Out of town, into four bedrooms

Ready to trade cafe society for a house with a garden? Then consider Hertfordshire, says Felicity Cannell

PEOPLE WHO LIVE in London divide into two groups: those who love it and those who are simply biding their time until they can move out to the green belt.

For many families in search of a "better quality of life", St Albans and its surrounding towns and villages are the first targets. Everyone knows someone who has "moved out" and raved about St Albans' rail links and its excellent schools. Agents are equally enthusiastic: "St Albans has an identity in its own right," explains Jonathan Allden, at Strutt & Parker. "You are not buying into a suburb, but a city with its own cultural attractions, yet just over 20 minutes' from central London."

If you are going to househunt in the area, a good tip is to look at the roads around the station. They are packed with large Victorian houses which appeal to ex-Londoners and are cheaper than the smaller, older homes around the park where the station is a taxi ride away.

Don't bother with St Albans if you want a huge garden - local agents say almost all of its homes have little outside space. Nick Masters of Black Horse Agency in nearby Harpenden says, "People from London move out to a cottage in St Albans, then move to Harpenden to start a family." Of the 10,000 homes in Harpenden, over half are detached. The original village spread out to a town in the Seventies, so much of the property is relatively new and within walking distance of the station. Around pounds 200,000 will buy a four-bedroom semi-detached house.

Neighbouring villages Redbourn and Wheathamstead are some 20 per cent cheaper as you have to drive to the station.

Check the catchment area for local schools before you buy a house. Hertfordshire has seen such a huge influx of families over the last 10 years that the secondary schools struggle to cope with the number of pupils. So catchment areas for the most popular schools have been considerably tightened. Buckinghamshire also scores high in the education stakes because of the large number of grammar schools. But you can pay London prices for a family-sized house. Clarissa Hale and her family lived in Seer Green, between Gerrards Cross and Beaconsfield, in a two-bedroom house. When her third child was due, they needed to move. "The huge jump in price to a bigger property was beyond us. The sort of home we wanted was nearing pounds 400,000, double the price of the house we sold."

Damian Gray, at agent Knight Frank says: "In Beaconsfield, Great Missenden or Amersham, the best roads within 15 minutes walk of the station and local facilities have around 20 per cent premium."

You'll get a lot more for your money in the Hertfordshire and Essex borderlands, where the downturn in fortunes in the City has already started to drive down local prices. As one parent outside a prep school near Bishop Stortford explained, "No one asks what you do for a living round here. It's simply 'which brokerage do you work for?'" Or not. Current predictions are that the City is in for a short, sharp shock, with pessimists forecasting up to 30,000 redundancies next year.

Andrew Clack, from Centurion Properties, sees the factors which inflated the commuter market as the same ones which will bring it down. "For the past couple of years, City workers have been paying silly money for large country homes. This has a knock-on effect down through the market, but demand is now easing off, and properties in the pounds 200,000-400,000 bracket have already been affected."

Hertford has excellent road and rail links and schooling. Phillip Godfrey, at Churchills estate agents, says "People don't move here just to work in the City, so values are reasonably safe. The market has been constant for the past two years." A three-bedroom semi with a garage, near Hertford station, goes for pounds 155,000. Godfrey says buyers can get more for their cash in the new towns like Kings Langley or Stevenage.

All this sounds appealing for Londoners doomed to live in cramped flats. But I grew up in the Buckinghamshire sticks and now love London. The schools in Buckinghamshire may be great but I don't want to inflict the boredom of green-belt life on my kids. I spent my teenage years swilling cider, and hanging around the phone box. Give me cyber cafes and Soho coffee bars any day. Think about that before you move to bloody St Albans.

Black Horse, Harpenden, tel: 01582 769966; Centurion Properties, Braintree and Harlow; tel: 01376 550010; tel: Churchills, Hertford 01992 500151.

Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
science
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

    £22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

    Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

    £22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

    Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

    £40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

    Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

    £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before