Juliette and Simon Ash love the buzz of London but with a young family — son Josh, six, and four-year-old daughter Alexandra — their needs changed.
“London is a great city but we now want different things to do as a family, like go camping or sailing,” says Juliette. “In London, you start to worry that they are going to miss out on that sort of childhood.”
Drawn to Oxford for the city’s great schools the beauty of the nearby Cotswolds, and by family connections, they remained keen to hang on to their valuable London investment — their flat in Pimlico. They also needed to be within a reasonable commuting distance of the capital for work.
The answer was to rent in North Oxford, and rent out both the Pimlico flat and a second, smaller London flat which they were lucky enough to be in a position to buy. Rental income from the flats funds their new lifestyle.
The decision makes great financial sense. The family’s modern four-bedroom townhouse costs £2,750 a month to rent, while the income from the London properties comes in at about £4,500 a month, which covers their rent and travel expenses, with a little left over.
Juliette, a business consultant, travels to London two to three days a week, while Simon, a management consultant, needs to be in the capital once or twice a week.
“It did not make sense to buy in Oxford,” says Juliette, 40. “Although Oxford is a better investment area than most, London is top.” Oxford is a great place for families to live, with amazing architecture, a busy and cosmopolitan centre and a lively arts scene, along with some of the UK’s best schools.
Frank Webster, vice-chairman of letting agents FindersKeepers, believes education is the single biggest reason for London families to decamp there. Another plus is that Oxford is a friendly city.
The newly opened Oxford Parkway station just north of the city makes the commute even easier. Services to Marylebone take from 56 minutes.
Meanwhile, the somewhat delayed project to electrify the train line from Oxford to Paddington will shave a few minutes off the current 55-minute trip over the next couple of years, although Network Rail is unable to say precisely when it will happen.
Webster’s London clients are a mixture of those who want to hang on to their property in the capital, and are therefore willing to rent, and those who ultimately plan to buy a home in Oxford.
Chris Way, a partner at agents Carter Jonas, says most of his London renters also want to see how Oxford suits them before buying. “It used to be that people sold in London, banked the money, and then rented in Oxford,” he says. “Now interest rates have fallen they rent their property in London and rent in Oxford as well.”
However, renting in Oxford is not cheap. North Oxford is the city’s prime location thanks to its leafy streets filled with beautiful houses and the presence of two top schools — the Dragon School, which is private, and Oxford High School.
A three-bedroom house in this area would cost between £1,800 to £2,000 to rent per month, while a four- to five bedroom house would be about £3,000.
To put this into perspective, a three-bedroom house in the borough of Wandsworth would cost an average of £2,657 a month to rent, while a four-bedroom house in Islington would set you back an average £5,365.
This disparity means Londoners can afford to absorb the cost of an annual season ticket from Oxford to London, which costs £5,568, plus, if necessary, annual station parking costs of £560 at Oxford Parkway and £1,199 at Oxford.
Jack Frost, of Heaton and Partners, believes demand for homes in one of North Oxford’s gorgeous satellite villages will be heightened by the convenience of Oxford Parkway.
“Commuting in and out of Oxford town is a nightmare and [with the new rail service] the outlying villages are going to become more popular,” says Frost. “Islip, Bletchingdon and Noke are the best villages within about three or four miles of Oxford Parkway.”
Renting a four-bedroom house in one of these villages would cost £2,000 to £2,500 a month.