It was heart warming to see an article in the London Standard a few weeks ago that pretty much covered what I wrote in my move out of London post several months ago. Obviously great minds do think alike! Apparently Savills, one of the largest auction houses in the UK, has done some research and identified three “Cinderalla” towns where property is cheap, where there are plenty of facilities for townies to appreciate and which are in commuting distance to London. The Standard article does not talk explicitly about buying property in these towns from house auctions, but there are auction bargains to be had in these areas.
One of these Cinderalla towns just happens to be on the very edge of Essex/Hertfordshire border – Bishops Stortford. In fact Bishops Stortford is just a stone’s throw from where I live, so I’d say I know Stortford pretty well. I have to agree that Bishops Stortford does have some things going for it as a commuter town, but the image painted of the town in the Standard is not wholly reflective in my view. Before I get onto why I wouldn’t live in Bishops Stortford, I’ll tell you what is good about Stortford first.
The train journey into Liverpool St takes around 45 minutes and there are some stunning old properties, cottages and the like on the outskirts of the town and in the surrounding villages. New apartment and house building has been going on relentlessly for the last 20 years, so there are plenty of newer properties to choose from if you are after something shiny and new.
It goes without saying that house prices are substantially less in Bishops Stortford than in London, and you will, in general get more square footage for your money. Here is what you can expect to pay in Stortford itself (rather than in one of the surrounding villages) if you buy through a traditional estate agent rather than at a house auction:
- 2 Bed Flat – 145,000 Min
- 2 Bed Terraced House – 175,000 Min
- 3 Bed Terraced House – 190,000 Min
- 3 Bed Detached House – 260,000 Min
- 5 Bed Detached House – 450,000 Min
The prices are tempting aren’t they? Stortford has a cinema, plenty of shops including a big Waitrose, some great oldy worldy pubs, a few good schools, a swimming pool and a few gyms for the health conscious. One benefit of Stortford that should be made clear is its location. It’s very close to Stansted airport, so for those who need to travel for business or like lots of holidays, it is convenient to be so close to an airport. Bishops Stortford is also within a half hour drive or train journey to Cambridge (23 miles) and is a short drive to Chelmsford (15 miles).
In my view, that’s about it. It’s the surrounding villages such as Great Hallingbury, Thaxted and Hatfield Heath that offer the most appeal for me and the best properties, not Stortford itself. These villages are jam packed with character – village greens and beautiful cottages – and none are far from mainline rail.
One thing that those not au fait with Bishops Stortford will not be aware of is its strange culture. Bishops Stortfordonians tend to look down their noses at those around them and believe they are better, richer and cleverer than the wider population (though there is absolutely no evidence for that). There is a lot of drug use in the town with cocaine being the drug of choice, which means plenty of fighting in the town on weekends fuelled by huge amounts of alcohol alongside illicit drugs. There are also some big pockets of deprivation in Stortford and estates that you definitely would not want to go into at night.
So like most towns Stortford has it’s positives and it has it’s downsides. Given the choice I would not live in or bring up my children in Bishops Stortford, but I would happily live in one of the villages. If you’re lucky enough to find a renovation job or a repossessed house to buy in one of those, then I’d say go for it and leave the stink of London behind you.