Liz Rowlinson

Inside the new commuter belt: from Oxfordshire to Essex

Inside the new commuter belt: from Oxfordshire to Essex
Image: Savills
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The rise of hybrid working has meant buyers are willing to endure a longer commute so they can have a bigger house. London’s newly expanded commuter belt now includes many locations within a 90-minute ride, which have become hot spots in the ‘race for space’. But access to the capital is still important for part-time commuters - so which areas tick both boxes?

For the hybrid workforce, being able to drive 10-15 minutes to a station with regular trains into the capital is key, along with easy access to a motorway or trunk road.

Savills analysed 439 commuting stations and found that for those which had a travel time of between 85-95 minutes, the average second-hand sale price of property within 2km of these stations is £308,000, 25 per cent lower than the average of £411,000 seen across the 50 most popular commuting hotspots (41 to 68 minutes into central London).

Examples of locations with an 89-minute train ride into London include Salisbury with an average sold price of £323,781 in the past 12 months; Stafford (£192,211) and Moreton-in-Marsh in the Cotswolds at £358,635.

Estate agents in the Cotswolds have without doubt been a beneficiary of hybrid commuting trends, and new businesses are popping up to cater for all the DFLs (in case they fancy a break from Soho Farmhouse). Carole Bamford, of Daylesford Organic, is behind the new chichi pub with rooms,The Fox at Oddington (a pretty village near Moreton-in-Marsh) and a new private members’ club,The Club by Bamford opening next year.

Amongst the new flexi-working spaces opening in re-purposed barns and villages there’s nearby Berrybank Park. This three-bedroom barn conversion is also close by.

A 3-bed barn conversion in Moreton & Marsh (Strutt and Parker)

The commute from Kingham is 80 minutes or Charlbury (69 minutes) and these stations are in the most in-demand patch of the northern Cotswolds between Stow-on-the-Wold and Chipping Norton, down to Burford and east to Great Tew and Charlbury, according to Harry Gladwin of The Buying Solution. 'These villages now offer so much more to do than the odd pub, with good schools also a driver – Kitebrook Prep is popular, as well as the many good options around Oxford.'

His buyers spend £3-6m, and according to Knight Frank’s Prime country house index, demand has pushed values in the £4-5m sector up by 28 per cent between June 2020 and June 2022, whilst for the £5m+ it’s been 36.8 per cent; nearly double that of the £1-2m level, at +19 per cent.

West of the capital, the valleys of well-kept villages around Salisbury have become popular for offering more bang for your buck than nearby fashionable pockets of Hampshire such as Stockbridge in the Test Valley (average price £849,849: Zoopla). The Nadder and Chalke Valleys west of Salisbury are highly sought for a rural life close to good train and road links, as well as the Vale of Pewsey south of Marlborough (Pewsey is 67 minutes into Paddington). This three-bedroom thatched cottage near Salisbury is £535,000.

A thatched cottage on the market in Tilsbury, Salisbury (Connells)

Closer to the traditional commuter belt, Berkshire is having a moment, especially areas around the stations of Reading, Newbury and Didcot Parkway. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s move to Windsor is a fillip, along with the arrival of country house and spa, The Retreat at Elcot Park, near Newbury – Berkshire’s answer to Soho Farmhouse. 'But a real game-changer will be when the Elizabeth Line will bring the fast link between Reading with the City in the autumn – even daily commuting will be possible,' says Jess Simpson of the eponymous property search agency. ‘Prices in Berkshire have written less than in Cotswolds in the past two years.'

In Tidmouth, near Reading, a there’s a five-bedroom converted stableblock for £1.95m, but her top-picks places within 15 minutes’ drive of Newbury (and the M4) are Yattendon, a picture-perfect village with two excellent pubs (The Royal Oak and The Pot Kiln), and Hampstead Norreys with the popular Community Shop & Café, plus also West Woodhay and Faccombe.

There’s more to do in Hungerford, with its delis, restaurants and antique shops (53 minutes into Paddington) and nearby villages such as Great Bedwyn and Kintbury have their own train stations to London Paddington. In the latter, a four-bedroom detached house with a two-room log cabin is currently for sale through Hamptons at £725,000.

Essex can also offer better value and easy access into the City at Liverpool Street. Buyers have been looking beyond the pricy commuter favourites such as Brentwood to the villages around Colchester; or the Essex/Herts border around Bishop Stortford and Saffron Walden along the ‘M11 corridor’ - also ideal for those who commute to Cambridge.

Buyers from London have been ‘following the train line’ out to pretty villages close to the A10 and A20 such as Much Hadham and Standon, or to those near Audley End train station (55 minutes intoLiverpool Street)such as Wendens Ambo, Arkesden, Wicken Bonhuntand Clavering. In Arkesden, there’s a handsome home with a swimming pool, tennis court and home office annexe.

'Buyers from southwest London are also looking at this area – with a budget of £1.25-2.5m,' says Tim Phillips from Savills. 'It’s a side-step in value but you get much more space. They are no longer after rural isolation but a village with good pubs and shops.'