Commuting from Essex: where to swap a London apartment for a house
ophie Parkin and Jon Irving are among the many couples whose wedding plans have been shattered by the pandemic. They were to walk down the aisle last summer.
âWe planned to get married last year and then maybe buy a house this year,â Parkin explains. “So we decided to reverse our plan and buy a house instead of getting married, which we are doing this summer instead.”
The couple, who both celebrated their 30th birthday in lockdown, had rented in Tooting since 2013 and were paying Â£ 1,550 per month for their two-bedroom apartment. Their budget did not allow them to buy a house in London, so they turned to Essex, where Parkin was born and raised.
Forget any preconceived notions you might have about the land of fake tans, bleached veneers and Towie, as Essex also offers some deliciously non-blinging options that are increasingly popular with Londoners who are fed up with it. ‘to be locked in the city.
Parkin and Irving chose the village of Greater Chesterford, four miles from Saffron Walden – one of Essex’s prettiest towns – and close to the Parkin family. They used Help to Buy to move up the ranks in August, putting down a 5% down payment on a brand new Â£ 350,000 two-bedroom garden house. Their mortgage costs a lot less than their Tooting rent – around Â£ 1,000 a month.
Parkin, who works for integrated communications company 4Media Communications, plans to spend a few days a week in his Farringdon office, with the train journey taking around an hour. Irving, who works in IT security, is about to start a new job in London and will be commuting daily, at least until he learns the ropes.
âIt’s been a strange time to relocate, but we don’t regret it,â Parkin said. âI love being in the country, and while it’s definitely a big change of pace, the only comment my other half has made is that they miss being able to go out and have a pint of milk when we run out. “
Moving to Saffron Walden
With its award-winning market, its beautiful half-timbered cottages and its grandes Ã©coles, Safran Walden has long attracted outgoing Londoners. It has good galleries, a community run cinema and English Heritage’s Audley End House is beautiful. But contrary to what you might expect, Bruce King, chief executive of Cheffins, says incoming buyers aren’t all retirees looking for an old-fashioned town to grow old in, but rather young professionals and professionals. families leaving London or working in one of the nearby science parks.
The appeal of Saffron Walden is undeniable. The medieval town center is beautiful to look at: full of lovely cafes, restaurants and independent shops. Make friends at one of the tennis clubs, work out in half a dozen gyms and enjoy many long country walks exploring the pretty hinterland villages of Saffron Walden .
You are also just 16 miles from Cambridge for day trips and nightlife while the journey to London (from Audley End station) takes less than an hour. Stansted Airport is 21 km away for return travel.
King finds that younger, childless shoppers tend to look to pretty two- to three-bedroom timber-frame cottages in the town center, which are said to cost between Â£ 350,000 and Â£ 500,000. Those with children could buy a post-war four to five bedroom house further away for between Â£ 500,000 and Â£ 700,000. There is, King says, a bit of a shortage of great period homes, so when they do arrive you’ll need to budget around Â£ 800,000.
Saffron Walden has had a very good pandemic in terms of house prices, up 16% last year and 34% in the past five years.
Moving to Mersea Island
The romance of island living could be yours – and all within an hour and a half of London. Traveling from this eight-square-mile estuary island to the capital involves crossing a Roman causeway, built when it was a vacation destination for the middle classes. It is a short drive from Colchester, then 46 minutes by train to Liverpool Street.
The reward is a coastal house with a unique atmosphere. The beaches are beautiful but there are hardly any of the usual tourist pop-ups to go with them. Locals spend their time windsurfing, kayaking or sailing with the island’s yacht club. There is an annual regatta and a food festival.
“If you are passionate about sailing Mersea Island is very attractive, âsays Karl Manning, residential sales manager at Savills Chelmsford. âIt is also very popular with families.
Much of the island is a nature reserve, so there is a lot of open space. It has several cafes, pubs and basic stores. For everything else, there’s Colchester. There is a primary school on the island, rated “good” by Ofsted, although older students should take the bus to Colchester or Tiptree.
The property ranges from a few rather grandiose sea-view houses – modern or period, priced at Â£ 1million – to modern four-bedroom detached houses for around Â£ 500,000 and small period terraces priced at Â£ 350,000.
Prices have fallen this year according to Savills research, down 3%. But they have increased by 18% over the past five years and the failure of the last year could have been due to the small number of homes sold on the island.
Moving to Dedham Vale
If your dreams of a new life involve a quintessential pretty English country village, this Area of ââOutstanding Natural Beauty just north of Colchester is the perfect hunting ground.
Painter John Constable was born in East Bergholt just beyond the Suffolk border and many of his larger works feature the villages and countryside nearby, earning this area the nickname Constable Country.
It is ideal for sports enthusiasts with numerous walking and cycling trails, as well as the opportunity to try horse riding, golf and water sports along the Suffolk coast.
In appearance alone, the two most beautiful villages must be Dedham and Nayland. Dedham also has an âexceptionalâ Ofsted Primary School, as does the village of Lawford.
âA lot of people leave South West Essex and East London and pass the nearest Essex towns and come straight to Dedham Valley, where they can get more space for their money, âsays Manning.
The A12 to Colchester is notoriously blocked, but Manning says improvements are being made which should make the journey a little less painful. Expect to pay Â£ 800,000 for a freestanding four bedroom cottage in one of these villages.
Another popular option for those who aren’t quite ready to dive into village life is the small town of Manningtree, which is located on the estuary of the River Stour and is convenient for the Suffolk coast.
Manningtree has a pretty main street with plenty of pubs and restaurants, a contemporary art gallery and a top performing college. Trains from Manningtree to Liverpool Street take just over an hour.
The beauty of the valley and its proximity to London means this is the most expensive of our Essex picks. But in terms of investment, it seems a solid bet. Prices have risen nine percent in the past year, Savills found, and 25 percent in the past five years.
Moving to Leigh-on-Sea
Just inside the sandy beaches of Southend, arty Leigh-on-Sea has become very popular with families who want to leave London for the sea but don’t want to compromise on local amenities.
Word of mouth seems to have been the root of Leigh’s resurgence and most of those who come down seem to have a network of support out of the box. Whatever the reason, price growth has been healthy, according to Savills, with average prices rising five percent in the past year and nearly 30 percent in the past five.
Beyond the beach, Leigh is well served by transport. Services to Fenchurch Street take 48 minutes. Old Leigh is a pretty enclave of wooden cottages, cobbled streets, bars and restaurants. There is a thriving arts scene in the city and an arts trail (as well as a folk festival and regatta).