Latest figures from the Land Registry show that house prices rose by 16.3% in London in the year to December 2014, with the average property selling for nearly £465,000. Compare that to the rest of the South East outside of the capital, which saw prices grow by just 10.8% during the same period, and the average property selling for £241,000.
Getting so much more property for your money has clearly made commuting into the capital from, Sussex, Surrey, Hampshire and particularly Kent, an even more attractive proposition, especially for new or growing families.
Unlike those from other southern Home Counties, Kent commuters benefit from High Speed rail services, with journey times from Gravesend, for example, of just 24 minutes to central London. For many new families or those with growing teenagers requiring more space, it is easy to see why Kent, with its grammar schools and open countryside, is such a magnet.
But does it make financial sense?
Gravesend in Kent is a busy town 30 miles from central London along the banks of the River Thames to the north and the open Kent countryside and pretty villages to the south. High Speed services from Gravesend take the same time as a suburban commute from Bromley, just 11 miles out. An annual season ticket costs £3,296 for 12 months, while it Bromley it is £1,100 lower at around £2,200. However, the big saving comes in the prices of property. The average semi-detached house in Gravesend costs £240,000, compared with Bromley where the average semi-detached house is £145,000 more expensive at £385,000.
Further afield, Chatham, in the Medway Towns, is a 50-minute commute by train with an annual season ticket costing £3,876. There is also a regular commuter coach service from the area, which while it takes a little longer, costs around £1,000 a year less at £2,790. Offsetting these costs is the price of buying a house in the Medway Towns, where the average semi-detached costs £194,000. Compare that to a flat in Hackney, East London, at nearer £400,000, and the sums can really start to add up.
High Speed trains are also opening up areas of east Kent to a new generation of commuters, with journey times to the channel port of Folkestone at less than an hour. Pentland Homes Ltd is a major housebuilder based in the town. Martin Hart is the company’s managing director.
He says: “West Kent and the Medway Towns have been a favourite with London commuters for decades. However, with the increasing differential between London prices and the rest of the South East, and new High Speed rail services from East Kent reducing journey times for commuters, it is easier than ever to commute from some of the most beautiful parts of our county.
“Living in Kent, even with the cost of the annual season ticket, presents not only good value for money for those moving from the city to a brand new home in the country, but offers a different way of life, especially for growing families. Our new home customers find Kent is a great place to bring up a their children, and commuting means they get so much more house for their money.”
Top Kent commuter towns within about an hour by train from London include:
Ashford, from where a High Speed train to London takes just 38 minutes, is also only three hours from Paris by Eurostar. A season ticket to London will cost £5,760 a year including travel card zones 1-6, and the average house price is £210,000.
Canterbury is also served by the High Speed train, with a season ticket at £6,812 a year including zone 1-6 travel card. Average house prices in the city are some of the highest in east Kent, averaging £244,000.
Folkestone’s High Speed service to St Pancras costs £5,820 for an annual season with zone 1-6 travel card, with average house prices at £186,000.
Maidstone is the county town of Kent and the average property price is £235,000. An annual rail season ticket currently costs £4,224.
Sittingbourne is a growing town in north Kent which saw property prices average £184,000 in the past year. The annual rail fare from Sittingbourne to London is £4,796 with a zone 1-6 travel card.
Tunbridge Wells is in west Kent, where the average property price is £348,000 and an annual season ticket is priced at £5,108, including a zone 1-6 travel card.
However, while there are still substantial savings to be made by moving half an hour or more from the city, the commuter belt is witnessing a ripple effect on house prices as more people chose to commute. Global property consultants CBRE UK reported last year in their Regional Land Report that while homes are up to a third cheaper if they are 30-35 minutes from central London, prices were rising faster in popular commuter areas than in those with a lower proportion of commuters among the workforce.
CBRE’s head of residential research, Jennet Siebrits, says: “We have identified that areas with a high share of commuters have higher average house prices; as the share of commuters increases by 5% the average house prices increases around 8%. This reflects the higher demand and higher salaries that can support higher prices.
“Interestingly, and in contrast to London, commuters in the regional cities are not so reliant on public transport. Our findings show much weaker relationship between commuting distance and house prices, with no identifiable correlation found in Bristol and Leeds.”
This is evident in East and West Sussex, long-time favourites with London commuters. While journey times are longer, mile for mile, than the high-speed services in Kent, Sussex is well served by a number of main railway lines including those to Chichester in the west, Littlehampton, Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings in the east.
Land Registry figures showed the average price paid for a semi-detached home in 2014 in East Sussex was £211,000 and £240,000 in West Sussex, prices that still represent significant savings over an equivalent home in London.
However, in popular commuter towns less than an hour-and-a-half from the capital, house buyers can expect to pay higher than county-average prices. In East Grinstead, for example, the average semi-detatched house costs £332,000, and an annual season ticket costs £3,464. Seventy-five minutes from the capital is Pulborough, with an average price tag for a semi-detached home of £336,000 and annual season ticket priced at £3,976.
Uckfield is another popular commuter town in East Sussex, 80 minutes from the city. The extra journey time is just five minutes, however properties are cheaper than in Pulborough, with an average semi costing £304,000. The annual season ticket by rail from Uckfield to London costs £3,740.
So it seems that although the cost of commuting is high, especially on the premium High Speed routes, the rail journey times are often not much greater than tube journeys from the capital’s outer suburbs and property prices are very favourable compared to their London counterparts.
If you can stand the experience of commuting – and modern working practices are leading to more and more people working from home at least some of the week – then a move to the southern Home Counties could be a beneficial one for someone considering their future in our largest metropolis.