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Family homes for £400k in these commuter hotspots that London leavers need to know

 (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)
(Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)

Rising interest rates have squeezed buyers’ budgets like an empty tube of toothpaste.

Londoners moving out of the capital last year spent an average of £415,000, according to research by Hamptons — down from £505,000 in 2022.

But diminished spending power does not mean a lack of choice —far from it.

There are some really great options for buyers within a reasonable commute of London where a compact family home could be yours for just over £400,000.

From pretty-as-a-picture villages to seaside retreats and buzzy small cities, these are our pick of the best options if you are planning an exit strategy this year:

Instagram friendly: Saffron Walden, Essex

The average property in Saffron Walden goes for £515,000 (Shutterstock / Tamara Kulikova)
The average property in Saffron Walden goes for £515,000 (Shutterstock / Tamara Kulikova)

Charlotte Kewley and her husband, Jonathan, bought their house in Saffron Waldon on the strength of a picture that dropped on their Instagram feed.

Although it showed only the Edwardian semi’s front door and garden, it was enough of a taste to convince them to uproot themselves and their children from London and move to the ancient market town of Saffron Walden.

The couple, both 41, who lived in a four-bedroom Victorian terrace in Leytonstone, had been considering moving out of London since their eldest child was born.

They had visited Saffron Walden and liked it, but it was not until they saw the stylish house — formerly owned by a pair of artists — that they felt inspired to act.

Fashion stylist and editor Charlotte Kewley has made friends in Saffron Walden with other Londoners who made the move (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)
Fashion stylist and editor Charlotte Kewley has made friends in Saffron Walden with other Londoners who made the move (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)

They viewed the property the next day, made an offer on the spot and said goodbye to London in October 2020.

Since then the couple — who have three children aged nine, seven and two, and cockerpoo Maximus Jr — have grown to love Saffron Walden for its coffee shops, independent restaurants and historic charm.

Children’s fashion stylist and editor Kewley works from home while her husband, who works in finance and project management, commutes a few days a week from Audley End station (trains to Liverpool Street take just under an hour).

To her delight, Kewley has found a strong community of creative exiles from London to make friends with. Being close to the countryside (and Cambridge) is great for the family, but there are still a few things she misses about London.

Kewley and her husband fell for their house in Saffron Walden from a single photo on their feed (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)
Kewley and her husband fell for their house in Saffron Walden from a single photo on their feed (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)

“I miss being able to jump on the Tube and go to Tate Modern, I miss the buzz and the anonymity,” she says. “You can do anything and be anything in London and nobody really notices.”

The average property in Saffron Walden goes for £515,000, with houses averaging just over £600,000 and flats selling for just over £260,000.

Price growth has been relatively muted over the past 10 years, but has still jumped 49 per cent (Greater London prices have increased “only” 47 per cent in the same period). For £415,000 you could buy a three-bedroom character cottage or period semi.

Value for money: Sudbury, Suffolk

Property in Sudbury is a mash-up of Georgian manors, Victorian terraces and 13th-century timber-framed houses (On The Market / Sworders)
Property in Sudbury is a mash-up of Georgian manors, Victorian terraces and 13th-century timber-framed houses (On The Market / Sworders)

After eight years living on a houseboat and touring the rivers and canals of London, Ellie Stock Bishop and Lee Bishop decided it was time to try out life on dry land.

In 2017, the couple had bought a ramshackle cottage in Clare, a small about nine miles out of Sudbury, as an investment.

The idea was to fix it up and rent it out. But as they spent time staying in the area while they did the property up, they fell more and more in love with the Suffolk countryside — and the convenience of living in a conventional home.

Then, two years later, Stock Bishop quit her job as manager of a veterinary hospital and Bishop, who ran a building company, finished up his last jobs. Then the couple headed east, rented a shop and began making plans for a boutique plant and coffee shop.

Nell & Green Botanics opened its doors in 2020, three days before the first national lockdown. But the couple held their nerve and carried on.

The business flourished and in 2021 they decided they wanted to move to the town and spent £280,000 on a two-bedroom weaver’s cottage with beautiful gardens leading down to Sudbury’s water meadows, which roll down to the River Stour.

For the pair, Sudbury is a dream.

“It is a beautiful old market town steeped in history, but it has got lots of art galleries and lovely cafes,” says Stock Bishop, 43.

Jarvis, their cocker spaniel, enjoys exploring the local countryside, and as well as a thriving town centre (with chain stores), there is the Quay Theatre for theatre and films, and a great range of sports clubs. Trains to Liverpool Street take about an hour and 20 minutes.

Property in Sudbury is a mash-up of Georgian manors, Victorian terraces and 13th-century timber-framed houses built for cloth merchants, as well as more modern houses that lack the charm of Sudbury’s older homes.

Average prices stand at an affordable £285,000, with houses typically trading at just over £300,000 and flats at just over £161,000. Prices are up 64 per cent in the past decade.

A budget of £415,000 would buy you a four-bedroom detached modern house on the fringes, or a more compact period home in the heart of the town.

