Since the coronavirus pandemic hit, many people who used to head into the office every day have found themselves working from home. And with many companies unable to argue that it isn’t possible to operate remotely, it seems some people are hoping to make it a more permanent arrangement – meaning there is no need to live quite so close to work.
An exodus from cities could be on the cards. Property websites tell us that people are browsing listings in towns and countries that were not typically commuter areas. Research by Lloyds bank found that 57% of Britons who have worked from home during lockdown now think there is less need to live in a city, a figure that increases to 62% among those who currently call London home. The same survey found that seven in 10 wanted to work from home more often but only four in 10 wanted to give up the office completely.
Maybe it’s just a dream, or maybe the tide really has turned on city living. Either way, it doesn’t hurt to think about where you could go. We have asked Rightmove where people are looking and Hamptons International has crunched some numbers to find the popular spots for those relocating from the biggest cities. Here we give you the lowdown on some of the towns you may be considering, including transport connections for when you do need to go to the office, and what you can get for your cash.
Five questions to ask before you take the plunge
Moving to a new part of the country may sound attractive but it is not without its risks – especially if you plan to sell a property to do so.
The buying agent Henry Pryor has helped many people move. He suggests you ask yourself the following questions before you put your home on the market.
1) What are the communications like? If you are going to work from home then you will need decent broadband and a mobile signal. Living in a town or city you will have got used to lightening speeds, instant downloads and near-zero contention ratios. In the country, internet speeds can move as fast as a herd of sheep and you will have to share your pitiful connection with a dozen other properties at the end of a five-mile copper wire. There are apps you can download to check but always ask to connect to the wifi when viewing a house and run a speed test.
2) What’s the commute like? Sounds obvious but if you have to go to the office then how easy is it to get to the station, how expensive is it to park and what are the chances of getting a seat if you go during rush hour?
3) Do they have home deliveries? Believe it or not there are some parts of the UK where Ocado or Waitrose don’t deliver. If you rely on fresh flowers every week then you’ll need to check just how practical this is.
4) How expensive would it be to sell up and return to the City? If you make a mistake selling up, fleeing back to the town may be harder than you think and the costs are eye-watering. Not all moves to the country work, so check that what you are buying might appeal to someone else.
5) Would your relationship survive? Don’t think that you can make a move to the country and keep a flat in town. That way lies marital strife and an expensive divorce.
It may not be fashionable, but this market town is affordable and well connected
The Staffordshire market town – once the capital of Mercia – has long attracted movers out of Birmingham but the west coast mainline means you can get into London in one hour, 10 minutes if you grab the right train. People are drawn by the transport links and the prices: Peter Elson, of the estate agents Yopa, says he recently sold a five-bed semi for £260,000.
He loves the place. “Tamworth has got everything,” he says. “You’ve got countryside, there are retail parks galore – it’s got a John Lewis at Home now … you’ve got the cinemas, the SnowDome, which was built 25 years ago and has a real ski slope and an ice rink and leisure centre – it’s awesome.”
Elson says the town centre isn’t much of a draw – unless you like coffee. “I have never seen so many Costa Coffees in one place.” There are also plenty of restaurants, including many of the major chains, although he adds: “There’s nothing like Lebanese – we’re not quite like London.”
The 11th century castle will soon show off some of a huge hoard of Saxon riches.
Selling points Well connected, very central – it is about 11 miles from the middle of England, and still affordable, although prices had been going up before the pandemic.
Downsides It is so central that trips to the coast involve at least 70 miles in the car. Like the Reliant Robins once built here, it’s not exactly fashionable – nearby Lichfield is more popular. The town’s secondary schools do not have brilliant ratings. HS2 is coming to the south of the town and bringing concerns of disruption.
Transport You can get to Birmingham by train in 17 minutes and fast trains will take you to Manchester or London in less than one and a half hours. It is right next to the M42 and M6 toll motorway.
