The London housing market is notoriously overpriced and cut-throat – and now a record proportion of homeowners are turning their backs on it altogether and heading north.
The proportion of Londoners moving to the Midlands and north of England has more than tripled since 2010, according to new research by agents Hamptons International. Given the huge disparity between the cost of housing in the capital and other parts of the country, it means they can get a lot more for their money.
In the first half of 2018, around 20% of London homeowners who left the capital went to the north of England or the Midlands to buy – up from just 6% a decade ago.
A total of 30,280 people (of the capital's 8.8 million population) left London during the same period, with many of them seeking a bigger home or better local schools for their kids, the research found. While most of them still head to the home counties, the proportion moving further north has risen in recent years too.
Londoners who leave the capital spend an average of £424,610 on their new property, the research shows. This might only get you a one- or (if you're lucky) two-bedroom flat in London, but it could get you a four-bedroom detached house in a desirable Birmingham suburb, a six-bedroom terrace house in Leeds or a six-bedroom semi-detached house in Salford.
But value for money isn't the only reason why homeowners are fleeing southern England – the phenomenal cost of stamp duty is another deterrent. For buying a detached home in the south this comes to £14,780, compared to £5,358 in the north. "More people are making a bigger move and buying a larger home sooner to avoid having to pay stamp duty on additional moves as they trade up. For many, this means heading further north," said Aneisha Beveridge, research analyst at Hamptons.
Emma Griffiths, 32, who works in the museums and archives sector, sold the two-bed flat in Bromley, southeast London which she owned with her husband in 2016. They originally bought it in 2011 for £200k and with the money from the sale were able to secure a four-bed detached house in Staffordshire for around £290k.
They wanted to be closer to friends and family, but also desperately wanted a larger home. "We wanted to buy a bigger place – a house with at least three bedrooms – and we couldn't really afford that in London without moving to an area that either wasn't as nice as where we previously lived, or was too far from the train station, or both," Griffiths told Refinery29 UK. "Property prices had increased a lot since we bought the flat, so to buy a three-bed house near where we lived would have been around £400k-500k at the time.
"In the sector that I work in I'd get paid largely the same whether I work in London or anywhere else, but the cost of living is a bit cheaper in the Midlands, and the commute into Birmingham is quieter and less stressful than the commute I had into central London from Bromley."
As for the advantages, their Staffordshire home is quieter, "much bigger than [they] could ever afford in London," and has free parking. The commute is less stressful, the cost of living is lower and they benefit from a friendly local community.
There are disadvantages though – there are more job opportunities in London so it can be challenging looking for work in the Midlands; and Griffiths believes it may be a little too quiet for anyone used to the hustle and bustle of London life. "Personally, I enjoy visiting London and I'm glad I tried living there for a bit, but I'm happy where I am now and wouldn't want to move back."
Many other people consider buying property in the Midlands and north of England a good investment, even if they don't live there full-time. Alex Binley, 27, a journalist in London, bought a two-bedroom flat in Wolverhampton by herself for £71k in 2014 when she worked in the city. She'd been renting in the area but realised her monthly mortgage payments would be less than her rent.
"I'd managed to save up enough for a deposit on a small flat and thought this would be a good investment," she told Refinery29 UK. "I saved a lot of money during the 18 months that I lived in the flat as I rented out the spare room which covered my mortgage. Essentially, all I was paying was bills."
She left Wolverhampton for a job in London and has decided to keep her flat while she rents in Southfields, southwest London. "I currently rent the [Wolverhampton] property out to cover the mortgage payments and earn a small amount of money from it. I intend to keep renting it for at least a year, and then after that I may look to sell it and use the money I make to put down a deposit to buy a flat in London."
The Hamptons research also found that a third of young people in London were unable to buy their first property in the capital, with almost double the proportion having to buy outside London than was the case back in 2013 (16%).