Picture postcard: Great Bardfield, Essex

Great Bardfield offers life in a traditional village (Robin Webster/Wikimedia Commons)
Great Bardfield offers life in a traditional village (Robin Webster/Wikimedia Commons)

If you fancy village life and picture-postcard style, then this country village’s pastel-painted, wisteria-clad cottages will tick the rural charm box.

But Great Bardfield is useful as well as beautiful.

It has two pubs, an old school, gastro pub, café, shop and farm store within walking distance. The local countryside is idyllic, and for families there is a Montessori nursery plus a primary school rated good by Ofsted.

The nearest station is Braintree, about seven miles away. From there trains to Liverpool Street take just over an hour. Another option might be to head to Bishop’s Stortford. The 17-mile drive is rewarded by a quicker 38-minute commute into London.

Average house prices in the village stand at £525,000, according to research from Hamptons, up two per cent over the past five years and 46 per cent in the past decade. For about £415,000 you could buy a two- to three-bedroom period terraced cottage.

“Great Bardfield is a nice little place to live, it has got that traditional English village feel,” says John Seward, associate director Strutt & Parker. He believes its affordability has, historically, been down to journey times to London, and the rise of working from home may change all that.

“It is more appealing to people who only have to go to the office two or three times a week, which will push prices up,” he says.

Cotswold charms: Stroud, Gloucestershire

Stroud has earned the moniker of the “Covent Garden of the Cotswolds” (Alamy)
Stroud has earned the moniker of the “Covent Garden of the Cotswolds” (Alamy)

Painfully hip — designer Jasper Conran described it as the “Covent Garden of the Cotswolds” and it is packed with boutiques, specialist shops, art galleries and bookshops — but not as expensive as you might suspect for such a high-profile option.

The average home in Stroud sells for £360,000, up 65 per cent in the past 10 years.

Expect to pay just over £400,000 for an average house, and about £160,000 for a flat.

Londoners have been piling down to Stroud since the start of the pandemic, particularly those who can WFH for at least part of the week.

What they get is a really well-stocked town centre, with an award-winning Saturday farmers’ market, loads of cafes and restaurants, and a cinema. A new vegan market arrived at the market square in January.

The valleys around Stroud are some of the UK’s most inspirational landscapes (National Trust/PA Media)
The valleys around Stroud are some of the UK’s most inspirational landscapes (National Trust/PA Media)

The Slad Valley, made famous by the author Laurie Lee, is one of the most beautiful landscapes in the country. The schools are good, making it a family magnet, and trains to Paddington take an hour and a half.

Tom Waltham, a director of Savills, thinks Stroud’s appeal is its unique vibe.

“It is Cotswolds, but not traditional old-money Cotswolds,” he says. “It is quite bohemian and trendy. There is a lot going on with sustainability and it is a bit more affordable than other places. That makes it quite unique for this area.”

High-profile locals include Fifty Shades of Grey star Jamie Dornan (who lives in Chalford), singer Lily Allen and her actor father, Keith (who live in Cranham and Minchinhampton respectively), and fashion designer Savannah Miller.

They, along with seemingly endless artists and creatives from London, have helped raise the area’s profile both in the media and by word of mouth.

Brighton-adjacent: Rottingdean, East Sussex

Charming Rottingdean is just down the coast from Brighton (Oast House Archive)
Charming Rottingdean is just down the coast from Brighton (Oast House Archive)

Brighton is brilliant for a day trip or weekend, but if all those hen parties, raucous students, tat shops and tourists feels a bit too much to live with 24/7 then look four miles along the coast to peaceful, charming Rottingdean.

Its cliff-backed beach, for a start, is mercifully quiet, even on sunny days. And although it is mostly pebbly, there is some sand at low tide.

The slightly retro high street offers everything from traditional fish and chips to coffee shops. It also has a really good butcher, bakery and greengrocer, and there are hardly any chains. The Grange Gallery hosts regular exhibitions (and has a fabulous, volunteer-maintained garden), but for nightlife you’ll have to head into Brighton.

Beacon Hill Nature Reserve, with its iconic restored windmill, provides ample open space, and Rottingdean’s two primary schools are rated good by Ofsted.

Families love Rottingdean for its proximity to the sea (Paul Gillett)
Families love Rottingdean for its proximity to the sea (Paul Gillett)

The nearest station is Brighton six miles away, and rush-hour roads can be jammed. A faster, cheaper and more inspiring option would be a half hour cycle ride along the seafront.

Trains to London Bridge take about an hour.

Rottingdean is a magnet for young families and retirees, says Dominique Scott, associate director of Fine & Country estate agency. They like it for its busy high street, proximity to the sea and good schooling. “And if you take your children to the beach you are unlikely to fall over drunks and druggies,” she adds.

It also has some beautiful Victorian homes — unlike nearby options like Saltdean and Peacehaven, which are marred by post-war bungalows.

Like most of the rest of the UK, 2023 was a tricky year for Rottingdean’s housing market and prices fell by three per cent. But since 2013, they are up 63 per cent to an average £637,000.

For circa £415,000 you could buy a three-bedroom terraced house. A two-bedroom flat with sea views would cost about £300,000.