Now is the time to buy the home of your dreams in affordable Essex

GOOD schools, an easy commute, beautiful countryside, a rich history and realistic prices. Banish any ideas of brash barrow boys and women in white leather stilettos – Essex has become the discerning commuter’s paradise.

This is a good time to buy, too. Gavin Surtees, of Savills’ Loughton office, says: “If anyone is looking to trade up, it doesn’t get any better than this. There’s been a lot of uncertainty over the last two years but confidence is returning so now is the time to take advantage of really well-priced properties. Nobody’s going to ring a bell and say: this is the bottom of the market. You only know six months down the line and then you’ve lost the opportunity, so I’d say now is a great time to go for it.” Plenty of people already are: Surtees reports a surge of activity in the £600,000-£1m market over the past few weeks as financially successful City workers hoping to start a family are looking Essex-wards.

The temptation is strong, as prices are down 15 per cent, according to Savills’ director of residential research, Lucian Cook. That said, Essex has shown 4.4 per cent growth over the last six months, so they won’t be down forever. Industry experts predict a dip next year as the supply of cash buyers dwindles. The general election next year may also be a factor in a price dip. Some sellers will be awaiting the election results, as the Conservatives have promised to abolish HIPS (home information packs), the costly and time-consuming documents vendors must provide. With the HIPs hassle gone, Surtees reckons supply could rocket, driving prices down.

Schools also play a big part in the enduring popularity of Essex – Bancroft’s in Woodford, Forest School in Snaresbook, Davenant in Loughton and several good primary schools, including Chigwell School, make for an embarrassment of riches. Meanwhile, Leyton and Woodford are buzzy and are attracting a young crowd, says Surtees.

The good news for buyers looking now is that properties are on the market at honest prices – Surtees says that a couple of years ago agents would put houses on at ridiculous prices and get away with it. Now, he says, the overpriced houses are the ones that are sitting there and “will be for months.” “The buyers are there,” says Surtees, “but they’ll only respond if something looks the right value and agents know that.”

And no wonder – the space that money can buy in the county makes living in London seem like a mad idea. On the right are some beautiful houses that show you what your hard-earned cash can buy you outside the capital – even if you are less than an hour to Liverpool Street.

Price: £600,000
Cosy three-bedroom Grade II-listed thatched cottage just 43 minutes from Liverpool Street by train, with 0.3 acres of land comprising a lovely garden. Represents excellent value and ranks very high in the cute, rural-look stakes. Contact: Savills, 01245 293233,

Price: £1.5m
Spacious, grand and representing good bang for your buck, this impressive pad, near Chelmsford, has five reception rooms, five bedrooms, six bathrooms and half an acre of land. Try finding that in London for the price.
Contact: Savills, 01245 293233,

Price: £3.45m
It doesn’t get much grander than this – an indoor swimming pool complex, billliard room and Dutch barn are pleasant extras to the 12 bedrooms, four of which have en-suite bathrooms. Beautifully refurbished, this house has the space and potential for anything you – and your kids – could ever want. Contact: Knight Frank on 020 7173 4900, www.knightfrankcom

Price: £2.3m
Nestled in the countryside of the Chelmer Valley, near some of Essex’s best schools, this beautiful 17th century, five-bedroom house is in excellent condition while retaining stunning original features and enviable landscaping. Contact: Strutt and Parker on 01245 254600,

Price: £595,000
Charming Grade II-listed thatched cottage with lovely exposed timbers, three bedrooms, two reception rooms, garden and a detached granary barn. A short drive to the centre of bustling Chelmsford. Contact: Savills, 01245 293233,