Best London commuter towns: three areas with good-sized family homes, excellent transport links and an indie vibe for first-time buyers
Frozen out by frightening property prices, more than six out of 10 London first-time buyers get on to the ladder by moving out of the capital.
The vast majority of them — 81 per cent — stay within commuting distance, buying a home elsewhere in the South-East or in eastern England.
A budget that will only buy a flat in London can often buy a good-sized house beyond the M25, according to research by Hamptons International. Such a move will seem huge to many.
However, those reluctant to leave the capital can often find a location that feels like the part of the city they love, making the move less of a wrench.
Swap Kingston upon Thames for Reigate, Surrey
Kingston is loved for its market town feel, its position on the leafy Surrey borders, a great range of shops and restaurants and good schools.
Reigate is the real deal, a thriving and affluent small market town.
Kingston is on the river between Richmond Park and Hampton Court, while Reigate is close to the North Downs, so both locations score well on green space.
School standards are high, and both locations have good-looking town centres with a healthy mix of independents and upmarket chains — and, on the downside, too much traffic.
Chris Nathan, founder of Hound & Porter estate agents, says Reigate has long been a popular option for buyers priced out of south-west London and attracted by its “villagey feel”.
“Reigate also has exceptional transport links,” he adds. “It is only a 40-minute journey into London Victoria, and from most properties you can drive to the M25 within 10 minutes.”
Swap Putney for Marlow, Buckinghamshire
Marlow has considerably more kerb appeal than slightly bland south-west London and Putney.
Marlow shares the Thames but it’s further downriver with a landmark bridge entrance, riverside pubs and a curated, cared-for town centre of independent shops and plenty of restaurants, with a big family buzz about it.
From £217,500: flats at Rochester Riverside in the historic Kent city, with a 37-minute commute to St Pancras
Putney has the Boat Race but Marlow prefers a jolly annual regatta.
Buying agent Nick Wooldridge, of Stacks Property Search, also sees a comparison between both their Victorian streets and general busy, affluent vibe.
“Marlow’s lively High Street is packed over the weekends,” says Wooldridge. “It has a branch of The Ivy, alongside other good eateries and pubs, plus two of [Michelin-star chef] Tom Kerridge’s establishments.
“Marlow property is more of a hotchpotch of periods and styles than Victorian Putney’s, while Marlow station is a link line, so you have to drive to Maidenhead for Paddington in 48 minutes, or to High Wycombe to arrive in Marylebone in less than an hour. You have to pay for parking.”
Swap Greenwich for Rochester, Kent
After 10 years of renting Claire Fletcher joined the great exodus out of London in July when she bought a two-bedroom flat in the historic Kent city of Rochester.
High-speed trains mean the commute to St Pancras takes 37 minutes, and her river-view home, in the Rochester Riverside development, cost her £285,000.
“It ticks the boxes”: Claire Fletcher loves Rochester’s food and entertainment scene (S Saunders / Digital Nation Photography)
Claire, 33, chose Rochester partly because of its affordability and the quick commute, but she was also charmed by its busy high street full of cafés and restaurants.
“In London you’re spoiled for choice, so it’s important to live somewhere with a good food and entertainment scene, and Rochester ticks the box,” says Claire, a TV production manager.
She used to pay £850 a month rent in London, including bills. She now has significantly higher outgoings of £1,700, which includes her £500-a-month train pass, but she wouldn’t have been able to buy at all in the capital.
Though London’s atmosphere can never truly be replicated she finds Rochester’s maritime history and waterfront living reminiscent of Greenwich, with its cute shops and restaurants and hordes of tourists.
And while Greenwich Park is vast, Rochester sits on the edge of the lovely Kent Downs.
Swap Stoke Newington for Leigh-on-Sea, Essex
You’ll appreciate the family-friendly yet slightly alternative and independent atmosphere of Stokey having lived there, so Leigh-on-Sea could be just the solution — and you will also have access to Southend’s miles and miles of white sandy beach.
A vanguard of Londoners has already colonised Leigh, attracted by its affordable streets of Victorian and Edwardian houses which are a conservative half the price of those in Stoke Newington, plus plenty of Thirties and Fifties semis.
The commute is also a relatively painless 45 minutes into Liverpool Street.
These incomers have helped stimulate a boom in gastropubs, boutiques, independent coffee shops and vintage shops; there is a regular farmers’ market which couldn’t be more north London if it tried, and while Stoke Newington has the lakes of Clissold Park, Leigh-on-Sea has its own mini beach, a September regatta and a sailing club.