With property prices on the up and house-hunters in the UK’s cities struggling the most to find an affordable home, many are widening their property search to the suburbs and beyond. But while you might get more square metres for your money out in the sticks, you need to factor in the additional costs – and I’m not just talking about the inflated price of your annual season ticket for the commute to work.
We recently moved out of a cramped one-bed flat in central London to a semi-detached house in a leafy village in Surrey. The house, at £405,000, was £5,000 cheaper than the sale price we got on the flat.
I’d lived in London for 16 years and in all that time I’ve remained fiercely committed to the wonderful sights and sounds and experiences that the capital has to offer. But I also like space and fresh air and relaxation. And there comes a time when the see-saw tips and the grass is greener. So we upped and moved. The value we could get outside London finally seemed too appealing to turn down. And this was largely due to the crazy sale price we were fortunate enough to get for our modest, damp inner-city shoebox.
Aside from the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2008, inner-city house prices have been rampant for years. The Nationwide figures for Q4 2014 showed that the average house price in the UK stood at £186,270, a 9.7% increase on 12 months previous.
But that UK-wide figure tells only a fraction of the story. Property prices in London were up by significantly more than that. In fact, the average home across London as a whole is now over £500,000. And continuing to the end of the spectrum, the average house prices in ‘Prime London’ has soared by 11% over the last 12 months to a staggering £1.6m.
It’s not just the capital that is the centre for such dramatic increases either. Other UK cities are following a similar pattern. Earlier this year, the Nationwide survey revealed that prices in Manchester, where the average is around £215,000, were rising at the fastest rate in the UK, even faster than London.
The real problem is that incomes are not keeping up. Salaries have been stagnant and are only now starting to creep up again following the crash six years ago. Research by the TUC found that the average price in most London boroughs is now at least 10 times the average salary. In 1997 just over a quarter of boroughs had house prices more than five times the average local salary – but by last year every borough had exceeded that ratio.
No wonder more and more people are running for the hills in search of a decent space in which to start and nurture a family. But, as I’ve recently discovered, there are additional pains and financial burdens associated with the big leap from city-buzzer to country-relaxer.
First of all, I quickly realised I now need a car. The nearest supermarket is 3 miles away. I hadn’t owned a car in 15 years and I was aghast at the cost of running it, let along buying it. Then there’s the upkeep of the property. The walls and flooring were all a bit tired but all of a sudden I was looking at refurbishment costs that were five times that of my one-bed flat. Household bills and council tax are a lot chunkier too.
Then there’s the commute, of course. Previously I had the luxury of walking 20 minutes to the office. The only time I had to pay for travel was when I ventured out into Soho in the evening after work, which would happen once or twice a week. Now I pay £240 per month for my basic train fares. But it’s not just the expense of the travel; it’s the inconvenience of delays and cancellations and then the almighty challenge of ‘other people’ during rush-hour.
I was recently involved in a survey that looked at the cost of commuting. We calculated that on average a British adult will spend over £60,000 travelling to and from work during their working life. The daily cost of commuting to and from London was an average £118 and took one hour and 14 minutes, which is more than 13,000 hours commuting in a lifetime.
The average overall was 10,634 hours over a lifetime of work, the equivalent of 443 days. Commuting to and from Liverpool cost £72 a month and took 42 minutes each day, while those in Glasgow spent £63 a month, or £35,500 in a lifetime, and spend 52 minutes travelling every day.
Of the commuters we quizzed, a fifth of them said they did so because it was too expensive to buy or rent closer to their workplace. Then, the bug bears… The top commuting ‘hate’ was having to stand or sit next to smelly people on the tube, bus or train, according to a YouGov poll a couple of years ago, followed closely by people who cough and sneeze but fail to cover their mouth.
Women in particular are left fuming by germ spreaders. Next came people who talk loudly on their mobile phones, ahead of passengers who put their feet on the seats, eat smelly food or don’t make space in the carriage or on the bus during rush hour.
Over the hills and far away
These irksome rituals I have come to endure myself and I sometimes wonder whether it’s all worth it. Ultimately, I think it is. If I add up the number of hours spent battling the crowds every week and compare it to the amount of time I get to enjoy the finer side of countryside living, the latter wins hands down. But I do wish I’d been more vigilant in my budgeting before making the plunge.
So, the grass isn’t always greener it seems, but at least there’s more of it.