The pandemic may be on the back burner, but the great race for space which was kick-started by the series of national lockdowns is showing little sign of slowing down.
One in seven Londoners would like to leave the city thanks to Covid-19, according to research published by the London Assembly housing committee, but they are unlikely to stray too far. Six out of 10 Londoners who leave the capital head to the South-East and East of England, research by Hamptons reveals.
Many of these London leavers have children in tow. Family has long been the number one reason for swapping big city life for small town vibes, which is why the family homes category is so important and fiercely contested in the Evening Standard New Homes Awards.
What makes a perfect family home depends, of course, on which family you are talking about. But there are some common threads.
Great schools are clearly a priority, and many families head out to Kent in search of a coveted place at one of its grammar schools. But Edward Church, senior director of Strutt & Parker in Canterbury, says families have other demands, too.
Convenience is important. Church thinks the DIY frenzy of lockdown has thoroughly died down now that people are back at work and the appeal of taking on a doer-upper has faded.
“Families want interiors that are finished to a high standard so they can just move in and enjoy their new home,” he says. “The rising costs and waiting time for tradespeople and materials is no doubt playing a role, too.”
Room to work from home is obviously important, which means families don’t necessarily want all their living space to be open-plan, while plentiful storage is crucial for all the ephemera of family life, and Church finds utility rooms add to a property’s family-friendly appeal.
“While gardens and outdoor space are of course in high demand, there are always questions around maintenance,” he adds. “Families don’t want the hassle of lots of upkeep, particularly if it’s a young family and this is their first family home with a garden.”
Beyond the front door, buying agent Andrew Weir, chief executive of London Central Portfolio, says buyers want good commuter links for when they do have to be in the office, plus a village vibe within an easy walk.
“A lively high street with an abundance of coffee shops, brasseries and restaurants [and] an area with a village feel is top on their bucket list,” he says.
“The ability to have all essentials of day-to-day living within a 15 to 20-minute walk of their home is a post-pandemic preference created by the desire to spend more time at home and less requirement to be in their central London offices five days a week.”
Here, we take a look at some of the family-friendly, new-build homes currently on the market.
Knights Park, Eddington, Cambridge
Three miles from the beautiful, historic heart of Cambridge, a new neighbourhood is taking shape.
Knights Park will be a fully functioning urban village, complete with a school, a nursery, shops, market square, sports facilities and more than 120 acres of open space.
Its modern houses are low energy with solar panels, green roofs and triple glazing, which means they will minimise their future owners’ carbon footprints as well as their household bills. And, since trains to King’s Cross take less than 50 minutes, the location is perfect for those who plan to make regular returns to London.
Prices start at £999,950 for a four-bedroom terrace house.
The Scene, Deptford
If you really can’t bear the thought of leaving London, then The Scene would be a great place to raise streetwise kids who can play on the swings at Charlottenburg Park when they are little, and perfect their kick turns at Skate Square as they are growing up.
Fordham Park adds some more traditional green space to the mix, while Deptford High Street is a brilliant blend of cafés, restaurants, and shops for everyone, plus a Zone 2 station.
The nearest schools include Deptford Green School (secondary) and Grinling Gibbons Primary School, both rated good by the Ofsted education watchdog.
Prices start at £850,000 for a three-bedroom townhouse.
Meadow Rise, Braintree, Essex
The houses at this new development are traditional in style, but their interiors are modern and neutral.
This “best of both worlds” approach extends to the location, too. Set beside Marshalls Park and a mile-and-a-half from Great Notley Country Park, there is masses of green space and some very pretty local villages to explore.
But Meadow Rise is also just a mile from Braintree, from where trains to Liverpool Street take just a fraction over an hour.
What Braintree lacks in character it makes up for in convenience, with everything you would expect to find in a well-stocked London suburb: a shopping centre, banks and supermarkets, lots of neighbourhood restaurants and plenty of pubs.
There is also a theatre, leisure centres, rugby and tennis clubs and a cinema.
Prices start at £449,995 for a four-bedroom end-of-terrace house.
