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High Speed property boost

The launch of high-speed domestic rail services from Ashford to London St Pancras is drawing affluent city workers to the Kent town in search of a better lifestyle.

Just weeks after Southeastern began operating its preview service, which has slashed journey times to London by more than half to 37 minutes, estate agents are already seeing increasing interest from buyers who now view Ashford as an attractive commuting option.

According to Alex Davies, director at Ashford-based estate agents Hobbs Parker, buyers are prepared to pay the price of a season ticket to swap city living for the fresh air and countryside that Kent has to offer.

“The interest in Ashford’s commutability is occupying a lot of our time,” he says. “We’ve already arranged a number of sales for people looking to exchange house prices in the capital for greater value in the Ashford area. We’re definitely noticing a surge in interest from buyers who now see the town as commutable.

“At the moment it’s predominantly buyers in the upper price ranges, affluent professionals from the London market who see no problem with spending £6,000 on an annual season ticket to commute to work,” adds Mr Davies, who says that a better choice of good schools and a slower pace of life are also likely to drive interest in Ashford.

Housebuilder Hillreed Homes, which has seen a steady rate of sales in Ashford despite the recession, says Ashford’s good value property prices have long been attracting buyers from South London and the developer expects interest to increase as more people become aware of the town’s new fast rail link to London.

“The arrival of HS1, coupled with ambitious plans for the town’s development, will in the long term make it more attractive than Ebbsfleet,” says the developer’s marketing and corporate manager, Jo Richards.

Ashford’s fast commute to London also makes it an attractive place to live when compared with towns in more traditional commuter belt areas such as Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Surrey, where average property prices are still 20-34% higher* than in Kent.

That price difference is, however, likely to shrink over the next few years, says Hobbs Parker’s Alex Davies: “We predict that Ashford property prices will rise above normal house price inflation, eventually narrowing the gap between the prices evident in traditional commuter towns.”

Within Kent itself, Ashford continues to offer some of the county’s most competitive property prices.

Says Jo Richards: “The average for a three-bedroom semi in Ashford is around £174,950 for brand new and £150,000 for second hand. In other parts of Kent, such as Kings Hill, an average three-bedroom semi would be £270,000 new or £250,000 second hand; while in Horsham, a typical commuter area, you’d pay around £295,000 for a new three-bedroom semi and around £275,000 for second hand.”

A recent report commissioned by London and Continental Railways suggests that fast rail services into London will stimulate demand for property in Ashford, pushing up house prices by at least £12,800 and possibly much higher.

That prospect is already luring buyers looking for a good investment, says Jo Richards: “We have seen an increase in investors in Ashford and it’s for all the right reasons: low property prices, Gateway to Europe, and now a train service that makes London easily accessible. It’s all in place.”

Jo Richards also believes that high-speed rail services are likely to encourage more businesses to locate to Ashford. “It will then become a destination of choice,” she says. “Maidstone, Canterbury and Tunbridge Wells all have different benefits to offer but, in the long term, Ashford will have everything.”

Judith Armitt, managing director of Ashford’s Future, adds: “The growing interest in Ashford property is further evidence of how the new high-speed rail service is adding to its attractiveness as one of the most accessible towns in the UK. HS1 is the most important economic boost to the South East this year and the knock-on effects to local businesses and home owners will be substantial.”

Southeastern is due to launch its full high-speed domestic service in December.

Media release 0248/09