Those still contemplating an exit from the big smoke will no doubt be eyeing up the well-worn path down the M3 to Winchester and, beyond it, Bournemouth. Winchester notched up one of the highest levels of population growth in the south last year – more than Guildford and other popular areas of Surrey: a phenomenon that has no doubt been expedited this year as increasing numbers of house buyers look to the South.
Winchester has often featured in lists of the best places to live in the UK. Large enough to be considered a city with all the services, culture, and connections that entails, it offers house hunters a pleasing compromise between urban convenience and rural charm. Plus it's 1 hour 23 minutes to London on the train. But with a population of 125,000, it's still small enough to feel like an escape from the rat race. For a short period, it was capital of England and with good reason. The son of William the Conqueror is buried in the cathedral along with Jane Austen.
If you’re planning to be in the office for three days a week, the savings to be made on having a far more spacious place to live with all the amenities you might like to find on your doorstep is rather appealing. There's also the choice of 12 outstanding schools to lure families. In addition to Winchester College and St Swithun's, the city is home to Peter Symonds sixth form college, famed for its high number of Oxbridge entrants.
There's also the convenience of being able to get to the south coast or even the Isle of Wight for a weekend without a fuss. Because, although the Isle of Wight or west Dorset coastline can be done in a weekend from London, it’s not a commute you’d want to do more than once a week.
Like any city, some areas will be more desirable than others. If you’re after a Regency style or a Victorian house, head for St Cross to the south of the city. But there is value to be found on Kings Worthy or Oliver’s Battery.
According to some reports, Winchester is the least affordable city to live in the UK because average prices are 14 times national average earnings. But this statistic is skewed. It doesn’t take into account the relative affordability and housing stock. If you’re comparing it to London, of course it’s more affordable. But there isn’t much property available at lower price ranges. The market did see some buoyancy over lockdown rising by 6 per cent in the past year, according to Rightmove.
To give an illustration as to what’s on offer, £3.4 million might be considered a lot to shell out. But this property gives you seven bedrooms and 6 reception rooms over 8,000 sq. ft of accommodation, newly refurbished with six off street parking spaces. Think what the equivalent would buy you in London. Nearby you could, perhaps, consider a five bedroom listed period house for a more reasonable £899k.
Meanwhile in St Cross, there’s a three-bedroom house for sale with driveway parking and manageable urban outside space too, with an asking price of £800k. Nearby Stanmore is also in the catchment areas of Kings' School – an outstanding secondary. However, if you’re looking for a property with potential, how about considering a Regency house in the northern part of St Cross that has space to upgrade and improve?
A bigger project is a property in Southgate Street with permission to run into a home, that’s got a splendid view of the city’s cathedral. If you’re looking for city centre value and a bijoux property? This end of terrace house that’s got enough inside space to settle and outside space to enjoy. And at £550k is certainly favourable compared to London prices.
And if you’re prepared to live outside Winchester, for a touch over £1 million you could find an idyllic thatched house, in Wonston with gardens and outbuildings. Six minutes’ drive from Micheldever station and you could be in London’s Waterloo in 63 minutes. For real value, head to Eastleigh a few minutes further down the M3. It boasts the same strong transport links into London but property prices haven't seen the same level of growth as its more charming neighbour to the north. It may be a pragmatist's choice but it still gives you easy access to the very best of the New Forest and the Dorset coast.
In fact, if it's the rural aesthetic you're after, there are a host of beautiful towns and villages outside of Winchester to consider. Alresford, Bishop’s Waltham or Wickham to name but three. For under a million, £995k will buy you this five-bedroom rural home with sizeable garden in Kings Somborne near Stockbridge. Or for £750k a thatched and detached Grade II listed house near Wallop.
Venturing further down the M3, there's the prospect of enjoying a coastal lifestyle without forgoing all the amenities of the city. If you’re prepared to have a train commute into London that’s just a little longer, then take a look at Bournemouth in Dorset. With a population of over 180,000 it’s the largest town in the county. The fastest trains will get you into London in 1hr 45 mins. The drive is a bit more of a bother with it taking 2hrs 20 mins to get into the capital. To label the area is tough because there are pockets of extreme pricing (Sandbanks) whilst other areas offer better value for money.
Prices, like in many parts of the UK have been on the up. According to Zoopla, they rose 5.8 per cent in the past 12 months. But the average price per sq. ft, £282, compares favourably to London’s £562 per sq. ft.
If you want all the ritz of London by the sea, by all means go to Sandbanks. You won’t get much change from £4 million for a bling house without much character. Pop over to Poole and £5.6 million will get you 5,700 sq. ft of architect designed urban-by-sea. Areas that offer better value and similar beach access are Branksome and Westbourne. Parkstone train station offers a handy line into London without having to venture into central Bournemouth. It's worth hunting for property here on a street by street basis as there is a vast differentiation between the style and quality of houses within postcodes.
For all the perks of city living that Bournemouth may provide, there may be better value to be had if you’re looking for a seaside home that’s a couple of hours away from London. I’d rather head east and for half the money and twice the class. Lymington and its surrounds offers much better value for money. £2.75 million will buy you this rather spectacular house, grounds, and outbuildings.
For a slightly more reasonable £2.25 million, a 1920s house with gardens, pool and space to grow your veggies could be yours. And for £1.15m this five-bedroom house offers the sort of family home that would be pushing £3 million in the city centres.
Southbourne to the east of Bournemouth offers good seaside value, if that’s what you’re after. But as soon as a sea view is thrown into the mix, prepare to compromise over space and garden. £950k will by you a well located four-bedroom house but with minimal green space.
And if you’re prepared to venture further west? At East Marches near Uplyme for £1.85 million there’s an Arts & Crafts beauty for sale.
The best way to discover places is to take a road trip. Whilst the bigger towns may have better communications, you’ll find the villages and satellite towns offer better value. Like everything there’s a compromise to be made between the budget you have and the transport you’ll have to take. Now that the rural rush prompted by the pandemic is easing, there's logic in looking at cities that can provide a better lifestyle and yet allow you to retain some of the convenience of urban living.