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Rents soar in towns as tenants priced out of cities

Towns within commuting distance of major cities have seen some of the biggest rent rises of the last three years, new research suggests.

The cost of new lets rose by more than a third in areas such as Bolton and Newport between 2020 and 2023, property portal Zoopla said.

Although Glasgow, London, Manchester and Edinburgh also saw big rises, new working patterns have made an impact.

Working from home has allowed some to rent bigger places further from cities.

“They may only go into the office two or three times a week and, if they are in a flat, may have looked for a bit more room,” said Richard Donnell, Zoopla’s executive director of research.

Agents said there had been “staggering” levels of competition in areas with easy transport access to bigger cities.

The Zoopla figures, compiled for the BBC, tracked the rise in rents for people looking for somewhere new to let in 65 cities and large towns in the UK. Six of the 10 biggest increases were in areas with relatively easy access to the major cities of London, Leeds and Cardiff.

They included Wigan, Newport, Bradford, Rochdale and Luton.

But they were led by Bolton, where:

Rents for new lets were up nearly 39% in the three years to the end of 2023
The rise of nearly 15% last year alone was the biggest of any area on the list
Rents had gone up twice as fast as earnings in the last three years (as they did in Glasgow, Manchester, London, Edinburgh and Wigan)

“There have been multiple offers on every single property,” said Stuart Matthews, managing director at Miller Metcalfe estate and lettings agent, based in Bolton.

“The price can be put up by £100 a month, and it still goes.”

Having been in the business for 23 years, he described the last 18 months as “staggering” and unlike any other time he knew.

One attraction of Bolton is that the average rent for a new let is still lower than the neighbouring areas of Rochdale, Warrington, and Manchester (which includes Bury and Oldham in Zoopla’s calculations).

“You get a lot more for your money in Bolton than you do in central Manchester – like a house instead of a flat,” said Mr Matthews.

A two-bedroom terraced home typically costs about £800 a month to rent, he said. It was a draw for families, alongside shopping and schools.

Some renters may work in Manchester so commute or blend with working from home, and Bolton has transport links into central Manchester.

Although demand had been high, Mr Matthews said, the lack of available properties was an even bigger factor. Some landlords had left the sector, while buy-to-let investors were not taking on as many properties.

This lack of supply has been key to soaring rents across the UK.

The number of rented homes had barely changed since 2016, according to Mr Donnell from Zoopla, failing to keep pace with exceptional demand in the last couple of years.

He said that immigration, a relatively strong jobs market and the return of students since the pandemic had led to demand in cities, prompting some tenants to look further afield.