First-time buyer exodus: where Londoners are moving for a great commute and quality of life

Marianna Hunt
Where are London renters fleeing to in order to get a foot on the property ladder?

Last year the number of London-based first-time buyers quitting the city to buy their first home hit a record high. Research by estate agency Hamptons International for The Telegraph found that just six in 10 of those who went from renting or living with parents in the capital to buying a home decided to stay put there.

The desertion of Britain’s capital by aspiring homeowners has been a gradual process, as potential buyers find themselves increasingly priced out.

This has meant that between 2010 and 2018, the number of London residents abandoning the city to purchase their first home almost doubled.

Many of the 40 per cent of first-time buyers originally living in London who bought beyond the capital moved to commuter belt favourites such as ­Hertfordshire’s Broxbourne and St ­Albans, which attracted the highest number of ­London first-time movers.

But with the affordability crisis spreading out ever further from the capital, demand for these traditional hotspots has been waning.

“One of the main factors pushing people to move further away from London is the rising costs of stamp duty,” says Aneisha Beveridge, head of research at Hamptons.

“Rather than buying a small flat near London then swapping it for a larger house when they want to start a family, people are avoiding the double tax hit they’d face by moving twice and ­instead buying a bigger home that is further from the capital.”

There are now 12 per cent fewer Londoners choosing to move to the South East to buy their first home than there were five years ago. More are instead heading further afield in search of affordable options, to regions such as the Midlands, which saw a 6.2 per cent increase in London-based first-time buyers over the period, and the North.

So where are Londoners moving to in order to get a foot on the ladder?

The old favourites

Broxbourne and Hertsmere, Hertfordshire

Average price for a first home: £296,070 and £380,040

The most popular location for London-based first-time buyers last year was Broxbourne. The town boasts of the double appeal for working parents of excellent schools, including Haileybury Imperial College and Queenswood School, on your doorstep and a handy train station that can get you into central London in just over 20 minutes.

“It’s not just first-time buyers,” says Diane Sanders of Fine & Country. “Broxbourne is also very attractive to so-called second steppers who realise they could swap their tiny London flat for a house with a garden.”

Back in 2015 it was Hertfordshire’s Hertsmere that came out as favourite. While this year the borough slipped to seventh place, Brett Harrison from Lumley Estates says it is still holds great appeal for Londoners hunting for their first home.

“The area has become a lot trendier in recent years to cater for the millennial crowd that is attracted by better value property than in central London,” he says. “We’ve got good shopping facilities and lots of boutique coffee shops and delis, which were lacking a few years ago.”

For those that prefer a more modern style, the Hertsmere town of Borehamwood has seen thousands of new homes built in the last five years, whereas placeks like Bushey and Radlett are more suited to those preferring traditional, period homes.

“Bushey tends to be more affordable than Radlett,” Harrison adds. Here apartments usually sell for upwards of £300,000 and you can buy a three-bedroom house for around £500,000.

Further afield

Oxford, Oxfordshire, Thanet, Kent, and Southend-on-Sea, Essex

Average price for a first home: £365,110, £200,400 and £237,270

Leaving London’s bright lights to get on to the property ladder doesn’t have to mean living in the middle of nowhere or in your average grey commuterville. Among the favourite destinations of London first-time ­buyers last year was buzzing Oxford, with its world-class galleries, theatres and architecture.

These first-time buyers forked out a hefty sum to buy here, at an average of £365,110. But that’s still less than in traditional commuter belt areas such as St Albans, Windsor and Maidenhead, where a first home costs closer to £400,000.

As well as being a charming city in its own right, it is also easily commutable: London is still less than an hour’s train ride away. “Without a doubt a proliferation of employment opportunities has brought a number of first-time buyers to Oxford in recent years,” says Simon McConnell from Carter Jonas. Aside from the host of university jobs on offer, a number of leading companies and major employers have also set up in business parks on the outskirts of the city.

Oxford's booming jobs market is attracting many first-time buyers Credit: Julian Elliott Photography/ Getty Images Contributor

Also shooting up the league table are the seaside areas of Thanet in Kent and Southend-on-Sea, Essex. First-time buyers from the capital purchased 11 and 12 per cent respectively of all houses sold in the two areas last year; in Thanet, they paid an average of £200,000, almost £40,000 less than in Southend.

“When you can pay £130,000 and get a flat with a sea view, it’s hardly surprising that more and more London-based renters are looking to Thanet and the rest of the Kent coast to buy their first home,” says Damien Cooke of estate agency Cooke & Co. Trains from Ramsgate to St Pancras take around 80 minutes, and are about to get quicker due to improvements to the line.

Southend is even more commutable. “Londoners love the fact they can live by the beach, but still be at work in 45 minutes,” says Perry Rose from Essex Countryside estate agency.

This new townhouse in Thanet is £575,000 with Strutt & Parker

Thanet, with its seaside towns of Broadstairs, Westgate-on-Sea and Ramsgate, is full of charming ­Edwardian and Victorian homes, and has a burgeoning art scene, with the Turner Contemporary art museum in Margate (soon to be joined by a new gallery run by Tracey Emin). Southend has some great schools nearby, and a ­number of swanky new developments have cropped up in recent years.

A change of pace

Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, and North Norfolk

Average price for a first home: £184,440 and £203,290

The research also suggests that some first-time buyers from the capital are after something completely different.

Rather than familiar commuter names such as Woking and Slough, more savvy first-time buyer commuters have been buying in Wellingborough in Northamptonshire. It's well-connected: the train from the market town to ­London takes less than an hour. Just over one in 10 homes sold in ­Wellingborough last year were purchased by London-leaving first-time buyers, who paid just over £180,000.

“Around here you enjoy a much ­better work-life balance because of the open countryside and idyllic surrounding villages,” explains Ian Simons from estate agency Winkworth.

Over the past four years property prices in Wellingborough have increased thanks to the general uplift in the ­Midlands, ­rising from an average of £162,000 to £220,000. “But this is still below the current national average, making it an ideal town to have a ­family,” adds ­Simons.

With a much lengthier commute, but offering a dramatic change of scenery and much fresher air for London renters, North Norfolk has climbed to the 28th most-popular place on the list. “The first-time buyers relocating from London to North Norfolk tend to be people who visit the area for a long weekend and get inspired to make the move from the capital,” says Tim Hayward of Jackson-Stops. Aside from pristine Blue Flag coastline and nature reserves, property prices are reasonable here.

“Around 10 miles inland you can buy a two to three-bedroom cottage for ­between £250,000 and £350,000,” ­explains Hayward. Many buyers, he says, will base themselves in Norfolk part-time while commuting into ­London two or three days a week.

The proportion of London-based first-time buyers in North Norfolk as a ­percentage of all sales increased to 6 per cent last year (the same as Guildford), and 20 per cent of all first-time buyers there are from the capital. They paid on average £203,290, which is £135,000 less than property in the Surrey commuter ­favourite.

These emerging first-time buyer hotspots have also received a boost from improvements to Britain’s broadband network. As the trend for remote and flexible working gains momentum, who knows which far-flung towns may top the chart in the next five years.