For decades, Sevenoaks has been Kent’s most desirable place to live due to its closeness to London with house prices outstripping all those of its neighbours.
But following the pandemic, with fewer workers commuting into the capital, house buyers are now looking to Tunbridge Wells as a better alternative than the neighbouring commuter town.
The news follows analysis by the Times, reported last month, that found house prices in Tunbridge Wells have risen to around 16 times the median UK salary, which is currently at £31,285 a year, due to rising demand for properties in the area.
The average home in Tunbridge Wells now costs more than £520,000, according to vendors such as Rightmove and Zoopla.
Now figures that have just been released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) – the Government’s statistical and number crunching body – have agreed with this analysis and show that officially, Tunbridge Wells has overtaken Sevenoaks to become the most expensive place to buy a home in Kent.
Using affordability ratios calculated by dividing house prices by gross annual workplace-based earnings, and then using both the median (average) and lower quartiles (lowest 25 per cent) of both house prices and earnings in England and Wales, the ONS say the Covid crisis has shaken up the housing market in Kent.
Before the pandemic struck, the average home in Sevenoaks was worth 13.32 times the media gross annual workplace-based earnings according to the ONS.
In contrast, houses in Tunbridge Wells were worth just 12.49 times average UK earnings.
Based on figures for house sales that took place in 2021, the ONS now say the average home in Tunbridge Wells has risen to be worth 15.42 times the average UK annual salary, while in Sevenoaks it is 14.47.
Tonbridge & Malling is the third most expensive place to buy a home in Kent, according to the ONS research, which was released on March 22, with properties there now 13.39 times the average UK wage, with Canterbury fourth at 12.86 times salaries.
Dartford (8.86 times average salary) and Medway (8.72) are the cheapest places in the county to buy a home, while over the East Sussex border, Wealden house prices are worth 13.76 times average wages.
The news does not surprise estate agents in the area, who say the impact of the pandemic on the way people work has made Sevenoaks’ closeness to London less relevant to homebuyers.
Natasha Firman, who runs Winkworth Estate Agents in Tunbridge Wells says the pandemic has had a ‘significant change’ on the market in the town.
She said: “Buyers are making decisions to move in line with their new adjusted lifestyles. The main driver being the flexible working week, with most employers implementing two or three days office time.
“This different commuting landscape has pushed people’s search radius further out, seeking more space at affordable price points and has resulted in many more proceedable buyers in the market chasing stock, with a surprising amount of cash deals being done.
“However, due to the very high stamp duty, we still have a reluctance of people willing to sell their homes in the area, which has resulted in a significant shortage of stock.
“Coming out of London affords most the luxury of a much larger property, so with this imbalance of supply and demand in the market, prices keep on pushing higher than ever, particularly for the housing market between £500k and £1million.
“The main risks are banks underwriting loans, so high ‘Loan to value’ loans carry transaction risk and vendors not able to move due to the shortage of stock, so many chains are stuck and have been for up to 12 months.”
The news will not be welcomed by those trying to get a foot on the housing ladder, but vendors do insist there are still affordable properties in Tunbridge Wells for first time buyers.
Speaking to the Times last month when we broke the news that house prices had gone through the roof and were at 16 times average salary, Deborah Richards, who runs estate agents Maddisons Residential in The Pantiles, said: “It is worth remembering that there are many affordable properties, that are priced below this average and which are for sale in the town.
“There might just have to be a compromise on location or property type.
“Equally, first time buyers do have some factors that are on their side: mortgage rates remain historically very low and they have assistance from the Government on the stamp duty payable, the Help To Buy scheme on new build properties, and guarantees for 95 per cent mortgages.
“There is also currently very full employment, and wages are strong. So, in summary, although undoubtedly expensive, there are still plenty of factors that mean they should be able to get onto the housing ladder.”