he capital’s population is forecast to drop by 300,000 this year as Londoners freed from the shackles of office life embark upon new lives.
But as well as getting used to a world with no Ubers or Deliveroo, no all-night shops, and no Tube they might have to face up to an uncomfortable truth.
“We sort of thought, rather naively that we would be able to sell our house in Southfield and get a house, nothing palatial, but with a bit of land,” said Robin Green, who sold the family home she shared with husband Andrew, and their three children, Willow, nine, Sebastian, five, and Emmeline, three, last summer.
In reality the family have discovered that prices are a lot higher in their chosen county, Kent, than they had supposed. They ended up having to compromise, up their mortgage, and borrow from family to make the move happen.
The family had lived, happily, in Southfields, for eight years, but pre-pandemic had decided they wanted to bring the children up in the country.
They opted for Tunbridge Wells, for its grammar schools and easy commute to London where Andrew, 43, is a bank manager, and Robin’s cake business, Cakes By Robin, is still based.
They put their home on the market in December 2019 and found a buyer willing to pay £1.07 million almost immediately. Then Covid hit and the buyer pulled out.
They bided their time until last summer, and found a buyer willing to pay £1m. Although this means Covid had cost them £70,000, they were still confident they could find a great house with a seven-figure budget.
They moved to a rented home in Kent in time for the children to start school and started house hunting. “There just wasn’t much on the market in our budget,” said Robin.
In the end the family decided to stretch themselves and spent £1.175m on a four-bedroom cottage, which is around the same size as their old house.
It does, however, have eight acres of land, while in London they had a “microscopic garden”.
“It was £175,000 over budget,” said Robin. “We have had to increase our mortgage and borrow some money from our family to do it.”
Londoners have long been guilty of overestimating how much the proceeds of a sale in the capital will buy them, but a perfect storm of factors is currently conspiring against them.
Propertymark’s latest housing market report found there are currently 16 buyers for every available property on the market. One in three properties (32%) sells for above asking price, the highest figure on record.
The latest UK House Price Index, meanwhile, shows annual price rises of more than 10 per cent in England, but less than four per cent in London.
What can I buy for the price of a London home?
Adding to the problem, most people leaving London want more space which, according to exclusive analysis by Savills, might require taking on a significantly larger mortgage.
The research compares typical sale prices for London flats and terraced houses, with the cost of detached homes in a series of desirable out of town locations.
It found that a mover with a Stratford flat can expect to sell their home for an average £444,000. On the other side of London someone selling a Chiswick flat will make an average of £516,000.
Londoners selling houses will see bigger returns. A terrace in East Finchley sells for an average £814,000, while down in Wimbledon a terraced house breaches the £1m mark.
The most expensive areas for London leavers
The problem is that high prices in some of the capital’s most established commuter honeypots mean they are going to be well out of the reach of most London exiles.
Berkhamsted, Henley on Thames, and Sunningdale and Ascot all have average prices well above £1m. Average prices in Guildford are well over £900,000, while if you dream of a Cotswolds cottage prepare to spend £737,000.
If you don’t want to give up urban life altogether you could opt for a small city.
But bear in mind that the average price of a detached house in Brighton and Hove is a resounding £894,000, Cambridge will set you back £884,000, and lovely Winchester is £837,000.
It is only if you are prepared to move well beyond London’s commuter halo that you will start to find value.
In Bristol the average house price stands at £529,000 — although with that kind of budget you won’t get swanky Clifton, the Chelsea of the west country, and will need to focus your search either right out in the suburbs, or look at terraces around lively Southville or Totterdown.
If your exit strategy is coastal you will need to pay a premium for the chance to taste the salt in the air rather than a lot of pollution.
The average price of a detached house in commuter friendly, up and coming Folkestone or Southend is in the £500,000 to £600,000 mark.
But glories of the North Norfolk Coast or the smart South Hams will set you back north of £600,000.
Houses in the lovely South Downs town of Lewes, handy for the south coast but less frenetic and tourist-logged than its resorts – are priced accordingly, with an average house price of £864,000.
The most affordable London commuter towns
If all of this sounds fantastically depressing, then there are some more affordable options where the proceeds from a London sale will buy you a very decent house without compromising on lifestyle.
Petersfield in Hampshire also has that affluent market town feel, is just 25 miles from Guildford. But with average detached house prices £664,000 you can save almost £250,000.
More left field options include Leighton Buzzard is a lovely Regency city where the average price of a detached house is £459,000.
If you are fixated by Kent’s grammar schools then Tonbridge is a lot more affordable than better known Sevenoaks or Tunbridge Wells, at an average £647,000.
And although it doesn’t have as good a range of shops and restaurants, it has all you need plus masses of open space and a good commute.
The market town of Woodbridge, Suffolk, gives excellent access to the east coast (think day trips to Aldeburgh or Southwold), but at the comparatively knock down price of £560,000.
And Stamford is another really lovely market town in the overlooked county of Lincolnshire. You could pick up an average detached house there for just over £450,000 — or around the same price that the average first time buyer pays for a London flat.