The commuter belt expands

Home buyers are prepared to travel further afield in the search for a better quality of life

WITH house prices in prime central London increasing, many buyers have become fed up looking at properties they want but can’t afford. The effect is that money is now spreading outside the prime residential locations into some of London and England’s less popular spots.

For a long time, young single professionals have been unwilling to move outside of central London. Many start their working lives living centrally due to demanding jobs and want to limit the time spent travelling to and from work each day. But that’s changing. More young professionals are swapping living near major tube stops for using the train to commute. As their careers mature, an increasing number are also pushing the limit of how far they are prepared to commute in search of a better quality of life, whether that’s due to wanting more value for money or because they are starting a family.

A disparity between house prices in central London compared to lesser-known areas in the capital and England isn’t anything new, but now, more than ever, previously overlooked areas are experiencing a surge of interest. Londoners are increasingly studying new transport routes to discover these up-and-coming hotspots.

“These areas are often still very central and generally offer much better value for money than areas that historically would have been considered to be better connected due to being close to a tube station,” says Crest Nicholson sales and marketing director, Julia Reynolds. “As long as the alternative transport links are strong, purchasers are more interested in owning a high quality home that suits their lifestyle and their budget than they are in living next to a tube stop.”

If you compare house prices in these areas with central London, the appeal of moving out becomes clear. Research shows that the average house price is reduced by £1,000 every minute you travel outside London and according to reports, rail commuters are financially better off commuting to work by train rather than living near a tube stop, despite ongoing increases in rail fares.

Chelmsford is one of the most popular spots, favoured by City workers for it’s a half an hour commute and affordable rural charm. The average house price is £100,000 cheaper than in London and residents benefit from a range of top performing grammar and state schools plus all of the amenities you would enjoy in the capital.

A survey compiled by Lloyds TSB found that commuters in the south east making a 60-minute train journey to work and forking out £3,800 on an annual rail card, benefit from house prices that are on average £308,000 lower than those living closer to work in London. Even those living 30 minutes outside central London in areas such as Maidstone and Crawley benefit from house prices that are around £212,000 to £283,000 less than the average property in zone 1 and 2. And the benefits don’t end there. Buyers also get more value for their money, as the cost per square metre is considerably lower outside the heart of the capital. House prices in areas like Parsons Green and Twickenham are more than 40 per cent cheaper so there are still many bargains to be had in outer London too.

An improvement in transport links has dramatically reduced travel times helping to fuel the movement outwards. In March 2011 the Government announced that £700m would be spent on the electrification of the Great Western main line between London and Cardiff, via Bristol, dramatically reducing journey times to commuter hotspots like Slough, Maidenhead and Reading from London Paddington. National Rail services now allow areas like Chelmsford to be reached in 40 minutes from London Liverpool Street. Epsom from Waterloo takes just under 30 minutes and West Croydon as little as 15.

In cases where trains aren’t too crowded, commuters are taking advantage of their journeys, turning train seats into a second office using their smartphones and tablets to reduce their workloads long before they arrive in at work.

The completion of the final phase of the London Overground line at the end of last year has also helped drive interest in additional areas of London. The £76m project has replaced the wide variety of lines that existed before, creating one clearly defined service allowing areas like New Cross, Peckham, Bushey and Denmark Hill to be more easily accessible.

“House prices in current hotspots will inevitably rise over time as they become more popular and better known, however it’s hard to see the gap closing with prime central London as that market continues to perform so strongly,” says Reynolds. That said, if there’s ever a time to jump on board, it’s now.