Just twenty years ago, the typical property ladder for successful, London-based young professionals was a well-trodden path: the first rung was a two-bedroom flat in Parsons Green or Brook Green; then, after marrying, the second rung might be a three-bedroom terraced house between the commons in Clapham or perhaps something larger in Wandsworth; and the third rung would be the great escape to a large family house near some good schools in commutable countryside.
With eye-watering property prices in London, and sky high transactional costs, these buyers are having to re-think this strategy entirely. Burdened by student debt, the battle to build a decent deposit can stretch over many years. Gone are the days when a two-bedroom garden flat in Clapham is a realistic prospect for a successful working couple let alone a single young professional. Unless the Bank of Mum and Dad is stepping in and feeling extremely generous, they are unlikely to be able to raise the necessary sums (perhaps £700,000 and £800,000).
Increasingly, therefore, 30-somethings are being pragmatic about when and where to buy their first home. Crucially, too, the time between being in a position to get on the property ladder, marrying and having children is being squeezed so they’ve got to be much more sensible about future-proofing that buying decision. The result is that more and more they are choosing to look outside of the capital.
Thirty-something professionals (and especially those with young families) still want some of the lifestyle ingredients that they would’ve had in London: the ability to walk to shops, bars and restaurants chief among them, as well as the chance to live in a pretty, period house with a good community feel. Increasingly, it’s the market towns in the Home Counties that are making the best sense. Places such as Sevenoaks, Haslemere, Henley, Marlow, Beaconsfield, St Albans and Berkhamsted all provide these elements—and offer a good commute back to London (in the case of Henley, this will be improved when Crossrail opens in 2019). As opposed to spending £800,000 on that two-bed garden flat in Clapham, these buyers could find a three-bed Victorian cottage with a garden for between £550,000 and £650,000 in Henley, for example.
But it’s not just an economic decision that is encouraging buyers to head to what I term the “cosmopolitan countryside”. It’s also a lifestyle choice, too. Millennials seem to be more health conscious than previous generations and, instead of running with the hoards around Battersea Park on a wet Thursday evening in November, they can choose to run along the River Thames or up into the Chiltern Hills. It’s also motivated by the change in working habits: ten years ago on my street of Victorian terraced houses in central Henley, the parking bays were empty during the day but as more and more people work from home, that’s no longer the case.
The result is that it’s changing the dynamic of these market towns—in a positive way. There is lots of energy around: pubs, cafes and restaurants are busy during the weekdays as much as the weekends. And that encourages more independent shops and restaurants to open up to cater for the increased demand. Prices haven’t stood still by any means and, in the past three to 5 years, there has been a considerable spike in these prime spots. But it still makes financial sense when compared to property prices in London and you’re close enough to head back into the capital for an evening out, too. You might even splash out on a Uber to get you home!