Stretched commuting – will the commuter belt ever look the same again?

It’s almost impossible to say what the future holds for the old-fashioned daily commute. For those who can’t work remotely, it’s clearly non-negotiable, but it’s difficult to imagine employers and employees willingly returning to the pre-Covid version of a totally office-based nine to five.

Charlie Rearden of Stacks Property Search says, “I suspect commuting will look completely different in the future. Many offices that are planning a return to some semblance of normality are putting rotas in place for office-based work, others have no plans to revert any time soon, using offices for essential meetings that can’t be conducted remotely, or for employees who simply don’t have the space or inclination to work at home.

“It may be jumping the gun a bit, but many homeowners who have been living in areas that have been chosen specifically for their commuting convenience are examining their alternatives. People who have lived in their second homes for lockdown have loved the experience and are figuring out how they can make the move permanent. Others who have spent lockdown in urban areas are wondering whether now’s the time to make a move to greener surroundings.

“Another incentive for a move if a daily commute is no longer part of life is to move slightly further out to get more bricks to the buck. The commute can be stretched if it only has to be done two or three times a week.

“Part-time commuting has previously been seen as something for those who have a second home, and a senior job where you’re not expected to turn up at 8.30am. It’s no longer such an exclusive life choice.

Rachel Johnston of Stacks Property Search says, “For those who see a future of less frequent commutes, moving down the train line is an obvious option. If Bicester on the Chiltern line allowed for a daily commute, Banbury or even Leamington Spa will be more than comfortable for a couple of times a week allowing a lot more house for the same money.

“Another option is to accept a longer trip to the usual train station, moving to a more rural setting but accepting a 30 minute trip to the train station.”

Charlie Rearden says, “Those who anticipate an even less frequent trip to the office, recognising just how easy it is to conduct business remotely, are looking to move much further afield, sometimes heading for family homes from the past, or fond places from holidays.

“There’s a huge amount to be said for escaping the traditional commuter belt; we’ve been talking about homeworking for years, now it’s actually happening. But we would sound a note of caution; this pandemic has triggered a great deal of lifestyle re-evaluation, but temper the grand plans with sense-checking and a good dose of reality.

“If London has been your life and your base for years, be wary of ditching it all together. London life will return, if your part time commute is too far away, you’ll find yourself missing out on the social and cultural aspects of the city that you used to enjoy.

“If you’re expecting to be in London for a couple of days a week, be realistic about where you’ll stay; it may seem acceptable to do a longer commute two days a week, but the reality may not look so appealing in cold dark January if you don’t have anywhere to sleepover between office dates.

“Swapping a two-hour commute five days a week for a 4 hour commute twice a week makes sense mathematically, but don’t just look at the figures, try the commute on for size before you get carried away. Don’t stretch too far, if your journey becomes wearing as life returns to normal, you may regret your far-flung destination. And don’t just consider the time on the train, factor in getting across London too.

“If you’re heading for a destination you associate with happy holidays, make sure it’s a ‘real’ place and doesn’t turn into Ghostville for six months of the year. And will you find enough to do, and like-minded people to do things with? Check it out properly, looking beyond the great-place-for-a-holiday fantasy. It might not be your cup of tea as a permanent base.

“More important than any of this is to share your thoughts at an early stage with the immediate and wider family – you may be leaping ahead inaccurately assuming that everyone’s thinking in the same way as you are.

“As far as long term value is concerned, we are predicting that places offering a sustainable stretched commute will perform exceptionally well against the backdrop of the wider market over the short and medium term.

“Finally, it almost goes without saying, ignore at your peril vital factors such as schools, childcare, commuting cost, frequency of trains and Broadband speeds!”

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