Everyone knows that it costs a fortune to buy a home in London; prices are up a staggering 17% from this time last year. But when you work there day in and day out, what can you do? You’re stuck with the spiralling house prices.
Or are you?
I heard a fascinating programme on Radio 4 the other day called ‘The rise of the WILLIEs’. No, don’t giggle. It’s an acronym that stands for people who Work In London but Live In Edinburgh. These are high-flyers who choose to live in a completely different city to the one in which they work. A completely different country, in fact!
The tartan trail
It all starts on a Monday morning when the 05.40 train, packed full of executives, pulls out of Edinburgh’s Waverley station. Four hours later, the WILLIEs arrive in London, where they spend three, four or five days at their desks before making their way back across the border to spend the rest of the week with their families.
So why do they do it? The simple answer is quality of life. The WILLIEs report that Edinburgh is a more livable place, with cleaner air and a richer cultural life. As a former citizen of both cities, I can testify to that. Plus you can leave central Edinburgh and enjoy lush countryside within minutes. In London, by contrast, the grey metropolis seems to go on forever.
Indeed, I remember when I lived in the London borough of Walthamstow, it sometimes took two or even three hours to get home from my office in Soho. That’s a distance of less than 10 miles. In that time, I could have been halfway to bonnie Scotland.
The price is right
Key to this superior quality of life is, of course, the significant difference in house prices. Edinburgh isn’t exactly cheap, but compared to the runaway train of London’s housing market, it offers you a great deal more for your money. Here are some of the most striking contrasts I’ve found, based on a range of property values:
A quarter of a million will buy you a large, 4-bed executive home in beautiful countryside just outside Edinburgh, or a studio flat in London’s West Hampstead. Basically, it’s one room plus a toilet.
A cool half a million will secure a 6-bed Victorian house in Portobello, Edinburgh’s ‘village by the sea’, or this modern studio flat in East London. Yep, it’s another single room with a toilet, though you do also get a balcony overlooking a busy roundabout.
For a little over three-quarters of a million, you could bag an entire 10-bed Georgian guest house in central Edinburgh, or make do with a 2-bed flat above a phone shop on London’s Camden High Street.
And for a whopping million? You can either set up home in a substantial, detached Victorian villa in Edinburgh’s most prestigious suburb, or in a 1-bed flat in Vauxhall that doesn’t even come with a bath.
So it’s easy to see why living in Edinburgh might win out over life in London. But doesn’t the huge amount of travelling get the WILLIEs down? On the contrary, many report that those four hours on the train give them the precious space they need to work, unwind or, in the case of one former banker, become a bestselling novelist!