During the first six months of this year Londoners bought almost 33,000 homes outside the capital, tempted by both the lower price point and the idea of an easier life in a town or village.
These exiles are spending significantly less than they did a year ago, because of spiralling interest rates. The average London leaver is paying £430,000 for their new home.
A record number of first-time buyers have also been buying property outside the capital, according to research by Hamptons. Almost one in three homes sold to those leaving London went to novice buyers who have decided to take their first step onto the property ladder beyond the M25.
The research also shows that the majority of these buyers have opted to remain in the south east, so that they can get back into London when they need to.
Next month, the Evening Standard New Homes Awards will honour the best new homes in sought-after Home Counties locations, because a move to the country doesn’t necessarily mean you have to buy an old country cottage…
If it’s kerb appeal you are after, then the village of Sutton Valence certainly passes the Instagram test, with its rows of slightly wonky, weatherboarded cottages and evocative ruined castle.
It’s perched high on the Greensand Ridge, so the views across the Vale of Kent are simply spectacular.
The village has a few pubs and is six miles from Maidstone, which has everything else you could need, including trains to London. Trains to St Pancras International or Victoria take just over an hour. You can get to Charing Cross in a similar amount of time from Headcorn, which is four miles away.
Sutton Valence Primary School is rated “Good” by Ofsted. Fee-paying parents could opt for the independent Sutton Valence School, or pupils could take the 11-plus exam for access to Kent’s excellent grammar schools.
Work has just completed on The Nurseries, a development of 18 homes around half a mile from the village, priced from £500,000 for a three-bedroom semi-detached house (millwooddesignerhomes.co.uk).
Set on the north-western edge of the Chiltern Hills, Little Kimble is a pretty and traditional village just over three miles from the affluent market town of Princes Risborough. It is light on village amenities, although there is a pub, The Swan, and a cricket club.
Little Kimble is the kind of place people go for peace, quiet and long country walks. It does, however, have a station, with services to Marylebone taking just over an hour.
Local schools — and by local I mean around four miles away — include the Halton Community Combined School for primary-school children and Aylesbury’s grammar schools for older pupils, all of which are rated “Outstanding” by Ofsted.
At Hayfield Crescent, on the fringes of Little Kimble, new homes come with eco features such as air source heat pumps and electric vehicle charging points. Prices start at £790,000 for a three-bedroom house, and £850,000 for a two-bedroom bungalow (hayfieldhomes.co.uk).
Don’t want to be in the middle of nowhere? No problem, because London is surrounded by some top-notch market towns where you can drink all the artisanal coffee you like and dine at gastropubs, but still be able to enjoy the fresh air and outdoor pursuits of country life.
Watlington is small in size, but punches well above its weight, thanks to its quaint high street lined with a mix of useful shops, cafés and boutiques, as well as its strong community spirit.
If you want to get to know the locals there are sports clubs for tennis, squash and cricket to join.
Adding to the appeal, the local primary school is rated “Outstanding” by Ofsted, and you have the whole of the Chiltern Hills on the doorstep to explore.
Trains from Thame, which is nine miles away, take around 50 minutes to reach Marylebone.
The 41 flats and houses at Castle Gardens in Watlington are set in landscaped gardens and are aimed at seniors, with on-site staff and regular social events, from coffee mornings to gardening club meetings.
The development is located less than half a mile from Watlington’s high street. Prices start at £295,000 for a one-bedroom flat and £610,000 for a two-bedroom house (beechcroft.co.uk).
The village of Finchingfield offers an idyllic slice of country life — think a village green, an 18th-century windmill and a choice of pubs and tearooms — yet is just over an hour away from London. It has inspired artists, was used as a backdrop for the classic TV series Lovejoy and ticks all the practical boxes thanks to its primary school (rated “Good” by Ofsted), its village shop and easy access to Stansted Airport for holidays.
The village is nine miles from Braintree — there is a bus service — and while this town’s aesthetics won’t win it any awards, it possesses all the amenities you’d expect from a good suburb: a shopping centre, a choice of banks and supermarkets, lots of restaurants and plenty of pubs.
There is a twice-weekly market for basics, and a monthly event selling food, baked goods, gifts, plants, flowers, and drinks from the bar. There is also a theatre, leisure centres, rugby and tennis clubs, and a cinema.
Trains from Braintree to Liverpool Street take an hour.
Eden Green is a new development of 30 luxury homes arranged around a green filled with wildflowers and trees. It’s a short walk away from the centre of Finchingfield. Prices start at £549,950 for a three-bedroom house (hill.co.uk/eden-green).
Shared ownership gave solo buyer Dannielle her dream Oxford home
If you aren’t quite ready to give up on city life, but at the same time you find yourself hankering for a village community, then Littlemore, three miles south of the centre of Oxford, could be the ideal compromise.
Its affordability when compared to the chi-chi city centre, where prices are almost as steep as in London, makes it a realistic choice for first-time buyers like Dannielle Herman, who used the shared-ownership scheme to buy her first home aged 27.
Dannielle, a financial adviser, bought a 40 per cent share of a two-bedroom flat at the sold-out Newman Place development by housing association Peabody. She put down a £13,400 deposit, and her monthly costs — including rent, mortgage and service charge — come in at just over £1,100pcm.
“I’d been thinking about moving out of my parents’ home for a while, but faced a lot of barriers, including trying to get a mortgage as a single buyer and saving up for a deposit,” said Dannielle. “However, when we went into lockdown, I was able to save more money than before, putting me in a position to start my property hunt more seriously. It was then that I came across shared ownership.”
Littlemore has a leafy, residential vibe, although there are a few pubs, a supermarket and a wonderful multiplex cinema.
For everything else you need, there is the nearby historic city of Oxford — beautiful, vibrant, cosmopolitan, and full of shops, cafes, and restaurants. The area also has top-notch open space such as the Oxford Botanic Garden. Trains from Oxford to Paddington take around an hour.
The local primary schools are a bit of a mixed bag, so catchment areas will need to be carefully studied, but the secondaries are well-regarded.
Happily, this isn’t a problem for Dannielle, who is simply happy to have a place of her own. She has been busy putting her own stamp on her flat and entertaining friends.
“I’m so proud to be a homeowner in Oxford, and to have managed to do it all by myself,” she said. “I’m really enjoying my lovely new home, and plan to be here for the foreseeable future.”
House prices: top towns for London leavers
Source: ONS & Hamptons
Applicants from London (2023)
Price compared to London
Reigate and Banstead