Top 20 commuter towns for Londoners quitting the city: from St. Albans to Epsom and Reading

Spiraling house prices and small rental flats are not the only options for Londoners who are now looking for their rewards out of town...
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With lenders often demanding deposits of £70,000 and landlords requesting £500 a month to sleep in a cupboard — Harry Potter style — it is hardly surprising many Londoners are considering moving out and commuting to work.

Along with lower-priced living, they can also enjoy the benefits of more space, plenty of greenery, and — for families — better schools.

From historic, pretty St Albans, to up-and-coming Reading or leafy Epsom, research into the 20 most popular towns and cities for those considering quitting the capital reveals a clear preference for low prices coupled with a quick journey time.

The research, by Rightmove, is based on the number of searches in the past year carried out by househunters currently living in Zones 1 to 4. It found that 15 of the 20 top locations have average asking prices less than £350,000.


Accessible Watford
The top three towns on today’s list also have a commute of no more than 23 minutes — journeys from Paddington to Slough take 17 minutes (season ticket is £3,252) and St Pancras to Luton 21 minutes (season ticket is £3,924). But the speediest of all is Watford — the fastest trains from Euston take only 16 minutes (season ticket is £3,008).

The average property price in Watford is £409,327. Alex McMorrin, senior negotiator at Coopers estate agents, is not surprised the town features high in the league table. “We get a huge amount of people moving out from London,” he says. “They can cut their living costs almost in half.”
£775,000: a four-bedroom period house, left, in High Street at Harmondsworth, West Drayton (Coopers; 01895 601080)

This means that a two-bedroom house would rent for between £1,000 and £1,300 a month, while you could buy a two-bedroom flat for about £300,000, or a four-bedroom semi-detached house close to Watford Junction station for between £450,000 and £500,000.

Critics point to Watford’s well-stocked but “clone town” shopping centre and impenetrable one-way system, but McMorrin says the town is improving. “There is a huge amount of money being pumped into Watford,” he says. “There are new restaurants and we are getting a new cinema complex.”

Watford also has that key attraction for families — fabulous schools. These include girls’ and boys’ grammar schools, plus Saint Michael’s Catholic High School and Parmiter’s School (seniors), rated “outstanding” by Ofsted, and top-rated primaries such as Fairfield and Holy Rood.

For buyers on a budget, Reading is increasingly popular, with average asking prices standing at £356,167.

You can be at Paddington station and on your way to work from 28 minutes (season ticket £4,976), but after Crossrail services begin in 2019, there will be the option of direct trains to the West End and City in less than an hour — which has given the town a real fillip.

Reading for top schools
’s senior schools are another big draw — there are two top-performing state grammars, plus comprehensive schools rated “good” by Ofsted. Primary education is more patchy, although several of its primary schools manage “good” reports. Reading also has excellent, although chain-heavy, shopping plus a burgeoning café culture. And, of course, it comes alive every summer during the Reading Festival.

Greenery and scenery: Stoke Row
For a village lifestyle, Stoke Row, eight miles from Reading, is worth a look. It offers classic Chiltern brick-and-flint houses and cottages, as well as Edwardian and contemporary property. The village has a shop, post office and primary school — plus a pub, The Crooked Billet, where Kate Winslet held her first wedding reception.
£795,000: a three-bedroom cottage with a large garden, far left, in Coppins Lane, Iver, Bucks (Savills; 01494 350066)

Rochester, the jewel of the Medway, an attractive former city with a picturesque town centre — not to mention the benefit of Kent’s grammar school system and a vast regeneration scheme going on beside the River Medway — is also popular.

Trains from St Pancras take 39 minutes and an annual season ticket costs £3,920. A key area for commuters is Troy Town, about half a mile south of the cathedral and station, where period five-bedroom homes cost from £600,000 to £800,000. But you could also buy a three-bedroom terrace from about £300,000 and two-bedroom flats for less than £200,000.

Epsom and St Albans
Other options worth exploring on the list include leafy Epsom, where average prices stand at £531,416, and St Albans, where homes are priced at an average of £562,344. Trains from Epsom to Waterloo take from 36 minutes (season ticket £2,484) and homes range from traditional two-bedroom Victorian cottages at £350,000 to £400,000, up to 6,000 to 7,000sq ft houses with multi-million pound price tags.

Like Watford, its schools are excellent. Primaries Southfield, Nonsuch, and Stamford Green all have “outstanding” Ofsted reports, while Rosebery School and Blenheim High School (seniors) are both considered “good”.

Epsom is a well-equipped town with good shopping and Horton Country Park on the doorstep, as well as the eponymous racetrack. Nick Hapgood, senior manager at Hamptons International, says 50 to 60 per cent of his buyers come out of London, mostly young couples and families who want good schools and larger houses and tend to have a flat or small house in London to sell to fund their move.

They could buy a modern three-bedroom property on one of the town’s contemporary developments such as Noble Park, from about £500,000, or a three- to four-bedroom Thirties house with a good garden to the south of the town for about £1 million.

Fight for best schools
St Albans enjoys one of the best commutes into London with services to St Pancras taking from 17 minutes (season ticket £3,288). Its popularity is partly based on high-quality state schools —parents fight to get their offspring into Sandringham School, Beaumont School or St Albans Girls’ School.

The north-eastern suburb of Marshalswick is particularly popular because of its proximity to these. A four-bedroom semi in this area would start at about £450,000, although the area’s largest homes easily exceed £2 million.

The fact that pretty St Albans should make it on to a league table for those leaving London is no surprise. And sometimes a safe buy is the best way forward, according to bullish Rozanne Edwards, head of Strutt & Parker’s St Albans branch. “Demand in St Albans is far outstripping supply, so with this trend likely to sustain, it is fair to say that investing in St Albans is a safe bet,” she says.

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