Some 20 miles north of central London, St Albans is a buzzy little cathedral city with a great street market and a fantastic selection of restaurants and bars.
It also has the kind of schools that tempt parents to leave the capital, plus plenty of parks, open countryside, commons and forests for those who love the great outdoors.
From St Albans City to St Pancras International, the commute is pretty unbeatable, taking from just 21 minutes. An annual season ticket costs from £3,500.
Market forces: St Albans is one of a small, elite group of UK cities where average property prices top £500,000. According to the latest UK House Price Index, the average property price stands at £502,956, which is down two per cent year on year.
“The London market has suffered post-Brexit referendum and that has had a knock-on effect here,” says Jamie Reynolds, sales manager at Hamptons International.
“The market is stable but when people are making money in London it gets reinvested here and that is just not happening at the moment.
“People are still moving to St Albans, but they might rent at first because prices are not rising so they don’t need to buy. They are coming for six or nine months to check out the place first.”
THE HOME SEARCH
For period charm and a central location, all roads lead to the Abbey conservation area where a three-bedroom period house will cost £650,000 to £800,000, depending on architectural style and proximity to the station.
A typical London first-time buyer budget, currently hovering around the £420,000 mark, would comfortably buy a two-bedroom city centre flat, newly built or period, or a two-bedroom period terrace house.
If you want a big, roomy period house, St Albans has some lovely Arts and Crafts homes but prices can be prohibitive. Expect to pay between £2 million and £2.5 million for a five- to six-bedroom red-brick pile.
Even fairly ordinary-looking Twenties family homes come with seven-figure price tags: around £1 million to £1.5 million for a four-bedroom detached house near the centre.
Although St Albans is compact, prices can vary dramatically. Around Clarence Park, just east of the city centre, a four-bedroom detached Edwardian or Twenties house would cost upward of £1 million says Hamptons’ Jamie Reynolds. In Fleetville, a mile further out of town, that plummets to £650,000-£850,000 which would buy a smaller four-bedroom Victorian terrace house.
WHAT’S COMING UP?
Work starts this year on a major plan to regenerate a currently grotty swathe of the city centre around the Alban Arena theatre and music venue just off St Peter’s Street, one of the city’s main shopping streets. Up to 90 flats, shops and offices will be built on a seven-acre site by Angle Property.
On a smaller scale, the city and district council gave planning permission for a former electricity works in Campfield Road, half a mile east of the station, to be converted into just over 100 new apartments.
Another prime city-centre site could be up for grabs soon if St Albans City Football Club’s plans to build a new stadium south-east of the city go ahead, freeing up its current base in Clarence Park, a five-minute walk from the station.
Gabriel Square is a selection of three- and four-bedroom townhouses and one- and two-bedroom flats with interiors by Conran + Partners. Set around a garden square, it’s less than five minutes’ walk from St Albans station and 10 minutes’ walk from the boutique shopping, restaurants, cafés, concerts and theatre productions in the centre.
A four-bedroom house is £1.15 million through Collinson Hall (01727 629165). A two-bedroom duplex is listed for £715,000, and a two-bedroom flat for £635,000.
At Abbey View, another new scheme within easy walking distance of the city centre, two-bedroom flats are priced in the region of £475,000, with Help to Buy available.
Meanwhile at Apex House, a boutique scheme of 48 flats with a good location 10 minutes’ walk from the station, homes are for sale with William H Brown from £425,000. Call 01727 629103 for both developments.
UPSIDES OF ST ALBANS
Generally lovely: St Albans was voted one of the top 10 spots in Britain to raise a family (Alamy Stock Photo)
A generally lovely place to live, St Albans was this summer voted one of the top 10 spots in Britain to raise a family, based on factors such as crime rate, house prices, drug and alcohol use and school standards. “There is a great bar and restaurant culture in town,” adds Jamie Reynolds.
“If you come up on a Friday or Saturday night it’s buzzing. We’ve got all the chains, an Ivy restaurant has just opened, and good independent restaurants.”
AND THE DOWNSIDES?
Prices are London-style, while most homes with four or more bedrooms were built in the last century and lack obvious kerb appeal.
The city centre serves a wide surrounding area, so weekend traffic can be gridlocked and parking is a pain. While pretty and peaceful, St Albans is desperately middle class and can be a bit staid.
City centre schools with an Ofsted “outstanding” rating include St Alban and St Stephen Catholic Infant and Nursery and Junior Schools; Oakwood Primary School and The Abbey Church of England Voluntary Aided Primary School. For seniors, St Albans Girls’ School, Loreto School, Beaumont School and Sandringham School also get top marks from the Government’s inspector. Verulam School, however, has been deemed “inadequate”, so parents of older children will need to become catchment area experts.
IT FEELS SAFE, CLEAN AND GREEN HERE
Working for Google in the capital, Thibault Sottiaux from Belgium didn’t want a shoebox London flat so he moved St Albans and bought a duplex apartment at Gabriel Square, a winner in this year’s Evening Standard New Homes Awards.
Super-speedy: Thibault Sottiaux is at work faster than when he lived in London (Daniel Lynch)
“The amazing thing is that I work in King’s Cross and my commute is faster now than it was when I lived in London,” says the 26-year-old software engineer. He paid £730,000 for his two-bedroom home, which is an easy walk from the centre of the city, and he has enjoyed getting to know historic St Albans over the past four months.
“It is a very old, historic city and I am enjoying the street market and just strolling around talking to people. The community is much more friendly than in London, where it can be tough. There are plenty of pubs, and it feels safe, clean and green.”