The nation's two-tier housing market - London and the rest - has created a rare window of opportunity for sellers flirting with the idea of moving out of the city to the commuter belt or country.
With property values in the capital, particularly prime addresses, remaining buoyant, now is a good time to cash in and buy a bargain in the suburbs or shires, where house prices are either flat or falling.
It is a chance to snap up a cheaper home and pocket some money, perhaps to help a son or daughter get on to the property ladder, or to trade up to a bigger or better family house for the same price.
In areas such as Rugby in Northampton or Broadway in the Cotswolds, homes are for sale at 2005 prices
Several recent house-price surveys have shown that the value gap between London and the rest of the country is widening. Values in prime central London are "considerably above their 2007 peak", according to estate agent Chesterton Humbert, which issues a monthly "poll of polls", while the capital's mainstream market is only three per cent lower. Prices are expected to continue to edge up through autumn and winter.
"The market outside London is still struggling to build momentum," says Liam Bailey, head of residential research at Knight Frank, which reports that prime country homes are falling in price for the first time since 2009. The prime London phenomenon - 34 per cent price growth in a little over two years - is now beginning to have ripples in the country as buyers search for bargains in areas such as Rugby in Northampton or Broadway in the Cotswolds, where homes are for sale at 2005 prices.
Since April, Knight Frank says it has sold £158 million-worth of top-end property along the M3/A3 corridor of north Surrey, an area taking in St George's Hill, Wentworth, Esher, Cobham, Oxshott, Ascot, Sunningdale, Windlesham, Englefield Green and Richmond.
"People have spotted that now is a good time to buy; there's a large number of sensibly priced high-quality properties on the market," says the firm's James Cleland.
Buyers are co-ordinating their moves carefully, often making off-plan purchases at new developments, which guarantees they get the home they want and allows them time to find, say, a new school for children. "We're seeing a significant rise in off-plan sales at mid- and high-end developments such as Boxwood Grange in Sunningdale and Terrace Yard, Richmond," reports Hamptons International.
Rising commuter fares (another eight per cent on average from January 2012) are a factor for those who need to travel to London for work. Perhaps above all, they have to decide whether a cheaper house further down the line compensates for the hassle of a longer journey and a costlier season ticket. Most families seeking the perfect combination of a manageable commute and a good-value home also want a quick dash to the station and an easy school run.
Canny commuter cluster areas
Despite "corridors of wealth" leading from the capital to the countryside and coast, family-friendly space is still usually considerably cheaper than in London, according to research by Savills. Once out of the capital, every minute on the train knocks about £1,300 off the average house price. Less than one hour is seen as the ideal commute and, with this in mind, Savills has identified several "canny commuter cluster areas" which combine pleasant countryside and pretty villages with quick train times. "Over the next five years, we expect locations along these routes to be more robust and perform better as the housing market recovers," it says.
* Beaconsfield to Marylebone: from 33 minutes
* Chelmsford to Liverpool Street: from 34 minutes
* Guildford to Waterloo: from 37 minutes
* Haywards Heath to Victoria/ London Bridge: from 42 minutes
* Cambridge to King's Cross/ Liverpool Street: from 48 minutes
* Tunbridge Wells to Charing Cross/ Cannon Street: from 50 minutes
* Newbury to Paddington: from 51 minutes
* Winchester to Waterloo: 58 minutes
Between the two sides of a split personality
Affluent Beaconsfield, in Buckinghamshire, has a dual personality and a dual population - a genteel old town that grew at the crossroads of the coaching routes to Windsor and Oxford, and a new town dating from the arrival of the railway in the Twenties.
Right between the two is a noted Victorian mansion sitting in listed walled gardens. For the last 50 years it was a research station for paper manufacturer Wiggins Teape, but is now being redeveloped into a gated estate of 49 homes. Called Queens Acre, the Arts & Crafts-style homes include large apartments (from 1,551sq ft to 2,217sq ft) and four- and five-bedroom houses, some with integral garages, verandas, roof terraces and "bonus rooms" in the attic. Prices range from £970,000. Show homes are open for viewing. The mansion will be converted later. Call 01494 410520.
"It's the ideal place for people who want to be in the country without feeling remote," says Sean Ellis of developer St James. "We're targeting families looking to migrate from London. The train station is a five-minute drive away. Another key attraction is the area's range of top schools, including state girls' grammar Beaconsfield High School."
Hertfordshire has pockets of expensive executive housing but no real equivalent to Ascot or Weybridge, meaning that prestige family homes are cheaper than in Berkshire or Surrey. The growth of Luton and Stansted airports is another attraction for some, giving more choice in flights. Moreover, the M11 corridor is becoming as important for business as the M4 corridor. At one end is Cambridge, with its hi-tech industries, and at the other end is Docklands and Thames Gateway.
City & Country, the developer of The Galleries at Brentwood has another prestige scheme at Balls Park, near the county town of Hertford. This gated 63-acre estate has a prized Jacobean mansion and stable block, being split into luxury flats and courtyard houses - 40 homes in total.
Original interiors in the main house include oak-panelled drawing rooms, magnificent fireplaces and ornate plaster mouldings. A superb galleried, marble-floored atrium will become a reception lobby for residents. Because of the Grade I listing, many of the grand living rooms will stay their original size rather than be sub-divided, and flats will range up to 3,000 sq ft. Prices start at £365,000 and rise to more than £1.5 million. Call 01992 551777.
'More for your money'
Richard Sandlan and Jessica Johnson traded up from Canary Wharf, where they both work, to Brentwood, Essex, and a loft-like two-bedroom flat at a former Victorian asylum, called The Galleries.
"We could afford Docklands but we got more for our money here," says Richard, 27. "A larger home, lots of character and in beautiful grounds. And it's a fairly painless commute, with direct trains to Liverpool Street every 10 minutes."
Prices from £350,000. Call 01277 202122.