hunting ground for first-time buyers. Medway Renaissance is a £6 billion project aiming to transform eight miles of riverfront, linking Chatham, Rochester, Rainham, Gillingham and Strood into an 8,000-home "linear city".
Berkeley Homes has launched Victory Pier, Gillingham. It is being built alongside the walled harbour and a new floating art gallery, and will have a hotel and moorings. The first phase, The Boathouse, has 124 flats priced from £109,950. Call 01634 565000 or visit victorypier.com.
Holborough Lakes, near Ebbsfleet (37 minutes to St Pancras), has New England-style homes ranging from apartments to five-bedroom houses, and the scheme has a day nursery, water sports academy and gym. Prices start at £134,950. Call Berkeley Homes on 01634 244666.