Living in London can be tough, and the obvious answer for City workers who hanker for a taste of country life is to commute from one of the various picturesque towns on the outskirts of the capital.
Thanks to the abundance of excellent character properties, most London based homebuyers at the top end of the market look immediately towards Surrey. However, living there may not always be practical, and house hunting in other home counties can be rewarding both financially and emotionally.
St Albans is immediately recognised as the principal north-of-London commuter town, locals regard the nearby ‘village’ of Harpenden as its more exclusive sister.
Harpenden locals insist that it is still a ‘village’, so the term is used loosely here, especially as it has a population of around 35,000. However, on walking down the quiet tree-lined high street, with its restaurants and bistros – and no nightclubs – it is difficult to think of Harpenden as anything else.
Development of the village actually started quite recently: ‘Harpenden dates back to late Victorian times, and the next development surge was in the 1930s. So most properties are from the Victorian, Edwardian or 1930s eras,’ said Andrew Hancocks from Savills in Harpenden.
However, while development has occurred in recent years, Harpenden is largely as it was 30 years ago, with many large parks and commons and large character properties scattered throughout.
The beautiful surrounding countryside is famous for its pubs and boasts some magnificent estates, including Hatfield House and Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire.
Harpenden is also famous for its 3 excellent state schools, as well as its private schools, including Harpenden Prep. As a result, it is a very popular area for families. Harpenden residents also take advantage of the larger town of St Albans, with its schools, cathedral and shopping facilities, and which is situated six miles to the south.
Of course the majority of people that live in Harpenden work in London, and the transport links are superb. The reliable Thameslink train connection to London is slightly disrupted currently due to the expansion of King’s Cross Station. However most people living in London would be jealous of the commute, with trains leaving regularly – every 15 minutes – and the journey taking under half an hour.
Once the King’s Cross work is completed, the Eurostar will be even more accessible. Weekend trips to Paris or Brussels via the Channel Tunnel will soon be an easy and relatively cheap possibility by train, requiring just one change at King’s Cross.
Junction 9 of the M1 motorway is only around three miles away, making the drive to London, the North, or the M25 very easy.
In spite Harpenden’s relative youth, there are many character properties and high concentrations of ‘good’ streets and areas. As a result it is more expensive and exclusive than nearby St Albans: ‘Although Harpenden is closely linked to St Albans, if I had £1.5million to spend on a house, I would much rather spend my money in Harpenden,’ said Andrew Hancocks from Savills in Harpenden.
Large premiums are added to property prices in Harpenden thanks to its proximity London and the excellent transport links, as well as its exclusivity. There is still very strong demand at the top end of the market, with properties over the £1.5million selling very quickly.
Most of the best houses are either Edwardian or Victorian, or from the 1930s, although there are some well-designed modern houses and luxury apartments. In general the houses are not as big as they are in Surrey, so there is a scarcity value for the best large properties.
As with any market, location is the deciding feature of any property. According to Mr Hancocks, the most sought after areas are the ‘avenues’ in the centre, and East and West Commons.
The top end of the Harpenden property market seems to be resisting the current slowdown being experienced across the rest of the country: ‘The top end of the market is performing very well, so don’t believe everything you read in the papers. In the past few weeks we’ve sold three properties in excess of £1.5million on just one viewing,’ said Tim Pearse from Lane Fox Estate Agents.
Mr Hancocks agrees: ‘Our three largest houses have been sold over their asking prices in the last three weeks,’ he said. However, the market has changed since the start of this year: ‘It has got harder, there’s no doubt about it. Having said that though, properties can sell. It’s down to what the property is. If it’s priced realistically and it’s unusual, it will sell.’