London Square Walton on Thames, Surrey
With its well-stocked high street, riverside pubs and good shops, Walton has the vibe of an affluent London suburb, albeit one set in prime commuter belt territory and within easy reach of the Surrey Hills.
When completed later this year, this Arts & Crafts-style development will contain 100 homes, a mix of houses and apartments, set in five acres of landscaped grounds close to the River Thames.
There is an on-site day care nursery, and Walton on Thames Tennis Club is next door for those who fancy improving their game.
For commuters, services to Waterloo take less than an hour, and there are high-performing primary and secondary schools in the area.
Prices start at £950,000 for a three- bedroom house.
New Mill Quarter, Wallington
In deepest south London, almost 500 new homes are helping transform a former trading estate into an urban village.
New Mill Quarter, part of the Hackbridge Gardens development, is set opposite Hackbridge station (Zone 4) and beside Beddington Park, ticking off two major items on most buyers’ wish lists: good transport links and open space.
New Mill Quarter will also have on-site shops, a family play area and a medical centre, creating village-style living on the outskirts of London.
House prices start at £679,995.
’Moving close to Milton Keynes has always been something we’ve wanted to do’
When the Adeuja family were ready to buy a home of their own, they opted for a modern three-bedroom house in the pretty Buckinghamshire village of Hanslope.
The family, who had been renting a flat in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, were taken by the Arts & Crafts style of the new homes at Hayfield Walk, along with their chic interiors, low running costs and eco-credentials.
Michelle Adeuja, 36, and her husband Femi, 43, were also enthusiastic about being just eight miles from the shops and facilities of Milton Keynes. An Ofsted-rated outstanding primary school in Hanslope, plus an on-site playground for Tara, eight, and Tobi, six, sealed the deal.
“Moving close to Milton Keynes has always been something we’ve wanted to do, as the quality of life is so good,” says Michelle, a social worker.
“My husband has an electric car, so the green specification features were a big factor for us. Overall, the look and feel of the house has such a wow factor. We are thrilled with the quality of all the finishing touches.”
Prices for homes at Hayfield Walk range from £345,000 to £465,000.
‘We needed more space to balance work and family’
With baby Rosie to care for and a business to run, Jordana and Ben Traviss needed to upsize into a home suitable for their growing family. The solution was a new three-bedroom semi at Maple Walk in Hampshire.
The property ticked boxes for Ben, 30, who is watch manager at Liphook Fire Station and needs to be close to work, and Jordana, who uses a home office for her dance and fitness companies.
“With juggling two businesses and becoming parents, it became clear that we needed more space to balance our work and family lives,” says Jordana, 29. “We use one of the bedrooms as a nursery, while the other is my home office.”
The family moved into the property in October, having customised the interiors, and like being close to town as well as having easy access to the beautiful South Downs.
Three-bedroom houses at Maple Walk start at £489,950.
‘We didn’t want the stress of decorating an old property’
When they started a family, Vanessa Wilcox and her husband, Lawrence, knew the time had come to sell their two-bedroom flat in Sunbury-on-Thames and upsize to a family house.
They opted for a new-build home to avoid being stuck in a chain, buying a three-bedroom property seven miles further along the Thames at Eldebury Place in Chertsey.
“The thought of moving into a brand-new home with a baby was very appealing, as we knew we didn’t want the stress of having to paint or decorate an older property,” says Vanessa, 39, a chartered company secretary.
“We were also drawn to the energy efficiency credentials that go hand in hand with a new home: much lower energy bills and a warmer house.”
Since moving in a year-and-a-half ago with two-year-old daughter Daisy and their golden retriever, Gary, they have loved having their own garden after lockdowns spent in a flat.
For Lawrence, 32, a personal trainer, moving a little further away from London was another bonus since he is now surrounded by open space for training sessions.
And Guildford Street in Chertsey offers the family a really good choice of shops, restaurants and bars. If they need to go into London, trips to Waterloo take about half an hour.
Four-bedroom houses at Eldebury Place start at £699,995.