An hour away on the train from London, the cathedral city of Winchester has long appealed to people working in the capital and looking to move out. But the months of lockdown have sent the Hampshire town’s rental market into overdrive, with inquiries over this summer running at 19 times last year’s levels.



a house with trees in the background: Photograph: Alamy


© Provided by The Guardian
Photograph: Alamy

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Data from two large estate agents, shared with the Observer, shows that the “race for space” and a desire to prepare for a winter spent mainly at home are rapidly reshaping the property market.

Prices are on the increase in green and pleasant commuter towns, while rents for flats in some areas of central London are sharply down, by up to 20%. The Nationwide house price survey showed the average price of a home in the UK last month was just over £226,000, up 5% on a year earlier, and the fastest rate of increase since 2016.



a house with bushes in front of a building: The small cathedral city of Winchester is showing a distinct shortage of properties as Londoners look to move.


© Photograph: Alamy
The small cathedral city of Winchester is showing a distinct shortage of properties as Londoners look to move.

Some of that increase is down to pent-up demand from those who would have moved during lockdown; some is down to the temporary stamp duty cuts. But Robert Gardner, Nationwide’s chief economist, also points to behavioural shifts as people “reassess their housing needs and preferences as a result of life in lockdown”.

Nationwide pointed in particular to the south-west of England and the commuter towns surrounding London, where house prices were up by more than 5% year on year in the third quarter of 2020.

The most important feature buyers are looking for is a garden. The second-biggest request is a study or home office

Dylan Kinsella,