Sarah Beeny’s online estate agency, Tepilo, takes a closer look at some of the capital’s best commuter towns for property buyers.
London, for all its many great attributes, isn’t a particularly cheap place to live. And that’s putting it mildly. It’s not just high rents and house prices; the cost of living is likely to burn a hole in your wallet too.
As a result, commuter hotspots on the outskirts of the capital are always in high demand, with many people choosing to up sticks to the suburbs and commute in for work and leisure purposes.
What, though, are the best commuter towns surrounding London? Credit comparison website TotallyMoney.com has carried out research into this very topic, ranking towns on factors such as commute time to London by train, life satisfaction, house prices and the cost of an annual season ticket.
Swanley in Kent was revealed to be London’s best commuter town, with Bushey in Hertfordshire not far behind. Weybridge in Surrey, by contrast, was ranked as the least attractive.
The list of the top 25 commuter towns was heavily dominated by the counties of Kent, Hertfordshire and Surrey, with a sprinkling of locations from Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Essex too. Many will be familiar commuter hotspots – High Wycombe, Amersham, Epsom, Potters Bar, Watford, Chelmsford, Sevenoaks and Maidenhead – while others, including Horley and Earlswood in Surrey and Purfleet and Laindon in Essex, tend to fly under the radar a little bit more.
The top 10 included three locations from Kent (Swanley, Ebbsfleet and Sevenoaks), three from Hertfordshire (Bushey, Watford and Waltham Cross), two from Berkshire (Maidenhead and Slough) and two from Surrey (Redhill and Horley). All, of course, have excellent transport links, with Ebbsfleet, Watford and Redhill in particular famed for their fast, reliable train connections. They also tend to be child-friendly locations with excellent local schools, pleasant town centres and easy access to nearby green space and the countryside.
Taking a look at the top five best commuter locations, it becomes clear that a few patterns emerge. House prices are fairly affordable (certainly much more so than London itself), with Swanley and Bushey both offering decent-sized homes for under £360,000, while the cost of the commute is just over £3,000 – not cheap, but not as expensive as some. More importantly, the commute time from all of the top 10 towns is 35 minutes or under, with Horley taking the longest (35 minutes) and Slough the quickest, ferrying passengers to Central London in just 17 minutes.
What’s more, life satisfaction levels are above 7.5 out of 10 for all the locations bar Slough. Even then, life satisfaction in the town made famous by The Office and a famously unflattering poem written by John Betjeman is still 7.42.
Sevenoaks and Swanley, a town in the Sevenoaks District, scored the equal highest life satisfaction levels of 8.15. Even in locations where house prices are higher (more than £650,000 in affluent Sevenoaks and above £550,000 in equally affluent Maidenhead) and the cost of commute weightier, this is offset by quick travel times and high life satisfaction levels due to a variety of factors.
In the case of Ebbsfleet and Luton, the two towns in the top 25 with the highest commute costs (both above £5,000), this is made more palatable by very affordable house prices - £221,241 in Ebbsfleet, £253,683 in Luton – and very fast commute times of 18 minutes and 24 minutes respectively.
Of all the towns featured in the top 25, only Earlswood has a commute time of more than 40 minutes, but affordable house prices and life satisfaction levels of 8 out of 10 help to mitigate this.
While decent house prices, fast commute times and a good work-life balance are sought after, commuters are less happy when house prices are too high, season tickets are too costly and the commute time into London takes too long, which helps to explain why Weybridge, Esher and Virginia Water in Surrey are far less desirable places to live.
Virginia Water, for example, has an average price of more than £1.4m, high commute costs and a 47-minute commute time into the city – a situation that is mirrored in Beaconsfield and Gerrards Cross in Bucks and Chorleywood, Harpenden and Rickmansworth in Hertfordshire.
Commuters looking for affordability, though, are much better catered for in Essex, where house prices tend to be at their cheapest. As well as Basildon and Purfleet, the Essex towns of Pitsea and Tilbury are other commuter locations with very reasonable house prices.
For those eager to get into work in double quick time (or a few more minutes in bed of a Monday morning), Slough and Ebbsfleet can’t be beaten on commute times, although Maidenhead, Watford, Hatfield and Potters Bar aren’t very far behind at all.
With London’s population set to rise considerably in the coming years, the demand for homes in commuter towns will continue to grow and, as such, competition in the buyers’ market for properties in commuter hotspots will be fiercer than ever.
The arrival of Crossrail will improve the commute times and desirability of a number of locations, making competition fiercer still. Sellers in thriving commuter hubs, already in a good position in terms of market conditions and a strong negotiating hand, will be the ones to benefit.