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Thursday, October 28, 2021

Behind the front lines of cut-throat Commuterland

According to estate agents Hamptons, during the first half of 2021, city dwellers bought 61,830 homes outside London – the highest since their records began. But the average buyer purchased just 34.6 miles outside the city – a new phenomenon estate agents term “outmigration”.

So numerous are the outmigrators, that Facebook groups have sprung up to support their quest. On Life after London, which has a membership of over 6,000, the destinations are murmured like meditations: Tunbridge Wells, Haslemere, Bisley, “anywhere in Essex”. 

Andrew Marshall is senior regional sales manager at Hamptons, with a brief covering Banbury, Cheltenham and Marlborough. “I’ve been working in this area for 24 years and have never seen anything like this before,” he says.

Marshall has witnessed 18 months of Londoners seeking to escape, which he says shows no signs of slowing down. 

“There are many attractions to rural Wiltshire, which is just under an hour to London by train if you pick the right route,” he says. 

“But our attractiveness is the problem. There are just not as many chimney pots out here. Demand is swamping supply, both in sales and rentals.”

There’s learning to do, however, for city dwellers wanting to make the move: he says Londoners often looking for nearby coffee shops selling “yak’s milk lattes with chocolate sprinkles”, and have a typically urban lack of understanding about countryside space. “People say they want ‘two acres’, but no one from the city actually understands what an acre really is,” he says. “I ask them, ‘do you want to look after two Twickenhams’? The answer is invariably ‘oh, no!’”

Even so, multiple bids on single properties in Marshall’s areas have skyrocketed: while it used to be that one offer was made every 15 viewings, it’s now one in every four. “We put a Cheltenham house on the market in August for £1.475 million. For whatever reason, that fell through, but it’s back on now for £1.7 million. That’s a rise of almost £250,000 in two months.”

He talks of the “closed sale” of a house in Cirencester. “Forty people came to see it, and we had six offers. One was successful, but the other 39 are now still looking.”

Marshall is particularly entertained by the tactics buyers are using to gain an advantage with vendors, including a flood of X Factor-style sob stories. “They are pulling on the heartstrings,” he says. “One family wrote a letter congratulating the owners on their lovely family home, and promised it would remain a lovely family home if they were lucky enough to be accepted,” he says. “Another asked their children to do a drawing of the house as a gift. One couple even left a pot of strawberry jam.

“My view is that this really isn’t going to be a clincher over £200,000. I always like a person’s money more than I like them.”

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