Where to buy a commuter home: Londoners leaving the city can find value in leafy Hertfordshire villages with fast train links

Four in 10 London-based first-time buyers are choosing a home outside the capital, according to research published today.

A toxic combination of high prices, buying costs and steep deposit requirements is driving a record number of young buyers beyond the M25.

The research, by Hamptons International, found that 39 per cent of first-time buyers opted to leave London last year to secure a foothold on the property ladder, mostly heading to the home counties with Hertfordshire as a favourite. 

In 2010 only 22 per cent of first-time buyers took an exit strategy.

The research shows that while London is certainly witnessing an exodus of the young, most first-time buyers are not ready to bury themselves right out in the sticks.

Instead, the most popular of the 24 small cities and outer suburbs where London first-time buyers are responsible for at least one in 10 of all local property sales, are only just beyond the city fringes.

“It is a happy medium,” says Luke Bird, assistant manager of Keith Ian estate agents in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, which is just 16 miles north of central London, yet homes there are about half the price.

“It is not London, but it is not too far away. I think first-time buyers are not ready to go much further away.”

With its lovely countryside and fantastic train links into Zone 1, Hertfordshire emerges as by far the most popular hunting ground in today’s study, with swathes of the county being colonised by Londoners.

Eight out of 10 sales in Broxbourne, Herts, were to buyers willing to move out of the capital — but not too far.

Broxbourne sits just the other side of the M25 from Enfield, at the northern end of the Lee Valley Regional Park and the white water centre built for the 2012 Olympic Games, and the borough includes Cheshunt, Waltham Cross and Hoddesdon.

Bird says the majority of his buyers are couples in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties, moving out of London. Their parents tend to be helping out with the deposit, often selling their own houses in London and downsizing in Hertfordshire.

This means they can not only help their children on to the property ladder but stay close to them, and also to any future grandchildren.

Top 10 exodus destinations for London’s first-time buyers

Local authority area London FTBs as a percentage of all sales Average first-time buyer price
Broxbourne, Herts 80% £296,070
Hertsmere 53% £380,040
Watford 49% £316,110
St Albans 47% £399,400
Thurrock 39% £238,900
Dartford 32% £271,100
Gravesham 25% £244,340
Stevenage 24% £247,100
Basildon 22% £263,670
Tandridge 23% £344,550

Source: Hamptons International

What most first-time buyers want is a three-bedroom house close to Cheshunt station, says Bird. There are very few period houses in this area, but a house built in the Seventies or Eighties would cost around £400,000.

In St Albans, a better-known and prettier Hertfordshire hotspot, around half of all sales were to London first timers, who spent an average of just under £400,000 to live in the lovely cathedral city with its 21-minute train links to St Pancras International. 

Modern Watford, with its shopping centre and theatre, and commuter-friendly suburbs such as Elstree and Potters Bar, which are both in Hertsmere, Hertfordshire, also saw strong interest from London buyers.

Beyond Hertfordshire

The research shows that first-time buyers are exploring the whole gamut of home counties options, from affluent commuter towns including Sevenoaks, to coastal commuter towns like Southend as well as more run-down options such as Dartford, which has a trio of plus points: fast City trains, grammar schools and the promise of a planned £75 million regeneration of its town centre.

In Tandridge, the slice of Surrey countryside just south of Croydon and with easy access to High Weald and the Surrey Hills, almost a quarter of sales last year were to exiting Londoners who spent an average of just under £345,000 to live in towns including Caterham, Oxted and Lingfield.

Buying in Watford

“Better for our son”: Zahra Al-Alawi, husband Abbas left a rental flat in Hayes to buy near Watford (Andrew H Williams)

In January this year, Zahra Al-Alawi and her husband Abbas Abbas exchanged a one-bedroom rented flat in Hayes, west London, which cost them £1,200 a month, for the first home of their own, a two-bedroom apartment in South Oxhey Central, a £150 million new development of flats and townhouses near Watford.

Using Help to Buy they spent £338,500 on their new apartment which means their two-year-old son Musa, pictured with his mum and dad, now has his own bedroom.

Abbas, a web designer, and Zahra, who is studying for a master’s degree in the psychology of education at London University, both need to be in central London regularly, and travel from nearby Carpenders Park.

The journey is a breeze, says Zahra, with regular, air-conditioned trains that take just over half an hour.

Affordability was inevitably a key issue when it came to moving out of London. However, Zahra, 24, says there were other considerations, too.

“Hayes is very noisy and very busy, with lots of factories and lots of traffic,” she says. “Here, we have got a lot more open space, and it just feels more fresh. It is really peaceful, which feels really weird — I am not used to it.” 

The only downside she can think of is the lack of things to do within walking distance. As a non-driver, scarce local public transport can make her feel a bit isolated and she misses London’s red buses, but not the Tube. 

“We had to weigh our priorities,” she says. “We saw it as an investment and a better way of life for our son.”

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