Prices Flats go for £119,450, according to Hamptons research, while a semi will typically set you back £200,880 and a detached property £317,410.
Hotspots Elson suggests the north of the town, or nearby villages including Hopwas, which is three miles from the station. “That’s a really nice village, with a canal and a forest.”
On the market A three-bedroom semi next to the canal, complete with mooring rights, is on sale for offers in excess of £240,000, while a four-bedroom detached home within a mile of the station is going for £395,000. A compact three-bedroom terrace can be rented for £695 a month.
Clevedon, north Somerset
You may feel you know this town already, with TV shows such as Broadchurch using it as a location
On a winter’s day, this feels like a frontier town facing the distant smudge of Wales across the water. The Victorians conjured the resort out of a farming village, erecting stately stone villas up and round the seven hills and adding a now-restored pier that John Betjeman described as the most beautiful in England.
You don’t have to have visited to recognise the handsome street of independent shops and the waterfront pleasure grounds, since Broadchurch and Jane Austen’s Sanditon are among the many films and TV series to have used the unspoilt streets as a location. It is largely eclipsed by its louder, brasher neighbour Weston-super-Mare – and it likes it that way. This is sedate seaside nostalgia with donkey rides and delis, which may be why estate agents report an increase in families seeking to escape Bristol – and London – and long waiting lists to view the few available rental properties.
Poets Walk, recalling Clevedon visitors Coleridge and Tennyson, climbs the green hills from the shore, and dollops of park and woodland separate the avenues of Victorian villas. The quainter upper town is where the boutiques and bars – and film crews – congregate, leaving the lower half to the chain stores. The 108-year-old Curzon is the oldest continually operating cinema in the land.
Selling points Sea and sward in abundance. Salthouse Fields on the front hosts a light railway and the world’s largest seawater infinity pool and ornamental gardens lead to the 151-year-old pier. Its secondary school was rated “outstanding” on its last Ofsted inspection and four of its primaries are “good”.
Downsides That sea is actually the muddy brown Severn estuary, with undistinguished beaches and the second highest tidal range in the world. It is no place for thrill-seekers: nightlife – and day life – is low-key.
Transport Beeching saw off the railway in 1966, so it’s a five-mile drive to the nearest station at Yatton. The M5 skirts the town. Bristol and its airport is a half-hour drive away, or just under an hour by regular buses. Cardiff is an hour’s car ride over the Severn Bridge.
Hotspots The Victorian avenues off the villagey stretch of Hill Road have the looks, size and the convenience, plus a price tag to match, and Upper Clevedon has more of the same, plus views. Cheaper period charm is in the West End.
Prices The average sale price was £332,101 over the past year, according to figures from Rightmove, and in 2017 the town had the biggest leap in house prices in the whole of the UK. Terraced homes sold for an average of £248,771, semis for £350,859 and the average sale price for detached properties was £486,110.
On the market A four-bedroom, three-bathroom Victorian semi in central Clevedon at £535,000 or a second-floor conversion flat off Hill Road with two double bedrooms and views of the sea can be rented for £725 pcm. Both with agent Mark Templer.
Dunbar, East Lothian
“Sunny Dunny” is an easy commute to Edinburgh and popular with surfers and rookpoolers
The restrictions on house moves in Scotland are due to be relaxed on Monday 29 June and among the areas set to benefit is East Lothian, which includes the seaside town of Dunbar. About 30 miles east of Edinburgh and steeped in history, it is renowned for its high sunshine record – it is known locally as “Sunny Dunny” – and rugged coastline.
It has long been a favourite with Edinburgh commuters but the Covid-19 crisis has highlighted the attractiveness of places such as Dunbar and encouraged more people to look in their direction, says Malcolm Leslie, a director of country house sales at Strutt & Parker’s Edinburgh office.
The town boasts a busy working harbour, a coastline that caters for surfers and rockpoolers, and a country park named after its most celebrated son (and one of the most famous conservationists in the US), John Muir, that supports a wide range of habitats, birds and plants.
