James Max

The two-hour rule: where to move to within touching distance of London

The two-hour rule: where to move to within touching distance of London
The Cotswolds, iStock
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According to the latest forecast from estate agents Hamptons, a second wave of property demand could keep house prices rising by up to 3.4 per cent a year between 2022 and 2024. Now that the pandemic is moving into our rear-view mirror, it seems many buyers are still plotting a move from the city.

If you’re not going into your office every day, you might be forgiven for thinking that you can cut ties with London completely. As the great city reawakens post-Covid, you should think again. Its vibrancy, shops, history, world class cuisine and incredible arts and culture should still be the guiding light of any property search - even if it is simply to make sure that you can still reach the capital by train. With that in mind, why not follow the two-hour rule? Find a town that’s less than two hours’ drive or train journey from London and relocate there. The chances are, you’ll get more for your money and have a better quality of life than opting for suburbia.

When moving to the West, people naturally gravitate towards Oxford. But prices in the leafiest parts are almost interchangeable with London and there’s a council that hates cars; if you live within the ring road you will be subject to an ever-growing list of arbitrary driving restrictions.

Wallingford is a beautiful market town perched on the River Thames just thirteen miles south of Oxford. North of Reading, its location is great for car or rail into either city. More importantly the properties in the town and just outside are glorious. It’s an hour and a half into London by car and the fastest trains will drop you off in just over an hour.

Rowers on the Thames at Wallingford, South Oxfordshire

If you fancy a project, there’s a striking house on the High Street for sale with a coach house. Yes, you’ll have a lot of work to do but at £1.8 million, compared to London prices, it's quite the opportunity.

At £800k this 3000sq ft, six-bedroom house offers a lot of space. And, whilst you could move straight in, there are plenty of projects you could action to upgrade the house.

Meanwhile just outside Wallingford in Brightwell-Cum-Sotwell, chocolate box heaven for £1.25 million comes in the form of a four-bed, detached and thatched cottage. With a plot of just under half an acre and a range of outbuildings there will be plenty of space and opportunity to settle.

A bucolic escape for sale in Brightwell-Cum-Sotwell (JPKnight)

If you’re prepared to go for a new build, £695k will get you a family home with four bedrooms in Mongewell, just to the east of the town.

Or for a more modest £375k, Lavender cottage is in Dorchester-on-Thames for a three-bed terraced thatched cottage.

Nice as this location is, you may want more value for your money. If you head west to Wantage in West Oxfordshire, you’ll find a slower pace of life but trains that will get you to London in an hour and a half or a car ride of just under two hours.  For £1.1 million, you’ll be able to buy a house with over 5,000 sq. ft of accommodation and ample car parking. The tempting price may reflect the new dwellings that are being built nearby.

In the centre of the town is The Clock House. £730k will secure this 18th century Grade II listed property with four bedrooms and plenty of outside space.

Wantage combines character with amenities

If you are set on a lifestyle by the river, you could head into Buckinghamshire and the charming and historic town of Marlow. It’s not a cheap location but you do get more for your money than the city. Beware of some not-so-charming houses that seem to attract premium prices though.

At the top end of the market, why not splash out on this rather splendid Marlow property? It may only have three bedrooms but there’s a huge amount of entertaining space and it’s right on the water’s edge.

At the other end of the price spectrum, for a shade under £500k, you could buy this well located and nicely presented, two-bedroom cottage.

Riverside properties abound in Marlow

But I suspect, if you’re going to move, you'll be looking to do the job properly and settle a little further away to get more space. That means trekking up the M40. Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire doesn’t have its own railway station, so you’ll have to travel to Kingham or further afield to Oxford or Banbury. Given its position as gateway to the Cotswolds, properties in the area have been in high demand ever since the pandemic began.

You saw what £3 million will buy you in Marlow. So how does £2.8 million for this seven-bedroom beauty catch your eye? Located just outside the town of Churchill, west of Chipping Norton this place is sandwiched in-between Jeremy Clarkson’s ‘Diddly Squat’ farm shop to the east and ‘Daylesford Organic’ to the west. It really is the country lifestyle but it’s about a 2-hour drive to central London with trains taking just under 1hr 45 minutes.

You could, of course, decide to take on a project. For £650k this former bakery and pub with its 0.2 of an acre garden could be just the ticket.  And just to show you there’s value to be had, £325k will get you this three-bedroom end of terrace period property with garden, garage, and parking. 

Since demand for the Cotswolds continues to soar, those looking in this area would do well to broaden their search to the Cotswold 'borders'. Soho Farmhouse has prompted a surge in interest in the area between Chipping Norton and Bicester, with prices to boot. But villages to the north of Chipping Norton on the Warwickshire border towards Stratford-upon-Avon can still provide value along with cracking countryside, as can the villages like Shenington, north of Banbury. Whilst Banbury itself has seen better days, it still boasts a train line that will deliver you into London in an hour.

Demand has soared around Great Tew (pictured) but similarly picturesque villages exist further afield

For those wondering whether the market has reached its peak, I suspect they could be about to shift up a gear. Good, fixed rate mortgage deals are still available and limited supply means demand, and prices, will remain on an upward trajectory. 

Written byJames Max

James Max presents the weekday Early Breakfast Show on TalkRADIO and is a qualified chartered surveyor.

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