The salesman’s slogan "buy while stocks last" is an appropriate wake-up call for families planning a summer search for a bigger home and a better standard of life in London’s suburbs or within the M25 commuter belt.
This week, the Government called on developers to stop building so many flats and create instead more family homes, arguing that this is what promotes more balanced communities.
In its latest South-East Plan, a blueprint for how the region will cope with housing needs over the next 20 years, Whitehall admits the shortage of appropriate housing adding that "an adequate range of larger properties, suitable for family occupation, will be required."
The plan calls for a review of the green belt to the north of Guildford, the south of Woking and around Redhill and Reigate. Release of such land for development, they say, will help to deliver the 654,000 new homes - 32,700 a year - that are needed.
But planners were warning of a shortage before the property crash when developers, encouraged by Government, focused on building flats in urban areas, often for buy-to-let investors. Now, following a virtual 18-month construction freeze triggered by the credit crunch, choice is much more restricted. Even niche developers whose main business was new family houses stopped building because of the paralysis in the market.
David Pretty, former boss of Barratt Homes and now chairman of the New Homes Marketing Board, agrees. "Family homes are in very short supply. Larger detached family houses with reasonable-size gardens are almost a lost species."
‘Planners were warning of a shortage of family homes even before the property crash’
However, there are developers who sense this pent-up demand, and as less new stock comes on to the market prices are likely to rise.
The number of London families seeking new homes in the country has fallen to its lowest in a decade, according to statistics released by the Greater London Authority. (The exodus from the capital fell to 228,600 last year, down from more than 250,000 in 2007), and the drop is attributed to the difficulty in selling before a move.
When London prices were booming, families could easily move up from flats to terrace homes, then larger properties in market towns and villages.
Those leaving London were concentrated in the 25-to-44 age groups with children under-15, suggesting that parents were taking young children out of the capital in search of better schools, less crime, more community life and green space.
Commuter-town properties were slower to fall in value when the housing market started to decline early in 2008 but since the beginning of 2009 prices have been dropping faster than in London. History shows that whenever property prices fall at different rates there is a shift in population movements as buyers take advantage of lower values to trade up to a better home in another area. Last month, estate agent Hamptons recorded a 20 per cent rise in agreed sales in the M25 commuter belt.
‘Leafy, semi-rural locations near a town or village remain favourites for family buyers’
As stock falls, and with country homes being snapped up by Londoners, commuters will have to search further afield. House prices generally fall as travel times increase. Parts of Kent are benefiting from improved train links but are still relatively good value (for now at least). Take Canterbury.
Homes in and around the cathedral city are up to 20 per cent less than prestige commuter towns such as Sevenoaks and Tunbridge Wells because traditionally the commute has been too long. However, from December, train times from Canterbury to London will be slashed from 102 minutes to 61 minutes.
Leafy, semi-rural locations near a town or village remain favourites for family buyers whose budget is too low for M25 "super suburbs" such as Esher, Cobham, Radlett or Totteridge.
AROUND THE HOUSES
Thomas More Gardens, Esher: 10 high-specification houses overlooking Sandown Park racecourse. Houses range from 2,000sq ft to 3,100sq ft and have four to six bedrooms. A downstairs "super-room" comprises an open-plan kitchen and living area with a conservatory-style extension. Full-height doors concertina fully open - ideal for summer garden parties. Prices from £875,000 to £1.5 million. Call Consero Homes on 01372 475945.
Accordia, Cambridge: a scheme of 203 homes alongside the River Cam that has won architectural awards for its bold but tasteful design and eight- acre landscaped grounds. New four-bedroom town houses have 2,061sq ft of space and include a winter garden. Prices from £589,950. Call Redeham Homes on 01223 464640.
Chenies Place, Arkley, Hertfordshire: six traditional-looking detached houses notable for their smart specification. Ranging from 3,400sq ft to 4,000sq ft, each house has well-planned family accommodation and comes with a landscaped garden plus a package of extras normally available as optional pay-as-you-go items. Prices from £1.65 million. Call Fusion on 020 8440 0451.
Kingsbrook Park, Canterbury: an edge-of-town scheme of 264 homes bordered by the River Stour. Traditional-style four-bedroom houses cost from £450,000. Call Berkeley Homes on 01227 477100.
'We've got lagoons and a nature reserve'
Courtenay and Aimee Mills and their two-year-old son Joseph live at Watercolour, an eco development in Reigate, Surrey. The couple moved to Croydon, south London, looking for a larger, more family friendly property.
"The surroundings here are lovely. We’ve got lagoons and a nature reserve as part of the development," says Courtenay, 33, an IT worker.
Their new three-storey house has an open-plan kitchen and family room opening on to a garden, four bedrooms, with the master bedroom occupying the entire top floor.
Houses at Watercolour cost from £420,000. Call Linden Homes on 08452 606606.
American beauty comes to the home counties
Big family houses with American-style interiors - open-plan spaces, basements, bedroom suites and verandas - are a surprising find at Mayfield Grange, East Sussex.
The 20-acre estate with its listed Victorian main house, was once a retreat for monks and then a boarding school. Reached via a country lane, the sense of arrival is impressive, with its Gothic architecture, chapel and great hall, which has been sensitively split into grand apartments.
Twelve large family homes have been built in the grounds, alongside a cricket pitch and pavilion, with glorious views of the Sussex countryside. Seventy per cent of the site is open space.
Fast trains from Crowborough, a 10-minute drive away and one of three stations nearby, to London Bridge take 65 minutes.
Mayfield village, about a mile away, has a traditional butcher’s shop, a pub, post office and convenience shops. And there are several local, good private schools.
“It feels like you are out in the sticks but it’s actually a very accessible location, midway between London and the coast," says Linda Watson-Jones of developer Weston Homes.
The new houses are large by London standards, (from 2,259sq ft to 3,692sq ft) with up to five bedrooms and a garage, and though set in a compact courtyard they have big gardens backing onto open countryside. Basements have been designed so they can become a self-contained flat.
Prices range from £725,000 to £999,950. The 2,466sq ft chapel, a quirky open-plan space with original stained-glass windows and vaulted ceiling, is on the market for £1.3 million. Call 0845 638 5008.