Renters who go to town on country life

More and more Londoners find they prefer to commute from outside the city. Ginetta Vedrickas finds a lot to recommend suburban and rural living
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The Independent Online

Supply may now be outstripping demand, but finding a good rental property in London is still not easy, or cheap. Factor in the list of gripes about city living and suddenly renting in the suburbs or country looks more alluring. But is it a practical option for those who work in the city?

"Definitely," says Kate Benson of Lane Fox, Princes Risborough. "It's a great area for commuting, there are four trains an hour during rush hour, and it only takes about 45 minutes to get into Marylebone." Much of the area's semi-rural housing stock lies within a 10-minute drive of the train station, which is on the Chiltern line from Birmingham on the Buckinghamshire, Oxford borders.

But surely those who take the plunge to commuter land tend to be older and prefer to buy rather than rent? "People rent for different reasons. Some are buyers in the long term but may be between houses. We also get many young professional couples who rent for six months to a year to give it a try," says Benson, who sees the move from the city as a natural progression for mid-thirties professionals with plans for "children and dogs" but who want to test their stamina.

Lane Fox currently has a two bedroomed, unfurnished country cottage to let for £1,850 per month and a large, four-bedroomed house with three receptions plus conservatory, again unfurnished, for £1,950 per month. This compares favourably with London prices. "It's definitely cheaper here," adds Benson. "You have the best of both worlds as you can earn London salaries yet live more cheaply."

And there are other benefits: "You can go out for dinner or to the theatre, get the last train home and be back for 1am." Some people loathe commuting but Benson sees advantages to the journey. "The last train is not like the last bus. On some nights if it's been the proms or something there's a rather jolly atmosphere." She believes that city life for today's young professionals is different today: "Everybody used to live centrally but today's young professionals have to move further and further out. In the time it takes to get across London you might as well live out here in the countryside."

Ian Denny of Haslams in Reading is also seeing an influx of renters commuting into London but who are still enjoying an urban rather than rural lifestyle: "We're starting to get lots of young professionals as they can rent in the town centre and get to London by train in 20 minutes. A one-bedroom flat costs you £750 per month and two bedrooms £900. London rents are so high that you find yourself paying for a week what you would pay for a month in Reading."

Denny is seeing more couples where one partner commutes but the other works in Reading ("There are lots of companies relocating here.") And the River Kennet has many new residential developments which bring with them the inevitable up-market bars, restaurants and clubs: "It's like a mini London here," says Denny. City Lofts, better known for its Manchester locations, has a recent development which includes a penthouse for sale at £500,000. Many of the apartments have sold to buy-to-let landlords for the influx of commuters who prefer renting.

One commuter who, somewhat ironically, sees no advantages to buying is estate agent Ed Mead who for many years has rented a large house on a 5,000-acre private country estate near Newbury: "It suits me very well. I live in a huge house worth over £1m and there's absolutely no way I could afford a house like that otherwise. What I pay in rent would get me a house for half that value if I took out a mortgage."

Mead explains why buying is not for him: "Most people buy a house, move up and up the property ladder until they die and then they leave the money to their kids. Well bollocks to that. I wasn't given any money and I don't intend to do that either. What I've got I can then spend on things that I need now."

What Mead lacks in equity he makes up for with his collection of cars and motorbikes, the latter being his preferred mode of transport for his commute to his Sloane Street office: "It takes about 50 minutes. I've got people working for me who live in Wandsworth and it takes them longer to get there by train and they have to get up earlier than I do."

Above everything, Mead enjoys the flexibility and lack of maintenance costs that renting brings: "Maintaining a large house is very expensive." But he admits to being a keener exponent of renting than his wife: "She would like to buy somewhere." And reactions from friends and colleagues are not always favourable: "They're always saying that I'm mad but in fact recently some of them have been saying that perhaps I'm right after all."

Lane Fox: 01844 342571; Haslams: 01189 601055; Douglas & Gordon: 020-7225 1225

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