Mass exodus: Why London renters are moving to St Albans

PUBLISHED: 11:44 09 November 2017 | UPDATED: 12:05 09 November 2017

Which way now? Londoners are setting up home in St Albans in their droves

Which way now? Londoners are setting up home in St Albans in their droves


Tenants are leaving London in record numbers, priced out by the rising cost of renting - and more and more are coming to St Albans.

St Albans was named the fourth most popular exodus hot-spot in a recent surveySt Albans was named the fourth most popular exodus hot-spot in a recent survey

The city was named the fourth most popular exodus hot-spot in a recent survey which found that 65,000 of them left the capital last year, unable to afford average monthly rents of £1,712.

Many headed for the Home Counties, for regeneration towns such as Slough in Berkshire and Thurrock in Essex, with Broxbourne and St Albans coming in third and fourth place.

The survey was carried out by the estate agency chain, Countrywide, based on the movements of its own tenants. And while it may come as no surprise that Hertfordshire was a popular choice, it revealed another trend.

A total of 78 per cent of these mainly young so-called Generation Renters left to find another tenancy with a mere 22 per cent opting to buy, something that a decade ago was the main reason for leaving London, with more than half at that time looking to get on the property ladder.

Londoners love St Albans' historic buildings, including the famous Clock TowerLondoners love St Albans' historic buildings, including the famous Clock Tower

“I see this sort of thing a lot,” said Andrew Bradford of Bradford & Howley. “People just find they can’t afford to live in London, and certainly not get on the property ladder. St Albans has always been popular but in the past 12-18 months as the market has tightened up, that has increased.

“There’s a massive demand for city centre living at the moment, not just in St Albans but Harpenden as well. These places have everything the so-called Generation Rent movers tend to want; good restaurants, plenty of places to socialise, a very good family mix and, of course, easy access to the stations.”

Clearly, a knock-on effect of this may be that the demand puts a strain on the local rental market, especially as some landlords are being deterred by Stamp Duty increases and changes to the way tax relief is calculated.

Andrew is confident the rental market is holding its own at the moment but does see a time when that may change, admitting: “put it this way, we could always do with more properties on the market.”

The Abbey Gateway and the Cathedral are part of the city's rich historyThe Abbey Gateway and the Cathedral are part of the city's rich history

Another by-product of this exodus is that people who come, whether by choice or in desperation, tend to settle, drawn often by the standard of the schools.

“People do generally tend to stay and buy here,” he said. “They may well move eventually to the outskirts to be close to the secondary school they want, for example. And there are enough villages able to provide a different way of life, if that’s what they’re are looking for.

“The thing that tends to move them away are work changes. That happens in a versatile economy. Otherwise, if they’re settled in a job in the City, there’s no need to move as the rail links are so good and they know they’ll get a lot more for their money.”

A glance through the listings on Rightmove illustrates that all too well. A search for recent one-bed flats in St Albans in the low-end £600-£700 price range revealed five listed within the previous 14 days and 17 when the figure was raised to £700-£800.

St Peter's Street, St AlbansSt Peter's Street, St Albans

An identical search failed to find any in Camden, Hampstead, Greenwich and Lambeth, and only one in Edgware. A second appeared in the higher search but fell way short of the accommodation the St Albans ones offered. Wider searches added more to the London borough offerings but were limited to flat or house shares. Tower Hamlets, for example, had 11 but most were attic rooms.

All that is familiar to relocation expert Sharon Hewitt who regularly finds homes in Hertfordshire for people wanting to flee the capital.

“I recently took someone from a one-bed in Chelsea to a three bed in St Albans with space to park their car, a garden and within reach of the station,” she said. “Someone else wanted to get away from the noise of Hampstead and swapped a Victorian three-bed terrace for a country manor with a couple of acres near Redbourn.”

Sharon, who runs Chiltern Relocation, describes St Albans on her website as somewhere “full of character” and “steeped in history”, citing its Tudor architecture, 15th century clock tower, and the fact that it has two railway stations.

George Street is home to many local independent shops and restaurantsGeorge Street is home to many local independent shops and restaurants

“Some of the high-rent areas in London are just not sustainable any more,” she says. “If you look at a map around London and want a place which offers a good lifestyle within easy reach, St Albans more than fits the bill, especially for those whose criteria includes greenery, a country pub within a short stroll or somewhere to walk the dog.”

Driving the exodus are professional thirtysomethings, many of whom would, in the past, have moved out to buy but are now simply looking to continue renting – but at a rate that doesn’t cost them two thirds of their wages.

The Bernards Heath area is popular with London incomersThe Bernards Heath area is popular with London incomers

Estate agent Savills recently estimated the number of people leaving the capital had hit a five-year high. Analysing figures from the Office for National Statistics and the Land Registry, they estimated that, in the year to June 2016, they numbered 93,300 – more than 80 per cent higher than five years earlier.

And while they found Cambridge, Canterbury, Dartford and Bristol the most popular escape routes, the most likely destination for people aged over 25 moving from Islington was St Albans - where they estimated the average home was £173,000 cheaper.

Interestingly, an online search for a flat in the £700-£800 range in Islington produced three – two single-room student-only options and a share.

Picturesque Fishpool Street is one of St Albans' most attractive roadsPicturesque Fishpool Street is one of St Albans' most attractive roads

Another survey, by Hamptons International, revealed last month that almost 94,500 people had fled cities for the countryside over the past 12 months, another record as the figure was 16 per cent more than in 2016 and the highest since they began keeping such records in 2007.

David Fell, Hamptons’ research analyst said the main beneficiaries were “well-connected rural markets rather than places in the middle of nowhere”, which is probably why the survey showed Shephall in Stevenage experiencing a rise of 30 per cent in terms of property transactions.

St Albans kitchen (Agent Online/Rightmove)St Albans kitchen (Agent Online/Rightmove)

To some analysts, this is good news for the Home Counties. If London is no longer the go-to place, an influx of young, energetic, highly skilled - and potentially high-earning - people can help revitalise an area, irrespective of whether they are renting or buying.

And, given that those who feel compelled to return to the capital number little more than five per cent, many of them are here to stay.

“A typical scenario may be someone in their early thirties who may say ‘I’m living in London, I have a three-and-a-half year old and if I don’t get into the school I want I’m not sure what I’m going to do’,” says Sharon Hewitt. “In somewhere like St Albans, they’d have a lot of alternatives.”

Edgware bedroom (Mark Ashley & Co/Rightmove)Edgware bedroom (Mark Ashley & Co/Rightmove)

More for your money in St Albans

£800 pm in St Albans: living room, bedroom, luxury fitted kitchen, 0.4 miles from City station.

What else? A gated compound with a car parking space.

£800 pm in Edgware: living room, bedroom, fitted kitchen, 0.4 miles from Queensbury Tube station.

What else? An extra £150 per month will be charged for utilities.

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