London life is vibrant, thrilling, convenient and inspiring. But the capital can also be crowded, noisy, polluted and painfully expensive, especially for families.
Yet for many Londoners seeking more space, a sense of community, good schools and peace and quiet, life in a rural village is not the answer. For them, moving to a city in commuting distance of the capital and surrounded by countryside offers the best of both worlds.
A new study today says people leaving Zone 1 are overwhelmingly likely to avoid burying themselves in the sticks, heading instead to smaller cities, even if it means a long commute.
Beautiful Bath in Somerset is the number one choice for central London leavers, according to research by Hamptons International based on sales made by Countrywide over the last year. Almost one in five homes sold in this Georgian gem of a city, famous for its Roman baths and genteel architecture, went to Londoners.
Strong sales to central Londoners were found in another five of the study’s 10 most popular relocation options: Bristol, Oxford, Cambridge, and the small but lovely cathedral cities of Chichester and St Albans.
DIVE INTO BATH
By London standards, Bath is affordable. The average price of a home is £421,500 — more than £200,000 cheaper than London’s current average. And although prices have faltered in the last year, down four per cent, Bath’s 10-year growth is still 36 per cent.
A daily commute from Bath, while possible, is far from painless. The train journey to Paddington takes from an hour and 25 minutes. An annual season ticket costs £7,784.
Schools, a key reason to leave London, are mixed in Bath. There are some excellent options, however, although parents will need to make a forensic study of the catchment areas of “outstanding” choices such as Bathwick St Mary CofE Primary School and Beechen Cliff School, for seniors, before choosing a home.
Rupert Hart, partner at Whiteley Helyar estate agents, says most people leaving London for Bath want a period property — either a swanky city-centre apartment for young couples for about £400,000, or a four-bedroom family house in one of the encircling suburbs — depending largely on school choices — for about £700,000.
Many of Hart’s clients work from home at least part of the time. “They can earn London wages but live in Bath,” he says.
ESSEX: THE ONLY WAY
One in 10 property sales to feature in the Hamptons study in Brentwood — known to many as the nerve centre of TV reality show The Only Way Is Essex — was to central London leavers.
The average house price is just under £555,000, while the commute is a dream. In terms of price growth Brentwood has flatlined in the last year, but has seen a very respectable 37 per cent rise since 2007.
Not only does Brentwood have good schools and proximity to beautiful Essex countryside, but from Shenfield station, to the north-east of town, it’s less than half an hour to Liverpool Street. An annual season ticket costs £2,948, and Shenfield will be the easternmost stop on the Crossrail line from next year, making journeys to the City and West End even quicker.
Brentwood also has some great schools. St Martin’s School and Becket Keys CofE Free School, both seniors, get top marks from Ofsted and there are plenty of well-regarded primary options, too.
Paul Hayes, director of Balgores Hayes estate agents, likens the town to a suburb of London. “It is vibrant with loads of shops and bars, it is surrounded by greenery, and you can zip into town really easily,” he says.
Commuters tend to go south of the town centre, close to the station, where a two-bedroom Victorian cottage costs from £350,000.