London’s most desirable commuter towns

Will 2014 be the year of the London suburbs? As property prices in the capital continue to soar (house prices have risen by 18.2 per cent in the past year alone, according to Nationwide, compared with 9.2 per cent across the UK), research by Savills suggests that the widening gap between prime London and prime suburbia is making a move out of town more attractive than at any point since before the credit crunch.

Over the first quarter of this year the prime suburbs saw stronger house price growth than prime London, an average increase of 3.8 per cent and 3.6 per cent respectively, according to Sophie Chick, an associate in residential research at Savills.

“One of the reasons we expect the sorts of place that we call ‘super suburbs’ – places like Rickmansworth and Locksbottom – to be strong performers over the next five years is that they tend to be the first step for buyers relocating out of London,” she says. “This is a trend we expect to increase over the coming years as confidence returns to the regions and an increasing number of London dwellers will be unable to resist taking advantage of the value gap.” Savills predicts that the price of prime property in such suburbs will rise about 26 per cent over the next five years, compared with about 23 per cent in London over that period.

Other agents agree. William Furniss, of Knight Frank in Beaconsfield, says: “The way the London market moves out to the country has changed. Rather than heading a couple of hours out of London and occasionally working from home, buyers are much keener to enjoy the country feel while being within an hour of their place of work.”

Inevitably, this means that previously untapped markets on the capital’s borders are on the up. Here, we consider some of the “super suburbs” with potential for strong price growth.

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Cookham, Berkshire

Cookham is really three villages – Cookham Village, Cookham Rise and Cookham Dean – of which Dean is the most coveted due to its rural feel and picturesque properties with river views. All three already benefit from proximity to Maidenhead (25 minutes to Paddington on the train), jolly little pubs and beautiful walks along the Thames Path and National Trust land, but they are set to get a substantial boost with the arrival of Crossrail. When it reaches Maidenhead in 2019, Crossrail will take passengers from Maidenhead (five minutes’ drive from Cookham) to Canary Wharf in 55 minutes. Mark Parkinson, of buying agency Middleton Advisors, says that although Cookham has been a popular commuter destination for several years, talk of Crossrail is now beginning to have an effect. “We have helped buy a couple of houses in the last six months where the buyers have specifically mentioned Crossrail as an incentive. I think interest – and prices – will really pick up in 2016.” Currently, detached family homes are available from around £750,000 up to £6m. Popular streets include Terry’s Lane and Alleyns Lane in Cookham Dean, where there are some Edwardian properties, but where complete rebuilds and/or extension renovations are also extremely popular.

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Locksbottom, Bromley

Officially part of the London Borough of Bromley, the village of Locksbottom and neighbours such as Pratts Bottom and Orpington are part-town, part-country. “Locksbottom really is a transition area – ideal for people moving out of the city for the first time,” says Helen Wood of Savills’ Locksbottom office. Orpington Station (within 2km of Locksbottom) has fast trains to London Bridge that take 16 minutes. Locksbottom also has its very own versions of Surrey’s St George’s Hill: two private estates with a countryside feel, preferred by bankers and other London commuters. Farnborough Park was built in the 1930s, and Keston Park was once home to Margaret Thatcher and her family. Entry level here is around £1m for a mixture of restored period homes or huge (think 3,000 sq ft-plus) contemporary houses. For a smaller period property, buyers tend to look at nearby Bickley, which has Georgian and Victorian cottages from £500,000 and semi-detached houses from £700,000. Locksbottom has a high street with a Sainsbury’s and a few pubs, and Chapter One on Farnborough Common is the only Michelin-starred restaurant in southeast London.

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Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire

With a market town feel, prices that are a bit cheaper than nearby St Albans and schools that are just as oversubscribed, Rickmansworth is high on the list of desirable locations for commuters to London’s West End. It is one of the furthest outposts on the Tube network, with a Metropolitan Line link to Baker Street; the Overground to London Marylebone takes less than half an hour. St Joan of Arc Catholic school is rated “excellent”. Local agents say interest has stepped up in the past year: Chris Ryall, of Hamptons International’s Rickmansworth branch, says that 43 per cent of registered buyers came from London at the last count. “We get a lot of young families or couples trading up from north London ... where they are selling flats for the same amount that they can buy a decent family house near us.” Houses were selling for under the asking price at the end of last year but the market has picked up since then, he adds. Four-bedroom Victorian and Edwardian houses close to the town centre, on tree-lined streets such as Nightingale Road, sell from £750,000, while prime property is clustered around The Drive and the 1920s mansions in the gated Loudwater Estate by the River Chess.

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Loughton and Shenfield, Essex

Essex, one of England’s most mocked commuter counties, has some of the best value property within commuting distance of the City of London. Shenfield will mark the eastern end of Crossrail in 2018, although the station already has trains to Liverpool Street that take 25 minutes at peak times. In Old Shenfield you can buy a detached four-bedroom home for £550,000, says Terry Holmes, a director at Beresfords, although four- and five-bedroom homes in leafy hotspots such as Hutton Mount will set you back close to £1m. Loughton, 29 minutes from Bank on the Underground’s Central Line, is attracting growing numbers of professionals, who gravitate to streets with views of Epping Forest, where Georgian and Regency houses are available from £900,000, or to the 1920s and 1930s properties nearer the train station. Three-bedroom cottages start at about £400,000. “It’s amazing that people have taken so long to catch on to Essex,” adds Holmes, “but the demographic is definitely changing. We have a lot more boutique shops than we used to have.”

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