It's so interesting when people move to different places and Carla shares an insightful personal article on the journey from Bow to Hertfordshire with some great advice for anyone looking to do the same.
Moving from Bow in east London to Hertford, Hertfordshire.
Having lived happily with our first child in our 2 bedroom flat in east London until he was 3, the usual considerations started to surface:
Wouldn’t it be lovely to have our own garden that wasn’t communal, full of dog mess and regularly used by all sorts of people to sit and drink (and worse)?
Just one extra bedroom would be great and a bit more space for baby number two… but house prices in our neighbourhood and indeed the rest of London meant we couldn’t afford to buy anywhere bigger there
The busy, hectic and overcrowded area that we lived in had started to get me down and we weren’t making full use of all that London has to offer. I rarely visited the centre any more
The pollution levels were evident to me every day as well as being constantly reported in the press - since becoming pregnant I had felt uneasy about this although luckily we had no evidence that we were suffering from it ourselves
The nearest primary school to us which was just around the corner was six form entry - something I hadn’t experienced until secondary school and that simply felt too large and impersonal to be sending our four year old to
Both my partner and I grew up in the Home Counties (Herts and Bucks) but neither of us wanted to go back to living where we had been teenagers. Our families and all our friends had since moved away anyway, so there was nothing really linking us to those towns any more. However Hertfordshire seemed to tick many of the boxes we had in mind; commutable into London, more affordable than London, the right side of London to make visiting family easier, plenty of beautiful countryside all around and good links to other UK cities.
We knew two couples living there already, who were enjoying the lifestyle, and there seemed to be plenty going on in terms of bars, restaurants and a buzzy community feel. We didn’t want to suddenly plunge ourselves into middle age despite having a child and rarely making it out after dark. We still wanted to be able to enjoy a family brunch on weekends or a glass of wine over a pub roast without having to drive far.
Hertford boasts two major rail links into London (Moorgate via Finsbury Park, Highbury and Old St or Liverpool St via Tottenham Hale) which don’t provide the fastest links (around 40 mins for the former, 50 for the latter) but felt like a massive bonus given the notorious unreliability of commuter rail links in this day and age. If we could no longer get a taxi home in an emergency without spending a fortune then at least there was a whole other train line as a backup.
Hertford is a really pretty town, bursting with beautiful old buildings of all ages, and plenty of green space. It has a small population of around 27,000, yet offers a thriving market, farmers market, theatre, castle remains and grounds, and a disproportionate number of decent restaurants, bars and pubs. Houses aren’t as cheap as other commuter towns in the county, but it’s nowhere near as expensive as, say, St Albans where we couldn’t have afforded to be anywhere near the rail station!
We visited lots of times when viewing houses and liked it more each time, getting to know all the different neighbourhoods and always exploring on foot. I do think that psychologically the fact that it lies directly north of east London as the crow flies (or the river Lee flows) also had an effect; we are still living with the ‘east’ vibe… Plus the A10 connects us quickly by car too, to travel back to old haunts in Dalston and Stoke Newington where we used to live before we even met and still have friends there.
The story of our move wasn’t a particularly straightforward one (is it ever?). Luckily our London flat sold in days, above the asking price, but we just found it very difficult to get as far as exchanging contracts on a house in Hertford. The first property we had an offer accepted, the vendors couldn’t/wouldn’t find anywhere that suited them, with the second one someone pulled out further up the chain and our buyers were threatening to do the same if we didn’t speed things up soon! This meant that we had to look for somewhere else at the double. We actually ended up, thanks to a very kind friend, packing everything off into storage and living out of suitcases in a borrowed flat in Hackney for two months while we had nowhere else to go (not ideal when 6 months pregnant and with a 3 year old). When the place we finally bought came up - ideal location, completely refurbished inside and out, chain-free and within our budget - we moved fast and pestered solicitors madly until we were finally in, 8 months after our flat sold.
What we learnt
It is quite hard to buy a property in Hertford. The market is very competitive: we were up against other parties in a bidding war the first two times we had offers accepted. According to local estate agents, we were told at the time that people don’t often leave Hertford, rather they up or downsize around the town, so newcomers (generally from London) increase demand for a static number of properties, making it harder to succeed.
What we wished we’d known
How hard it would be to buy here! Although I don’t think it would have changed our minds about wanting to be here. We were looking at properties and planning to move to Hertford for around 18 months before it actually happened. We couldn’t really have done anything differently, except perhaps move here to rent for 6 months or a year before buying, although then we could still have been in a difficult position trying to extend rental contracts AND having to essentially move our family twice!
Tips and advice
We found it was most important to look for a good area and then try and get as much as you can into the overall package that you can afford, (property size, decent garden, schools, shops etc. nearby) rather than the nicest looking building or period property. Hertford is full of beautiful old houses, many that have been sympathetically refurbished but they are mostly small and parking is often an issue. We moved from a 1960’s-built, externally ugly and very square but spacious flat, into a 1970’s plain on the outside but square and functional inside, house. Having our own driveway has been very much appreciated after sometimes needing to park some distance away from home in London (really not ideal with shopping and/or sleeping children).
Keep contacting the estate agents you are buying through for regular updates; they won’t come to you… and if you can get hold of the vendors details contact them directly for as much extra information as you can.
Estate agents we dealt with always insisted we sell our flat first, in order to even have an offer considered, but be prepared for a bumpy ride! With the first property we fell in love with, the vendors hadn’t found anywhere and didn’t for over 6 months! We eventually had to pull out as our buyer was threatening to.
Remember to check the flood zone maps. Central Hertford is mainly flood zones due to the four rivers that converge here, and although I don’t think it has been badly affected for a long time, it can be much harder and expensive to get home.
Pester your solicitors constantly, I have never ever heard anyone say they’ve been pleased with their solicitor in a house move, they’re just SO slow and prone to going on holiday at crucial points in the sale process.