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the strong­est price growth over the past year. It’s a sur­vey, by Hamp­tons In­ter­na­tional, that has un­cov­ered many un­ex­pected des­ti­na­tions.

To be­gin with, we look at three very dif­fer­ent com­muter towns that have all seen a re­spectable seven per cent prop­erty price growth over the year. There’s good value to be found here, along with easy ac­cess to coun­try­side.


Av­er­age prop­erty price: £381,000 Price in­crease since 2007: 30 per cent Av­er­age price for a house: £498,000 Jour­ney time: 26 min­utes

Why move here? With a rel­a­tively easy com­mute, this Hert­ford­shire “new town” was de­vel­oped to cre­ate over­spill hous­ing for Lon­don­ers af­ter the Se­cond World War. The Old Town’s candy-coloured ter­races are pretty, and on a sunny af­ter­noon the Grand Union Canal tow­path is lovely. This town is well-re­sourced with sports facilities and a cinema. Pop­u­lar schools in­clude John F Kennedy Catholic School, for se­niors, with an “out­stand­ing” Of­sted rat­ing.

Hemel Hemp­stead is far bet­ter value for money than nearby com­muter hon­ey­pots such as Berkham­sted. It’s also very con­ve­nient for the M1, and the Chiltern Hills are a seven-mile drive away. The smartest bit is Box­moor, south west of town, an en­clave of Vic­to­rian and Ed­war­dian houses near the sta­tion. Homes here sell for £650,000-plus. Any down­sides? This is not a good-look­ing town, de­spite an on­go­ing £30 mil­lion re­gen­er­a­tion of the cen­tre. The shops are a dis­ap­point­ing range of chains, while dreary post-war prop­er­ties are eas­ier to find than lovely pe­riod homes or well-de­signed mod­ern houses. The lo­ca­tion of the sta­tion, twoand-a-half miles south west of the town cen­tre, means some com­muters have a long walk.


Av­er­age prop­erty price: £235,000 Price in­crease since 2007: 40 per cent Av­er­age price for a house: £300,000 Jour­ney time: 54 min­utes

Why move here? This swathe of Es­sex sea­side is hard to beat on price and is slowly shed­ding its “kiss-me-quick” rep­u­ta­tion as more young fam­i­lies move in. Gary Denyer, branch man­ager of Bairstow Eves es­tate agents, es­ti­mates that 50 to 60 per cent of homes are sold to in­com­ers, most from east Lon­don seek­ing af­ford­abil­ity.

Thorpe Bay is the smartest ad­dress in town, where a four-bed­room de­tached Thir­ties house will cost you about £400,000 — less than a onebed­room flat in Ca­nary Wharf. In sum­mer the seven beaches are the big draw, and a £50 mil­lion plan on the ta­ble to up­grade the seafront in­cludes a sea­wa­ter swim­ming la­goon. Out of sea­son all roads lead to Leigh-on-Sea Broad­way, with its bou­tiques, vin­tage shops and thriv­ing café cul­ture. Southend’s sports facilities are good, with sev­eral leisure cen­tres of­fer­ing ev­ery­thing from swim­ming to tennis. There’s an Odeon cinema, an art gallery, and two the­atres, and Lon­don Southend air­port’s a plus. The town’s two sin­gle-sex high schools each hold “out­stand­ing” Of­sted re­ports. Any down­sides? Pri­mary school stan­dards are patchy, and while you might dream of a sea view, you’ll need deep pock­ets to ac­quire one. A fam­ily house in one of the Vic­to­rian/Ed­war­dian streets with sea views will cost six fig­ures. Town cen­tre shop­ping is mostly chain store, and nightlife can get rowdy, par­tic­u­larly in high sea­son.


Av­er­age prop­erty price: £314,000 Price in­crease since 2007: 34 per cent Av­er­age price for a house: £382,000 Jour­ney time: 59 min­utes

Why move here? The streets ra­di­at­ing from cen­tral Mar­ket Place in this Berk­shire town of­fer a good mix of shops, pubs and an im­prov­ing range of restau­rants. Prop­erty choice is wide, with tra­di­tional brick-and-flint cot­tages and Vic­to­rian and Ed­war­dian fam­ily homes in the town cen­tre; Thir­ties houses to the south of town; plenty of post-war houses, and dreamy coun­try houses in the sur­round­ing vil­lages. There are plenty of high-achiev­ing pri­mary schools, while for se­niors, The Downs School gets an “out­stand­ing” Of­sted rat­ing.

In the M4 “wealth cor­ri­dor”, New­bury is fa­mous for its race­course, has its share of golf clubs and is right on the edge of the lovely Berk­shire Downs. There is a town lido, sev­eral an­nual com­edy or mu­sic fes­ti­vals, plus a the­atre and cinema within the old Corn Ex­change. The two shop­ping cen­tres in­clude Park­way, for John Lewis and Joules.

“New­bury has al­ways had a very steady mar­ket,” says Ru­pert Reeves, a part­ner at Carter Jonas. “In the down­turns it al­ways holds its own… it is easy to get to a lot of places from here, schools are good and New­bury re­tains its mar­ket town feel.”

The av­er­age house price of £382,000 buys a mod­ern four-bed­room town­house or a three­bed­room Vic­to­rian house. Any down­sides? week­end nightlife is mea­gre and park­ing in the town cen­tre is al­most al­ways a night­mare.

£850,000: four-bed­room El­iz­a­bethan farm­house in Hemel Hemp­stead. Cas­tles (01442 738036)

£600,000: a four-bed­room ter­race in Cam­bridge Road, Southend. Peter Howard (01702 744134)

His­toric char­ac­ter: pas­tel-painted ter­races in the Old Town High Street, Hemel Hemp­stead

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