Famously, Londoners have been jumping ship in droves since the pandemic struck. Dreaming of spacious homes and large gardens, they have sold up and gone to the countryside or the coast, as well as to traditional commuter towns. Now that working from home has become a fixture for part of the week for many of us, while others are back in the office full time, how is the property market responding to the demands of the new commuter?
It seems that demand is still up for properties within striking distance of London – and acceptable distances are now perhaps slightly further afield for people who only have to make the journey into town once or twice a week. In Tunbridge Wells, for instance, demand for properties shot up in 2020 and has remained strong ever since, according to Natasha Firman of Winkworth Tunbridge Wells. She says: “Covid has had a significant effect on the market. Buyers are making the decision to move in line with new flexible working weeks, as most employers implement two or three days’ office time. A different commuting landscape has pushed people’s search radius further out, seeking more space at affordable price points, resulting in many more proceedable buyers in the market chasing stock and a surprising amount of cash deals being done.” A lack of properties coming to market is pushing prices up, she notes. “Due to the very high stamp duty, we ‘re seeing people’s reluctance to sell their homes in the area, which has resulted in a significant shortage of stock. Coming out of London affords most the luxury of a much larger property, so with this imbalance of supply and demand in the market, prices keep on pushing higher than ever, particularly for the housing market between £500 and £1m.”
It’s a similar story in Canterbury, says Donna Pearson of the local Winkworth. “We are still finding the draw of Canterbury, as a pleasant and bustling Cathedral City, is getting interest from people moving into the area. There is now a hybrid offering of people returning to work in London a few days a month and working from home the rest of the time. The journey to London is just an hour on the high speed link from Canterbury West station, so it remains a big pull.”
The traditional commuter town of Reading continues to attract escapees from inside the M25. Property prices are still significantly lower in Reading than much of the south, and transport links are some of the best in the South East. Michael Foldvari of Winkworth Reading says: We are seeing buyers who still work in London but only have to be in their offices intermittently. We have particularly strong demand for three and four bedroom family homes.The average price for a 3 bedroom semi-detached home in Reading is around £400,000, and when Crossrail opens next year it will give commuters direct access from Reading to the City of London and Canary Wharf. Demand for town centre apartments close to the train station, particularly rental properties, has risen and the average price of a furnished one bedroom town centre apartment with half an hour’s commuting time into London is now around £1050 per month.”
The move from London to Brighton is a well-trodden path but as Steve Magee of Winkworth in Worthing points out, Brighton has become increasingly expensive, dirty and busy. Londoners looking for a beach life within reach of the office should consider Worthing which, he says, is “Brighton’s best kept secret”. Just 10 miles down the coast and an extra 20 minutes on the train, Worthing was rated the number one place to visit for a UK break in a recent article in the Sunday Times. Magee says: “80% of last year's sales came from buyers moving from London and Surrey, as well as young families moving over from Brighton and Hove to bring their children up in a much calmer, cleaner and up-and-coming town. With the average house price in Worthing at £370k compared to Brighton’s £460k, surely Worthing is the new Brighton?”
So the new commuter, it seems, is much like the old commuter, only they’re travelling slightly further and less often. The move away from the city continues to be a trend, and property prices remain strong in places with good transport links.