Selling points For many, the biggest plus is its closeness to Edinburgh, which is just a 20 to 25-minute train ride away. Some may say that is a very modest commute time, bearing in mind average house prices in Dunbar are about £30,000 to £35,000 less than those in the city. And the quality of life is great.
Downsides House prices in much of coastal East Lothian have risen sharply during the last two or three years, so bargains may be thin on the ground. Those fond of late-night carousing should know that the last train from Edinburgh to Dunbar is typically at 9pm.
Transport The quickest journey time by train between Edinburgh and Dunbar is about 20 minutes. It is also worth noting that Newcastle is only about 70 minutes away by train.
Prices According to Rightmove, properties in Dunbar had an overall average price of £254,713 over the past year.
Hotspots Properties with a sea view will often command a significant premium, Leslie says. Meanwhile, popular nearby villages include East Linton, Tyninghame and Stenton.
On the market There are quite a few new-build developments on the edges of the town and you can pick up a new detached four-bedder for under £270,000. For £510,000-plus, you could get a five-bedroom listed semi in the Belhaven area. There’s only one rental property in Dunbar on Rightmove this week: a two-bed flat costing £625 a month.
Well known on the arts and crafts scene, the Welsh town was voted one of the best places to live this year
Sitting on the estuary of the River Teifi at the base of Cardigan Bay, this little market town could be the perfect spot to flee to if you have had enough of the big city nine-to-five grind. Cardigan has been making a name for itself with its thriving arts and crafts scene and was named one of the best places to live in the UK by the Sunday Times in March.
The lockdown seems to have dramatically boosted its appeal – according to Rightmove, online searches for homes to buy in Cardigan were up 40% in May this year compared with the same month in 2019. “It’s a lifestyle change, and fears of another outbreak at some time,” says Richard Emanuel at the local estate agent John Francis.
Cardigan is something of a stronghold of Welsh culture and language: according to the 2011 census, almost 55% of the population were able to speak Welsh. It made the news in 2018 when Meghan Markle wore a pair of jeans made by Hiut Denim Co, a small company based in the town.
Selling points Its impressive scenery and coastline, which have made it a favourite with walkers, watersport enthusiasts and anglers, as well as those just wanting to flop on the beach. The town’s narrow streets give it a lot of character.
Downsides For some, this will be part of the attraction but Cardigan is a pretty remote spot and there is no train station.
Transport The best bets in terms of train stations include Carmarthen and Haverfordwest, both roughly 45 minutes’ drive away, and Aberystwyth, which is an hour’s drive. So you could end up spending a lot of time in your car or on a bus or coach.
Prices According to Rightmove, properties in Cardigan had an overall average price of £150,254 over the past year.
Hotspots “Anything with a sea view is really at a premium,” Emanuel says. Something with a large garden just out of town will also be popular. The nearby village of St Dogmaels is particularly well-liked.
Lying within the South Downs national park, the town is tempting to lovers of the countryside
Nestled in the South Downs and half an hour from the south coast, the Hampshire market town of Petersfield seems to be having a moment.
Spool back a few months and the fact that the commuting time by train to London Waterloo is just over the magic one-hour mark – the quickest you can do the journey is about one hour and three minutes – meant that for some working in the capital, it was just that little bit too far out. But it is back on the contender list.
Emma Seaton, a director of the buying agency Prime Purchase, says Petersfield is proving particularly popular with people looking to relocate from London boroughs such as Wandsworth and she has a waiting list of clients looking to buy. “It’s a really nice town … It’s definitely getting quainter – there are some nice independent shops.” One such store, a bookshop, hit the headlines earlier this year when it sent a melancholy tweet saying it had failed to sell a single book all day – and was then promptly inundated with customers.
