Town and Country (part one)

Usually I have used this blog to write about cars, specifically which ones I might like to buy. However before I am able to buy a car, I first intend to get myself on the property ladder, which is no mean feat being a single person living in London.

One option which people keep talking to me about is moving outside London and getting a property in one of the home counties. I have never been sold on the idea but thought I would let off a little steam about areas which I might consider moving to if I were to take the plunge and move outside the capital. Originally I had intended to detail possible London locations too, but this post proved too much and I will try and follow up with those next weekend.

What follows is a breakdown of places in Hertfordshire and Essex which I would consider living in, as somebody brought up in North London. Please note that this list is not exhaustive and is totally biased…

Hertfordshire:

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Hertfordshire is a landlocked county in the East of England – much of it is actually located in close proximity to London, and there are excellent transport links in terms of both trains and roads, and in fact there are also London Overground services and one tube line in the county. A significant number of commuters live in Hertfordshire, but most of the county has been able to retain a distinct character.

Broxbourne

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Broxbourne is actually the name of a borough in East Hertfordshire, but it is in fact a separate area between the towns of Cheshunt and Hoddesdon, and has a well-served train station and a small selection of shops. Property prices are higher than either of these two areas thanks to the proximity to train station, but are still reasonable considering the area; good sized one bedroom flats are available for under £230k, and two bedroom flats are not too much more. However being outside London has its disadvantages in terms of transport – a peak single fare is £11.20, nearly double that of Cheshunt (just one station down), and while the trains are very regular throughout the day, it is very difficult to get back from London from a night out – there are no buses or trains after midnight.

Cheshunt

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Cheshunt is probably the best known settlement in the borough of Broxbourne, and I actually used to work at the large retail park on the fringes of the town. The town is divided by the A10 – West Cheshunt is generally a residential area, whereas the other side of Cheshunt has a mixture of housing and a scattering of shops along the High Road, focused around ‘The Pond’. Unfortunately the station is located on the eastern edge of the town, which is quite industrial – house prices are quite reasonable though, with £200k-£220k being standard for a one bedroom flat…a little more would buy a two bedroom flat, although it’s worth making sure that it’s close to the station. Cheshunt has the benefit of being served by both Greater Anglia and London Overground trains, with a single fare costing £6.90 as the station is in Zone 8 – unfortunately there are not any options other than this though, which can be a pain after hours.

Cuffley

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The village of Cuffley is just outside of the M25 and is served by a train station with regular services into Moorgate. It’s a relatively small place, with a selection of shops and most of the housing being large and detached. Most of the affordable property is actually close to the station and is surprisingly affordable, although one bedroom flats are rare – two bedrooms currently cost around £250k. However there isn’t too much to do in the village, and a single fare from the station to Moorgate is £7.60, with an additional £2.90 to get to other stations in Zone 1 (£10.40 overall).

Hertford

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Hertford is the town which lends its name to the county, and is located around 10 miles outside the M25. In recent years the town has seen a significant amount of investment and development, a significant amount aimed at interesting younger people and those who work in central London. Property remains quite reasonably priced, with even new one bedroom flats being available from around £230k, and with a choice of two different train lines transport links are quite good. Hertford East has services which go into Liverpool Street via Tottenham Hale, with a single peak fare being £11.20, while Hertford North serves Moorgate and costs £11.50 for a single peak fare, with an additional £2.90 needed to get to another Zone 1 station. Hertford itself has a good nightlife, but getting back from London past midnight is pretty much impossible without aid of a taxi.

Potters Bar

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The town of Potters Bar is another town located just outside the M25, with regular trains into both Kings Cross and Moorgate and good transport links by road as well. Train fares are currently £8.40 for a peak single, with an additional £2.90 for Zone 1 travel, but contactless should be extended to the station in 2019 which might negate the need for the second fee – Kings Cross is as little as 18 minutes away on some trains. Property prices are surprisingly high, with around £250k needed for a one bedroom flat, but Potters Bar does have the benefit of being located relatively close to Cockfosters – any Uber journeys outside of hours would be considerably more affordable than those to other places in Hertfordshire.

St Albans

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St Albans is a small city located around 20 miles outside of central London and is popular with commuters due to its selections of bars, restaurants, parks and speedy connections to central London. However all this comes at a price, and property is expensive considering the distance from London – £250k buys a one bedroom flat, while train travel is expensive; £12.50 for a peak single fare into central London and another £2.90 for a Zone 1 journey.

Waltham Cross

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Waltham Cross is the southern-most area of the Borough of Broxbourne and borders with Enfield – in some places this is quite indistinguishable. The area does not have the greatest reputation among locals and this is reflected in the house prices – it is possible to find a two bedroom flat for under £220k. That said, Waltham Cross is served by two train stations in Zone 7 – so a single fare in peak is £5.60. There is also a night bus which serves Waltham Cross, as well as the 217 bus, but both take a considerable amount of time to reach Herftfordshire. It is also worth mentioning that both train lines have variable frequency of trains, even peak.

