Com­muter towns fall out of favour as the sound of the sub­urbs ap­peals

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Business - By Is­abelle Fraser and Mar­i­anna Hunt

Be­fore the pan­demic, much of the prop­erty mar­ket was pow­ered by two forces: schools and com­mut­ing. You would pay a premium to buy in the catch­ment area of an “out­stand­ing” rated school, and you might have shelled out a lot more to live on a re­li­able and speedy train line into the near­est big city.

This was par­tic­u­larly the case in the South East, as Lon­don com­muters rely much more on pub­lic trans­port than work­ers liv­ing near big regional hubs.

But in a few months, this fun­da­men­tal driver of the prop­erty mar­ket has been trans­formed.

What is the point of pay­ing ex­tra for prox­im­ity to a train sta­tion if you will never use it and in­stead work at your kitchen ta­ble?

If com­mut­ing doesn’t re­turn in any mean­ing­ful way to pre-Covid times, the shape of the prop­erty mar­ket, par­tic­u­larly in the South East, will be per­ma­nently al­tered. The tiny prop­er­ties on a handy Tube line don’t feel like such a good idea now; con­ve­nient but dull dor­mi­tory towns lived in solely for their lo­ca­tion on a rail­way may be­come less pop­u­lar; and those liv­ing in Lon­don’s sub­urbs may re­alise they can trade their home for some­thing big­ger and leafier be­yond the M25 while work­ing from home. And the fu­ture of the cap­i­tal, with much of its prop­erty mar­ket built around of­fice life, may be in jeop­ardy.

Since the prop­erty mar­ket re­opened, de­mand for ru­ral homes has soared. House prices out­side core com­muter ar­eas have not risen as fast in re­cent years, so it’s pos­si­ble to get far more for your money there – and many buy­ers are scram­bling to swap their tiny Lon­don flats for a spa­cious three-bed in the coun­try­side. But the surge is off a low base, and doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily rep­re­sent a whole­sale ex­o­dus to the coun­try­side.

Rather than fleeing straight to an iso­lated, bu­colic life, many Lon­don­ers are head­ing to the sub­urbs. For them, buy­ing a home far from the of­fice is a gam­ble if you don’t know what the fu­ture of work­ing – or com­mut­ing – will be. Prop­erty web­site Right­move has recorded the big­gest surges in de­mand in the coun­try, mea­sured by buyer in­quiries, in the South East and East of Eng­land.

An­drew Per­ratt, of Sav­ills es­tate agency, says the largest up­lift in in­ter­est he has no­ticed has been in the more tra­di­tional com­muter belt ar­eas around Lon­don.

“Places like Harpen­den, Bea­cons­field, Sun­ning­dale and Hen­ley are all less than an hour from the cap­i­tal and are very pop­u­lar at the mo­ment,” he says.

This cur­rent de­mand may also be ex­plained by the stamp duty hol­i­day, as buy­ers can make the big­gest tax sav­ings on homes priced between £400,000 and £500,000. It has spurred sellers to put their prop­er­ties on the mar­ket as prices rise.

Right­move found that the num­ber of prop­er­ties listed in com­muter towns such as Har­low, Hert­ford and St Al­bans since the tax cut was an­nounced has dou­bled com­pared with the same six-week pe­riod in 2019. But even this is not enough to meet de­mand, the web­site says.

Lock­down has re­ar­ranged the pri­or­i­ties of buy­ers, who now want gar­dens, space and a pleas­ant neigh­bour­hood around them. The de­sire to stay within a “mag­i­cal hour com­mute” of Lon­don is fast dis­ap­pear­ing off buy­ers’ wish­lists, says Christo­pher Dewe of es­tate agent

Knight Frank. And while work­ers are no longer ex­pect­ing to com­mute ev­ery day, they still ex­pect to be in the of­fice for a few days a week, Mr Per­ratt says.

“So they are will­ing to look a bit fur­ther afield, but gen­er­ally still want to be less than an hour and a half from their work,” he says.

In many cases, City work­ers are sim­ply will­ing to look slightly fur­ther afield than be­fore.

“Peo­ple are now look­ing be­yond the Home Coun­ties to those just a bit fur­ther out, such as Wilt­shire, West Sus­sex and west Glouces­ter­shire,” Mr Dewe says.

“The com­mute is a bit longer – between one-and-a-half and two hours – but very do-able if you’re not com­ing into the of­fice very of­ten.”

For when they do, how­ever, be­ing near a fast train line is very im­por­tant.

“That’s why places near Swin­don and Glouces­ter, which have fast con­nec­tions into Lon­don, are par­tic­u­larly in de­mand. Pretty mar­ket towns nearby like Marl­bor­ough and Cirences­ter are very sought-af­ter at the mo­ment,” he says,

Mr Per­ratt pointed to Sal­is­bury as an­other emerg­ing hotspot for postCovid buy­ers.

“We’ve never seen as much ac­tiv­ity as we’ve got at the mo­ment,” he says, adding that fam­ily homes are sell­ing around 30pc faster than this time last year.

The ar­eas most in de­mand in­clude swathes of the Mid­lands, ac­cord­ing to prop­erty web­site Zoopla.

Prop­erty south of Stafford is par­tic­u­larly sought af­ter, as well as homes in Broms­grove and the ru­ral district of Wy­chavon, which sits between Worces­ter and Strat­ford upon Avon.

“Towns along the War­wick­shire bor­der are now more pop­u­lar,” says Mr Dewe.

“It’s much cheaper here be­cause you’re much fur­ther from Lon­don, a jour­ney of around two and a half hours on the train.”

He says that a fam­ily home can be bought in the re­gion for between £300,000 and £450,000.

If com­mut­ing re­ally does be­come a dis­tant mem­ory as time goes on, buy­ers may look even fur­ther afield, will­ing to spend ex­tra time and money on the train if they sel­dom re­turn to the of­fice. By that point, the work­from-home revo­lu­tion will mean the mar­ket is driven by a new, and elu­sive, force: the quest for a high-speed ru­ral broad­band con­nec­tion.

Hen­ley-on-Thames: less than an hour from Lon­don and very pop­u­lar at the mo­ment,

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.