Selling points Petersfield definitely ticks the countryside box – it lies within the South Downs national park – and it is within easy reach of Portsmouth and its cross-Channel ferries. There are regular weekly markets in the town square and there is – of course – a Waitrose. Some good local schools make it popular with families: in terms of secondaries, the Petersfield school is rated outstanding by Ofsted.
Downsides “Quaint” won’t be to everyone’s taste. If you’re looking for somewhere with a bit of edge, this probably won’t be for you. When the Guardian profiled Petersfield back in 2013, one below-the-line commenter said: “I don’t think Guardian readers would like it here.”
Transport The aforementioned train service to and from London will make it a winner for some. However, journey times can vary: it can sometimes be closer to 90 minutes. Trains to Portsmouth can take as little as 25 minutes.
Prices Rightmove says properties in Petersfield have had an overall average price of £452,943 over the past year.
Hotspots Anything overlooking the Heath – which covers some 69 acres and includes a lake (known as the Heath Pond) – is going to be popular. Ditto homes in nearby villages such as the Hartings, Steep and Sheet (yes, those are all real place names).
On the market A a two-bedroom first-floor flat in the centre of town is on sale for £250,000 and a four-bed terraced house, again centrally located, for £500,000. For those looking to rent, a fairly central two-bedroom flat is available for £850 a month.
Port Isaac, Cornwall
The location for TV’s Doc Martin has had a 50% leap in viewings during the coronavirus lockdown
A gloriously beautiful classic Cornish fishing harbour, with whitewashed cottages on cobbled alleys that are often impassable with tourist traffic – and television crews. Port Isaac is the home of the fictional Portwenn from the TV comedy drama Doc Martin, and cheesed-off locals long complaining about what they say is constant upheaval and blocked roads caused by filming and the hordes who visit the town to catch an eyeful of Martin Clunes. More than a decade ago the Guardian described it as “second homed and gentrified to the hilt”, so locals probably won’t welcome the fact that, according to Rightmove, it enjoyed (suffered?) a 50% leap in viewings during the coronavirus lockdown.
According to a local solicitor Dugald Sproull: “There are little more than half a dozen people left living in the old village. Most of them are now holiday cottages, which were dark and unliveable before they were gentrified. Doc Martin ruined the village. Coachloads pull in every day just to take photographs. At best, they might buy a pasty.”
Selling points You’ll never be short of cream teas and pottery shops. Local people say it retains a sense of community, helped by a working harbour that lands locally caught crab, lobster and scallops. The community primary school, rated good by Ofsted, has only 50 pupils. But it is six miles to the closest secondary school.
Downsides Port Isaac is best filed under “dream location” rather than “realistic option”. House prices are shockingly expensive in comparison to local wages. Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen is selling his holiday cottage, a three-bedder with a shop below, for a cool £800,000.
Transport Public transport is minimal – it’s a half-hour drive to the closest train station at Bodmin Parkway. Then a three-hour journey to Bristol, or four and a half hours to the capital.
Prices Rightmove says that properties in Port Isaac had an overall average price of £469,285 over the past year.
Hotspots There are no cold spots. Land Registry records show that a three-bed semi in the heart of the village that sold for £285,000 in 2015 went for £651,000 last year.
On the market At the time of writing, only 11 homes are listed on the major property websites and there are no rentals advertised.
A three-bed modern dormer bungalow in the upper part of the village, on at £298,000, first listed last year at £350,000. And £510,000 buys you a two-bed Grade II-listed cottage with a separate one-bed cottage to the rear, a short distance from the harbour.
The seaside town has enjoyed a revival, in part because of the power of art
Margate has emerged from its long and bleak slump, its once-seedy seafront B&Bs and dilapidated amusements transformed by the regenerative power of art (Turner gallery, Tracey Emin) into Hipsterville-on-sea. That’s the narrative, at least. More mundanely, local agents say the town’s revival can be traced back to a strict property licensing scheme introduced in 2010 that weeded out rogue landlords and broke the town’s cycle of deprivation. High Speed 1 opened in 2007, slashing the commuting time to London, while the funfair Dreamland, a derelict seafront eyesore for many years, reopened in 2015.
