Endlessly mocked in poetry, song and TV shows, Slough, possibly the least glamorous town in Britain, can finally feel smug.
Its good-value houses and great commuter links, soon to include Crossrail, have propelled the Berkshire town into first place in a league table of home counties hotspots for London first-time buyers who want a house rather than a flat. Basildon in Essex comes second.
Those quitting the capital to buy a flat opt for Reading or Chelmsford, again in Berkshire and Essex respectively. Today’s research, from Hamptons International, reflects how young buyers are increasingly skipping the traditional first step of purchasing a flat in London and instead moving straight to commuter spots where they can afford a house.
SLOUGH’S CROSSRAIL BOOST
Hamptons found more than four in 10 houses sold in Slough are bought by first-time buyers paying an average £407,420 — the average for a London flat is £501,628.
Slough prices have risen by 22 per cent year on year, with buyers piling into the area in advance of the launch of the Elizabeth line — Crossrail — which will be up and running fully by 2019. Fast trains to Paddington from Slough take from just 17 minutes now, and Elizabeth line services will reach the City in just over half an hour.
Raj Bansal, office manager at Langhams Estate Agents, admits Slough is “not the greatest” and warns incomers will have to wait for regeneration plans to take shape. “There are not enough things for people to do, and good restaurants and bars and things to do that Londoners would enjoy are a few years away.”
But on the plus side there are pretty towns very near, such as Eton, busy Windsor with its rolling acres of the Great Park, and plenty of country walks.
Slough borough council claims the town is “enjoying an epic period of rejuvenation and renewal”. So far the only evidence of this is a funky new £22 million library, The Curve, which opened last year. But their £1 billion investment plans, including transforming Slough’s trading estate into a sophisticated business district, and £450 million improvements to the town centre, with better shops and restaurants.
Included in this work is Brunel Place, a landmark scheme by Sheppard Robson architects with shops and offices near the station, due to complete next year, along with a series of new housing developments by, among others, Galliard Homes and Bellway.
BONDING WITH BASILDON
Another key location for novice house buyers is Basildon in Essex, where 42 per cent of house sales are to first-timers. The Basildon commute is 38 minutes — but the average house price is just £243,725, up 15 per cent year on year.
What today’s findings prove beyond doubt, says David Fell, Hamptons International research analyst, is that leaving the capital is the only way on to the housing ladder for many young Londoners. It also shows record numbers are buying out of London — but they want the shortest commute as well as the best value.
FOR FLATS: CHELMSFORD, READING AND ST ALBANS
When it comes to flats, the most popular first-time buyer locations beyond London are Chelmsford in Essex, and Whitley, a south-east suburb of Reading, Berkshire. Six out of 10 flats in both locations go to first-time buyers, drawn by affordability and fast commutes, of 35 and 27 minutes respectively.
The average Chelmsford flat costs just over £203,000, up eight per cent year on year. In Whitley, the average is just over £208,000, up nine per cent.
The Crossrail effect is very much in play here. Reading will have the service from 2019, and from Chelmsford it’s a 20-minute train hop to Shenfield, the Elizabeth line’s easternmost stop.
Chelmsford was awarded city status in 2012 and Gerald Searle, director of Balch Estate Agents, said its population is growing strongly. “It is expanding and changing all the time. We have a new shopping precinct, and restaurants are springing up.”
His first-time buyers tend to be in their early thirties, singles or couples, moving out from areas such as Docklands. “For what they pay in rent, that is a mortgage around here. You can get a two-bedroom flat near the station for £250,000 to £300,000 and most people coming in want to be near the station.”
With a little more to spend, the popular cathedral city of St Albans, in Hertfordshire is 22 minutes by train from Euston. An average flat costs £332,844, up 13 per cent year on year, but the smartest two-bedroom flats can easily cost £500,000.