Commuter homes in the Chilterns: the best market towns within half an hour of London
Marylebone passengers know their commute home is likely to be relatively pain free, as Chiltern Railways enjoys some of the highest passenger satisfaction levels of any London train operator.
The latest annual National Rail Passenger Survey found 92 per cent of those surveyed rated Chiltern as good or satisfactory.
The study covers everything from quality of wifi access to comfort of train seats but crucially, the reliability and punctuality of Chiltern’s services was given the thumbs up by 84 per cent of passengers, making it one of the best-performing options.
Forty-six per cent of its passengers considered its tickets good value, while across London and the South-East, 44 per cent of those surveyed were content with the cost of their tickets.
The Chilterns service offers two main branches, towards Aylesbury and Birmingham, passing through outer London suburbia towards some of the most affluent commuter villages to be found within an hour of the capital, and some affordable, further-flung options:
The Buckinghamshire towns of Amersham, Gerrards Cross, Beaconsfield and Princes Risborough have fast commutes and are within or on the fringes of the Chiltern Hills.
In terms of getting into town the winners here are Gerrards Cross — although it has a boring high street — with a 22-minute commute, and Beaconsfield, with a boring new town but an old town with character, and an average 25-minute journey.
Amersham, with delightful Old Amersham on its doorstep, is just over half an hour from Marylebone, while Princes Risborough is 41 minutes away.
Research by Savills shows home buyers looking in Gerrards Cross or Beaconsfield will need a seven-figure budget.
The average property price in Beaconsfield is just over £1.1 million, while a Gerrards Cross address will cost you just over £1 million.
Amersham’s average price is a more reasonable £660,000, while prices drop with the miles to Princes Risborough, to £417,000.
In terms of price growth the last 12 months has been tough on all of these commuter enclaves, which rely on buyers coming out of London.
Prices in Beaconsfield have held firm but Gerrards Cross, Princes Risborough, and Amersham have all seen falls of five to 11 per cent year on year.
But over five years, all four show positive growth, with Amersham on 38.5 per cent and Beaconsfield on 32 per cent leading the way.
Kraig Butler, an associate director of Hamptons International, says buyers opt for Amersham because of its two grammar schools, and its position at the end of the Metropolitan line, giving a choice of commutes.
“And because it is within the Tube area the rail fares here are cheaper than places actually a bit closer to London.”
£675,000: this characterful terrace cottage on Whielden Street dates back to the mid 1700s
An annual season ticket from Amersham to London costs £3,660. For Beaconsfield the cost is £4,164, in Gerrards Cross it’s £3,620, and Princes Risborough’s price is £4,592.
Amersham is a market town of two halves: pretty, historic “Old Amersham” and “New Amersham”, including the streets closest to the station which were built in the last century.
In Old Amersham a three-bedroom cottage near the high street would cost £600,000 to £650,000. In New Amersham, full of larger, newer houses, a four-bedroom Thirties detached home would be £800,000 to £1 million.
For a few minutes more…
Far better value can be found further afield, in Aylesbury, Leamington Spa and Bicester. The journey to Marylebone takes an average 52 minutes to Bicester North, 57 to Aylesbury and 69 to Leamington Spa.
Average property prices are £298,000 in Bicester, £262,000 in Aylesbury and £347,000 in Leamington Spa and have tended to weather the Brexit storm.
Savills says Leamington Spa prices are up almost 11 per cent year on year, with Aylesbury’s up a more realistic 0.4 per cent, while in Bicester North they’re down 1.5 per cent.
Over five years, growth is an impressive 32 per cent in Bicester, 43 per cent in Aylesbury, and 44 per cent in Leamington Spa.
Aylesbury and Bicester are seeing huge housebuilding and are more ordinary-looking than Old Amersham.
But Leamington Spa is “a classic Regency spa town, which ranks alongside the likes of Cheltenham or Bath”, says Chris Thomas, MD of Wiglesworth & Co estate agents.
£330,000: this three-bedroom house in Mallards Way, Bicester
He says more London commuters have made tracks for Warwickshire in the past five years, many swapping a two-bedroom flat for a family house for the same price.
The M40 and M1 are on the doorstep, and Leamington has quality parks and good schools.
The station is on the south side of town but the grand Victorian and Regency architecture just to the north is the biggest draw, and prices are premium.
A typical two- to three-bedroom Victorian terrace would cost £400,000 to £450,000, while a four-bedroom Regency townhouse would be £750,000 to £1 million.