Selling points It is still, relatively, cheap to buy property. The beach is sandy, a rare thing on the south-east coast. The seafront Marine Drive “has more going on for foodies than parts of Soho”, GQ magazine says. In Cliftonville the Libertines are hoping to soon open the hotel part of their Albion Rooms. “I’ve lived here since I was eight years old and it’s a very inclusive area; people do actually look out for each other,” says the local Labour councillor Helen Whitehead.
Downsides Margate Central and Cliftonville West remain the second and third most deprived areas in the whole of Kent. Schools are a mixed bag: three out of four secondaries in the north Thanet area are “below average” or “well below average” says Ofsted. Blame Kent’s grammar system – with the “top” schools all grammars in south Thanet.
Transport Trains into London Victoria are slow – often more than two hours. The high-speed link to London St Pancras is 40 minutes faster – but pricey, with season tickets costing just shy of £7,000 a year.
Prices The average property price in the Thanet district (which encompasses Margate, Ramsgate and Broadstairs) is £236,400, says the Land Registry, less than half of London’s £486,000 and significantly below the £323,000 average for the south-east.
Hotspots On sale for £2.4m. There is some evidence that the early Margate hipsters are now having families and colonising previously sleepy Ramsgate (which is, ahem, closer to those grammar schools).
On the market Recently reduced from £299,000, a three-bed period home a short distance from the Margate seafront is on sale for £250,000. Shame the outdoor space is limited.
A budget of £500,000 gets you a hip early/mid-century detached house, all parquet flooring and fabulous kitchen space.
East Neuk, Fife
This area of the Scottish coast attracts those interested in sailing, golf, walking and seafood
The picturesque fishing towns and villages of the East Neuk, Fife, including Elie and Anstruther, have long been popular with Edinburgh and Glasgow residents well-off enough to be able to afford a second home on the coast. However, the coronavirus lockdown seems to have given them a fresh boost: in May the estate agent Savills named the East Neuk as one of the areas where there had been a notable rise in buyer registrations and its fellow agent Strutt & Parker also predicts we will see more people looking to live there.
This area of coast broadly stretches from Elie and Earlsferry to just south of St Andrews, taking in St Monans, Pittenweem, Anstruther and Cellardyke, Crail and Kingsbarns along the way.
Selling points If you are into any or all of seaside, sailing, golf, coastal walks and freshly caught seafood, then you will probably be sold on this area. Elie boasts a long, sandy beach, while you can take a boat trip from Anstruther to the Isle of May to see the puffins and Crail apparently has one of the UK’s most photographed harbours.
Downsides Prices have been shooting up in some parts of the East Neuk: in January the Courier reported that east Fife house prices had jumped by a “huge” 63% over the past 10 years.
Transport Driving from the centre of Edinburgh to Elie typically takes a little over one hour and 10 minutes. There are no trains in this neck of the woods: one of the nearest stations (and at more than 10 miles away, it is not very near) is in Leuchars, a few miles north of St Andrews.
Prices According to Rightmove, properties in the East Neuk had an overall average price of £250,099 over the past year.
Hotspots Elie is particularly desirable but with an average price tag over the past year of £473,000, it is not cheap. Crail is a favourite of many.
On the market A one-bedroom terraced bolthole in the heart of Elie is priced at £185,000-plus. A five-bedroom detached house in Cellardyke offering panoramic views across the Firth of Forth is available for offers in excess of £425,000. We could only find a small handful of rental properties, including a two-bedroom terraced house on the outskirts of Crail for £478 a month.
The town is a gateway to the areas of natural beauty Suffolk has to offer
The county town of Suffolk and one of the better connected parts of East Anglia, Ipswich has been attracting movers for a while. However, estate agents say interest has increased over the past few months. It has been “massive”, says Jonathan Penn of the agents Jackson-Stops. It is good timing, he says, as there is new stock on the railway making the journey into London more comfortable and reliable.
