London is the biggest hit with homeowners. Increasing numbers are making the decision to stay in the capital - or even move further into the centre - rather than follow the trend of the past and make an exit for the sticks once children are born.
This change is confirmed by a YouGov survey released this week. It shows London’s magnetic pull has never been stronger. The capital’s core population has soared by more than 500,000 to 7.6 million during the past decade, the survey found. This has been bolstered by a change of heart among the "white flight" brigade of middle-class couples and families who no longer see much appeal in turning their backs on this vibrant city.
Expensive, stressful and time-consuming commutes are often cited as a good reason to stay put. Instead, many people are moving as far into the capital as their budget will allow, often to the easily accessible inner suburbs. In exchange for smaller homes these owners can give up cars and walk or cycle to work.
Compared with the suburbs, central London has a lot more to offer both young and old, and to increasing numbers of wealthy newcomers from abroad. The overseas super-rich can invest in London as a safe haven - it is tolerant, diverse and cultural - in a volatile world, while others from abroad settle here because it is a fertile place to start a new life.
"Figures from Experian show there will be a 28 per cent increase in the number of affluent young families in inner London over the next five years," says Jon Neale, research director at property consultant Jones Lang LaSalle. "More couples than ever are composed of partners with equally important careers who want to be close to their offices in central London. Rising commuter costs are another factor."
When the nest is empty
Carl Davenport, manager at the Tower Bridge office of estate agent Chesterton Humberts, says: "This year about 30 per cent of buyers have been downsizers moving to central London from outside the capital. Most are in their late 40s or early 50s, work in financial services or the legal sector and own properties in places such as Guildford, Chelmsford and Henley. When their children were young, commuting was seen as a necessary evil, but once the kids fly the nest, large, high-maintenance homes become a burden."
Developers are responding to this trend by designing homes that chime with modern lifestyles and which give owners some of the extras that traditionally went with a country home. Even luxury "lock-up-and-leave" houses with underground parking and an extra layer of security are being built for owners who have chosen a second home abroad for a taste of a different culture - and warmer weather.
Buyers often want a well-designed new home rather than a tired, outdated Victorian terrace house, preferring to have light, glass, open-plan interiors with modern kitchens and all the easy-living techie stuff built in, with important low-energy features such as solar heating, condenser boilers, and easy-maintenance outdoor space.
London is full of parks and this is a bonus for homebuyers not wanting to say goodbye to the country life entirely; no one wants to give up quality of life and, as the research shows, neighbourhood counts as much as the design of a property - hence the appeal of village-y residential areas bordering big open spaces.
The Hampstead-Highgate borders are the perfect place for Londoners who want town and country life in one. With the 790-acre heath, private roads, two ancient villages, fashion boutiques and speciality shops, restaurants and medieval pubs, two golf courses, noted schools, plus an architectural mix unmatched elsewhere in the capital, this leafy corner of north London, only 15 minutes from the West End, arguably has it all.
"It’s also less than half the price of Knightsbridge," says Trevor Abrahm-sohn of estate agent Glentree, which sells impressive period homes in Hampstead Garden Suburb as well as blingy new-build mansions and (increasingly-tasteful) apartments on The Bishops Avenue. Call 020 8458 7311. "The heath is a huge draw; it’s not a manicured park, effectively it’s countryside," he adds.
The best new family properties are often part of big regeneration projects, such as redundant hospitals and colleges where developers can create a complete package. Often such sites are private - gated and ringed by a perimeter wall - with landscaped grounds, historic buildings, residents-only gym and shuttle bus to the local train station.
Savills has spotted another demographic trend causing property ripples in this part of London. With super-rich international buyers targeting prime central areas, even highly-paid City financiers are being forced out of Belgravia and Chelsea to an expanding "banker-broker belt" in south-west London - an area stretching from Fulham to Clapham, from Wandsworth to Wimbledon and Richmond.
"The inflow of money at the top of the market is creating a champagne-tower effect, which is pushing wealth out beyond the very central postcodes," says Yolande Barnes, head of residential research at Savills.
At Highbury Park, north London developer Mount Anvil has its own method of bringing a country touch into its design. It is building new family homes with treehouses in the garden. Priced from £1.1 million. Call 020 7 776 1806.