Welwyn Garden City

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Welwyn Garden City (WGC) is probably the furtherest from London on this list, being located quite far into Hertfordshire and probably closer to the border with Bedfordshire than London itself. Just off of the A1(M), Welwyn is a relatively new town which was mostly built in the 1950’s – there’s a good selection of shopping and restaurants, and everything has been landscaped to look as less urban as possible. Trains are regular and go into Moorgate, but are relatively pricey at £11.90 for a single peak fare and £2.90 on top for Zone 1 travel, although it is worth noting that contactless is arriving later in 2019. Property is relatively inexpensive and a new-built one bedroom flat costs around £230k and is within walking distance of the station.

Essex:

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Essex is a very large county and stretches all the way from London to the North Sea – it has somewhat of a reputation but it varies considerably in character depending on where you are. Given that I want to be close to central London that rules out a sizeable portion of Essex, but there are a surprising number of areas which are easily accessible:

Brentwood

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As a large town situated just outside the M25 and near to the A12, Brentwood has long been popular with commuters who work in London as well as those who rely on roads. In the past property has been relatively affordable, but the inclusion of Brentwood as the penultimate stop on the new Elizabeth Line (Crossrail) means that it has now become a very attractive option for those looking to travel into the city on a daily basis. While the launch off Crossrail might be delayed until December 2019, there are already quick trains into Liverpool Street which take around 30 minutes – once the line opens the commute time from Brentwood to Paddington should be around 45 minutes. However, property prices have jumped recently, and although cheaper than some out-of-London lines, a single fare from Brentwood to Zone 1 will still cost £8.20 at peak.

Buckhurst Hill

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Buckhurst Hill is an area on the borders of where Woodford meetings Epping Forest, but still counts as Essex. It’s a relatively small place but has a distinct character with lots of restaurants, bars and beauty salons, and has the benefit of Epping Forest being on the doorstep. It’s also well served by public transport and has two Central Line tube stations; Buckhurst Hill (Zone 5) and Roding Valley (Zone 4) – the latter requires a change at Woodford, but a peak single ticket is only £3.90 compared to £4.70 at the Zone 5 station. It takes 28 mins to reach Liverpool Street and 36 mins to reach Oxford Circus, though the Central Line is the one of the worst tube lines in terms of heat, crowding and reliability (Chingford Overground station is not too far away, however). Property prices are predictably high, with most one bedroom flats being priced close to £300k.

Chigwell

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Chigwell is arguably the nicest part of the very South West corner of Essex, retaining much of its rural feel but also having access to several tube stations in Zone 4 – this means a peak single fare of just £3.90. However, Chigwell itself tends to be characterised by large detached properties, with more affordable flats only being available in the less desirable Grange Hill and Hainault areas. New builds have started to crop up, but these are being built far away from any public transport and still attract high prices due to their proximity to leisure facilities such as health clubs. These tube stations are on the ‘Hainault Loop’, meaning the frequency of trains is less than other parts of the line.

Epping

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Epping is outside the M25 yet still has a tube station, meaning that it is a desirable place for people looking to experience some village life yet retain easy links to the city. The town itself is nice and has lots of shops and some bars, but this relaxed culture means that property prices are actually quite high, as are rail fares given that the station is in Zone 6. One bedroom flats in Epping seem to nudge £300k, though they are larger than those in London locations. It’s also worth mentioning that the journey time from Epping to Liverpool Street is around 40 minutes, which is quite a long time if you then have to get on another tube line, and the night tube only runs as far as Loughton.

Loughton

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Loughton is a small town which is essentially an overflow of London – much like Enfield Town and parts of Barnet, it has its own identity and a busy high street and reasonable night life. In this sense, it is a more attractive place to live compared to Buckhurst Hill and Chigwell, with which it forms part of the ‘Golden Triangle’ of Essex – there are plenty of large detached houses and being on the edge of Epping Forest also means there is plenty to do. It is more affordable than either Chigwell or Buckhurst Hill, but that’s because most of the town is quite far away from both tube stations (Loughton and Debden), which are in Zone 6 and means that travel is relatively pricey at £5.10 for a peak single ticket. A two bedroom flat above shops on the high street costs around £270k, with one bedrooms being quite rare but closer to the £250k mark.

Waltham Abbey:

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Of all of the places on this list, Waltham Abbey’s inclusion is simply in the interest of fairness. Property prices are very reasonable and at the current time you can easily find a two bedroom flat in a modern development within a £250k budget – not much more will probably get you a small house, too! Waltham Abbey is also close to the M25, but unfortunately there are no train stations in the town – the closest is a few miles away in Waltham Cross, or alternatively the tube station at Epping. However neither is a particularly good option and there is no regular public transport covering the stations (to my knowledge).

Conclusions:

In writing this I have found that my initial thoughts about moving outside of London are justified – as you will find out in the second part of this there are places within London which are similarly priced yet offer a less expensive and more flexible commute. I am sure that both Essex and Hertfordshire have their strengths for families and young couples, but for me I think that I am better off in London, unless I manage to find an affordable property in Buckhurst Hill…

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