Soaring rail fares are finally stemming the exodus of Londoners who plump to quit the city and commute in from the countryside, according to research by Country Homesearch.
Another reason Londoners are staying — or even returning — is because job cuts are hitting the regions harder than the capital. And return is exactly what youth worker Rebecca Fetterman, 32, and her husband, Andrew, 33, an engineer, have just done.
"We moved to Wooburn, Buckinghamshire, because of our work seven years ago and ever since then we have been looking towards coming back to London," Rebecca explains. "However, once you're out of the London housing market, it's very difficult to come back. Though we made a really good return on our house in Wooburn, it didn't compare with how we would have done in the capital."
The Fettermans, who have two daughters — Noa, two, and baby Tali — spent 18 months searching north-west London for a three-bedroom home. "Our absolute maximum budget was £410,000, and as we needed somewhere near a good primary school, there was very little around in our price range. So we moved in with my mum and dad," says Rebecca.
It was meant to be a temporary measure, and when the Fettermans found a house in Finchley Central for £375,000, they thought they would very soon be moving out of Rebecca's parental home in Mill Hill.
"The house we wanted to buy was in the most horrific state, which was the only reason we could afford it," Rebecca adds. "The landlord was in Manchester and wasn't looking after it and it was being rented out through a housing association. Asylum seekers were living there and they had to put up with huge holes in the kitchen lino and the carpets, and with electrical sockets hanging off the walls."
A survey revealed no major structural problems, however, and their offer at £375,000 was accepted. "We were really excited, but then hit a big problem," says Rebecca. The tenants, put there by the council, couldn't move out "wilfully" as that would be seen as deliberately making themselves homeless and would stop them qualifying for new housing.
"So the tenants had to stay until they were evicted, and the case had to go to court. And because so many landlords were chucking out their tenants at the same time, there was a huge backlog."
The case took eight months to reach court, eventually heard in September. In the meantime, hoping for the best, the Fettermans organised a mortgage. "We were really surprised that rates had increased so much," Rebecca says. "All our friends were on variable rates paying almost no interest, but we had to pay 3.87 per cent on a three-year fix from Abbey. We used a broker to organise it — we were so stressed about the transaction that sorting out a mortgage as well would have been one step too far."
Once the tenants were evicted, the Fettermans completed on the Finchley house the next day, and after eight weeks' building work, they finally moved in. "It has been a long road, but we're finally back in London," says Rebecca, "and we love our new house."