The reverse Race for Space: 38 minutes is the new Golden Hour commute

Latest research from national estate agency Jackson-Stops has found that most prospective homebuyers are now willing to spend 38 minutes commuting into work

In contrast, just 3% of workers would be willing to commute for more than two hours

Over a third commute to their place of work more now than six months ago

The news follows rising pressure from businesses to get employees back into the office with fewer than 12% of job adverts being for fully remote working roles as of September*

31% of respondents commute five days a week or more to work, with those in London and the South West most likely to commute five days a week or more (45% each)

37% want to live in & commute from a city whilst 33% preferred a town – a rise from 21% who wanted to live in a town in 2019 homebuyers looking for their next location are willing to spend on average 38 minutes commuting into work, according to new research[1] from national estate agency Jackson-Stops. The research, which surveyed 500 active house hunters last month, demonstrates the surprising reversal of the ‘Race for Space’ trend witnessed during the pandemic and is even shorter than the traditional commuter ‘Golden Hour’. The survey results indicate this may be fuelled by a return to office norms, in which 35% now commute to their place of work more now than they did six months ago.

As businesses mandate more in-person working days, 31% of respondents said that they now commute to work five days a week or more. According to the research, those in London and the South West were the most likely to commute five days a week or more, at 45% of respondents respectively.

This return to the office follows wider research indicating businesses wish to see workers back in the office more regularly. According to LinkedIn, fewer than 12% of adverts are for fully remote working roles, as of September 2022. Similarly, figures released by the Department for Transport[2] last week showed national rail passenger numbers have now reached over 100% of pre-Covid levels for the first time since March 2020. With numbers doubling in a year, especially during the Monday to Friday working week, it’s clear commuting is once again back on the agenda for workers.

While 38 minutes was the average commute time that workers would be happy with, Jackson-Stops’ research showed there was a vast amount of variation in what people would prefer. Nearly one in 10 (9%) would only be willing to commute for 15 minutes or less. By contrast, just 3% said they would be willing to commute for more than two hours.

Nick Leeming, Chairman of Jackson-Stops, explains: “Calls for people to get back to the office more regularly have once again put a manageable commute back on the radar of prospective buyers. We have much faster train links than we did even five or ten years ago, bringing those peripheral town locations with fantastic transport options back in vogue. Urban living remains popular as buyers strike the balance between convenience and commutability.”

Delving further into the ideal commute by region, residents in Northern Ireland on average favoured the shortest commute at 27.5 minutes, whereas those in the East Midlands would be happy to commute the longest at 47.6 minutes. At nearly double the time, over a four-week period of commuting five days per week, this is equivalent to those in the East Midlands spending an extra 404 minutes, or 6.7 hours**, commuting.

[Table 1: Jackson-Stops’ latest research revealing the average time people would be happy to commute per UK region]

Ian Denton, Director of Jackson-Stops Northampton branch, based in the East Midlands, comments: “Working patterns are certainly dictating where buyers choose to call home. Until September last year, and the synonymous mini-Budget, the halfway house of two days from home and three in the office had become the accepted norm. A longer commute on a part-time basis became a worthy compromise. However, a renewed push by employers to get workers back to the office has led some buyers to reconsider their lifestyle altogether. Choosing a place to call home is such a pivotal decision, with our work-life patterns often governing our property wish-lists.”

He continues: “In the East Midlands, the incredible selection of properties here at a much more affordable price point compared to the South East, means many buyers are still prepared to commute that little bit longer in return for a much larger family home. We benefit from access to two major train services; the East Coast Mainline and the West Coast Mainline, making transport an easy and flexible choice. ‘Reverse Commuting’ has also been a growing trend; those buyers who have been relocated outside of London by their employer and have found their feet in a new area. Once these buyers have the lay of the land, they’ll put down family roots thanks to countryside access and outstanding schools on our doorstop.”

The research by Jackson-Stops also found that 70% of respondents want to live in an urban location; 37% of which want to live in a city and 33% a town. When Jackson-Stops conducted the same research back in 2019, just 21% of respondents wanted to live in a town, showing a 12% increase in just four years.

Stuart Routledge, Director of Jackson-Stops Oxted branch, adds: “Villages surrounding Oxted are incredibly popular with buyers, as a well-known commuter town that benefits from three major trainlines and will get you to London in 38 minutes. When you’re just a short drive from the station, houses that come up for sale here can be incredibly popular for working families, especially those moving out of London but still keen to dip their toe in City life.”

Nick concludes: “While there are a number of pros and cons to weigh up when considering a property purchase, it’s clear that commute times can make or break a buyer’s decision to put in an offer. It could be argued that since the pandemic, we simply value the time with our families far more so than ever before, keen to not feel beholden to long travel times and slow commutes. We should also keep front of mind that there are many professions that simply cannot be done from home and will always require a daily commute. For those able to invoke more flexibility to their working patterns, looking further afield has provided opportunities that, just three years ago, would have felt impossible. Striking the balance between a manageable commute and the perfect property requires local knowledge and expertise of the market, presenting options that buyers themselves might not have considered before.”

*LinkedIn research found that fewer than 12 of job adverts were for fully remote roles in September 2022, research published December 2022

**Northern Ireland average commute people would be happy with is 27.5 minutes, for those in the East Midlands it is 47.7 minutes, equating to a difference of 20.2 minutes. 20.2 x 5 days commuting per week = an additional 101 minutes per week. Over a four week period this would be 404 minutes which is equivalent to 6.7 hours.

[1] Jackson-Stops commissioned a survey of 500 UK adults who were planning to move in the next three years. Conducted by OnePoll between the 3rd and 10th February 2023
[2] Department for Transport and Railway Industry Association

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