In Harlow, Essex, there are nine flathunters for every spare room going. Demand has risen by 350 per cent over the past two years. Everyone, it seems, wants to live in Harlow.
This somewhat surprising information – and the dismal image it conjures up of dead-eyed renters wandering the streets, queuing up for viewings – comes from researchers at SpareRoom.com, who monitored listings and searches on their lettings and flat-share site throughout April to find out where demand is increasing. The answer, it turns out, is in London’s commuter towns: savvy renters sick of London’s prices and tiny rooms are heading into the Home Counties in search of a better life.
But their savviness is catching up with them. On average, the rents in the satellite towns monitored by the site (all an hour or less from London by train) increased by 9 per cent over the past two years. Compared to the cool 10 per cent rise in London in a single year, that doesn’t sound too bad. But in Benfleet, Essex, average rents increased by 21 per cent in the past year. In six out of the 24 satellite towns surveyed, in fact, rents are increasing faster than in central London.
Of course, there are drawbacks, that go well beyond the reduction in your proximity to an all-night Tesco Metro. In many of these commuter towns, savings on rent are outweighed by the sheer cost of travelling along commuter train lines, where most ticket prices have far outstripped the rate of inflation over the past 10 years.