The town’s waterfront, once a busy working dock, has been fancied up. The University of Suffolk has moved in, together with cafes and restaurants, and made the area a go-to spot for socialising. Some of this has been to the detriment of the town centre but Jonathan Tricker of the agents Keystone says independent shops are opening up and attracting visitors.
There are great green spaces and in normal years Christchurch Park hosts Ipswich Music Day – the largest free one-day music festival in the UK, which twice boasted a young Ed Sheeran among its lineup. The artist John Constable was another local luminary and Christchurch Mansion holds a large collection of his works.
Selling points It is good value and a gateway to some great places to spend a weekend – nearby Woodbridge has some well-rated restaurants, the Suffolk coast area of natural beauty is on your doorstep. “It’s far enough to feel you’ve escaped but close enough to get back,” Penn says.
Downsides Trains are packed by the time they leave for London, so it is not fun to commute every day.
Transport London Liverpool Street is achievable in an hour and 10 minutes by train. Driving to the city is slow – it is about 1 hour, 45 minutes.
Prices Rightmove puts the average price of a semi at £226,015. Terraced properties sell for £185,187 and detached properties fetch £363,010.
Hotspots If you think of Ipswich as a clock face, the most desirable neighbourhoods are between 12 and three, says Tricker. These are where the best schools are. Just north of Christchurch Park is where the money goes – period properties fetch £500,000 to £1m. Museum Street has Georgian mews houses that had been converted to offices but are now being changed back.
On the market An imposing four-bedroom end of terrace close to Christchurch Park and the centre is priced at £625,000. A two-bedroom flat on the waterfront is £290,000. A three-bedroom semi within a mile of the station is up for rent at £850 a month.
Bramhall and Marple Bridge, Stockport
A village vibe and being commutable to Manchester have been big draws for the two locations
You need to be vaguely close to Manchester but fancy living somewhere a little less builtup and a little more villagey. If that sounds like you, two locations being namechecked by estate agents are Marple Bridge and Bramhall. Both are only a few miles outside Stockport and less than half an hour by train to Manchester’s Piccadilly station.
Perched on the edge of the Peak District National Park and on the banks of the River Goyt, the village of Marple Bridge sits just to the north-east of the town of Marple (and yes, this was the place that inspired the name of Agatha Christie’s famous sleuth). Well-heeled Bramhall is about seven miles to the west and was traditionally a favourite of Manchester footballers. Its big draw is the 70-acre Bramhall Park and its striking black and white timber-framed Tudor manor house.
Selling points Marple Bridge is an attractive spot – check out the Roman Lakes – with plenty of independent shops and eateries. Bramhall, meanwhile, is well positioned for good schools and is stuffed to the gills with restaurants and bars, so you will never be short of eating out options.
Downsides Neither area is cheap. Bramhall in particular can be very pricey – homes in roads such as Broadway, Ladythorn Crescent and Pownall Avenue regularly go for well over £1m.
Transport The fastest trains between Marple station (situated between Marple Bridge and Marple) and Manchester Piccadilly typically take only 22 minutes. Bramhall to Manchester Piccadilly is about 20 minutes by train.
Prices Properties in Marple Bridge and Bramhall had an overall average price of £410,598 and £417,374 respectively over the past year, Rightmove says.
Hotspots In Marple Bridge, some will be looking for a property within the catchment area of Ludworth primary school and near to the station and river. In Bramhall, meanwhile, anything nice that is in or very near the “village” will be popular.
On the market A two-bed mid-terrace cottage in Marple Bridge has just had its price reduced to £209,950. In Bramhall, an attractive centrally located five-bedroom semi is on sale for £475,000. A three-bedroom semi near Bramhall village is available to rent for £975 a month.
• This article was amended on 27 June 2020 to clarify that Tamworth is in Staffordshire, as the subheading said, not Shropshire as it originally said in the text.
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