James Max

The great escape: where to buy property after lockdown

The great escape: where to buy property after lockdown
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The latest research from Deutsche Bank suggests that a dramatic shift in working patterns is on the way. 57 per cent of the 450 financial workers surveyed expect to be working from home between 1 and 3 days a week once the pandemic has passed. Covid-19 has not only disrupted our lives in the short term but is changing our longterm mindset. So, what does that mean for the property market? If you think it’s back to business as usual, you’ll need to redefine usual before you proceed.

Our new reality now affords office workers the opportunity to live further away from their place of work, which in turn brings the prospect of more space. If lockdown has taught us anything it’s that we’ve undergone a technological revolution without having yet embraced the geographical flexibility it affords. That’s about to change.

Average prices in London are £480k and across the UK are approximately £230k. If you only have to go into the office three rather than five days a week, is it worth considering somewhere further out?

The suburbs are already priced up and do not buy you much more space. I have often talked about the places along the Elizabeth line and other main portal routes as future property hotspots. But the pandemic may well change our outlook so radically that urban living loses much of its appeal. Afterall this isn’t the 1970s where everyone wants to live in a house that looks like a box with pampass grass growing in the front garden.

It’s time to look further afield. We all know you could go west to the Cotswolds – very nice but quite expensive. You could go south to Brighton but that’s very urban, has a pebbly beach and is rather expensive for what it is. Kent is often spoken about, but it is a bit too commuter for my liking. If you go just that little bit further out, you’ll be able to find properties that are larger and have more investment potential. Most importantly of all, it’s here that you’ll find the kind of houses that make future lockdowns more manageable.

Here are seven ideas for the price of a half decent two bed flat in not that central London to inspire you to get hunting and thinking outside of the usual box:


Frinton on Sea gives you seaside access whilst remaining close to the capital.

Since I am here, let’s start with… Frinton-on-Sea. A quiet seaside resort on the north Essex coast. It became a popular destination for celebrity and royalty in the inter-war years. The 1920s and 1930s were perhaps its heyday. The main shopping street was once known as the Bond Street of the East. There’s a tennis club, gold club and a cricket club too. The seafront is lined with picturesque beach huts: seaside perfection. As the crow flies it’s 70 or so miles from central London. The train service isn’t great, but it is regular and in 1 hour 40 minutes, you’ll be in London’s Liverpool Street. In some of London’s outer suburbs you may find a flat or small house for £525,000. But what about a whopping 2,600 square feet? And a big garden and off street parking? Yes, there’s plenty you could do to this house, but it’s nicely located and just a few minutes’ walk from the sea in one of the “avenues”.

Frinton-on-Sea is just the beginning if you look towards Essex. There are all sorts of small Essex villages and towns to explore. Further up the coast is Mistley. The town itself is a little expensive but it does have its own train station which will get you into London in 1 hour and 20 minutes. Horsley Cross is a short drive away and £550,000 could buy you a 4 bedroom housewith land and parking too.

If that’s just a bit too far away, also east is Burnham-on-Crouch which is just 68 minutes from London Liverpool Street by train.

If you wanted a centrally located property that’s just a short walk from the station but in the town’s conservation area, for under £600,000 here’s a five bedroom house ready to move into.

Out of the town is a semi-detached property with equestrian facilities. It’s still only three miles from the station and at £550,000 represents terrific value for money.


Suffolk is wilder than Surrey but vastly less overcrowded

Surrey is not far off London when it comes to property prices and is already chockablock with commuters who have escaped the city in search of family-friendly properties. Your money will go further in authentic Suffolk whose coastline is an added boon to any buyer. Historically this area of the UK has been somewhat overlooked as somewhere to live because the transport, particularly by road, can be poor.

But wait a minute. The countryside undulates, the villages and pubs are some of the most beautiful in England and because it has been overlooked by investors, buy-to-let landlords and house builders remains largely unspoilt. Be prepared for a train journey of just under two hours into London though.

The sacrifice may be worth it, look at this beauty in Naughton. And if it’s land you are after? Try this for size… nearly three acres. And then there is the coastline which remains one of the most sought after in the UK.

North Oxfordshire

The so-called ‘Cotswold borders’ are an untapped property goldmine

The so-called ‘Cotswold borders’ are an untapped property goldmine with topnotch train links and chocolate box looks to boot. The area just off junction 9 of the M40 between Oxford and Banbury is infinitely more commutable than the Cotswold favourites closer to the Gloucestershire border.

Look for villages close to the beefed up Bicester to London trainline which can get you into London Marylebone in less than 50 minutes with trains leaving every half an hour. Soho Farmhouse’s latest opening in the village of Great Tew (where the Beckhams have spent lockdown) has put this area on the map for canny Londoners fleeing the capital so expect significant investment interest here in the following few years.

Key villages whose potential has yet to be fully tapped are Deddington (which boasts a luxury deli and takeaway coffee shop should lockdown strike again), Duns Tew, Steeple Aston, South Newington, Wiggington and Hook Norton – all made up of gorgeous cottages built in the distinctive honey-hued stone that make this area so unique. All are within easy reach of the Banbury, Bicester and Oxford stations. Try this five-bedroom thatched property in nearby Aynho out for size or this four-bedroom cottage with countryside views in Deddington.


Wiltshire offers picture perfect isolation

Berkshire is increasingly full of urban sprawl as Londoners up sticks for somewhere close to their beloved capital. To truly escape to the country, you’ll need to head further to Wiltshire. Hungerford, although still technically Berkshire, is close to many Wiltshire towns and will get you into Paddington in 58 minutes. It’s a pretty town with all the amenities you might need. Hop across the county border and you’ll find all sorts of little villages with a range of properties that may suit a rural lifestyle. After all who wouldn’t want a 2000 sq ft thatched house with gardens? All for the price of a small flat in London?

James Max is a broadcaster, columnist and chartered surveyor.