Pros and Cons of Living in Exeter or Nearby by a ‘New Local’




If you have spent some time on holiday in Devon you might be wondering what are the pros and cons of living here. Exeter is one of the most sought after destinations for those seeking a life in the county. In short, Exeter is a very desirable location for ease of access to Dartmoor and the coast as well as providing an excellent standard of living. It isn’t all perfect and there are some minor considerations.

Likes and Dislikes Summarised

  • Fantastic countryside, sea, moors nearby
  • Feels safe, friendly and liberal
  • Weather isn’t too bad especially in the summer
  • Good retail options with small stores and chains
  • Great independent cinema, good art centre
  • Relatively low crime
  • Good levels of investment and development
  • University town
  • Cream teas and being able to buy fish from fishermen on the beach
  • Beautiful local walks
  • Great cafe culture and local food
  • Can feel a little insular after living in London or a major city
  • House prices compared to local wages, (affordability) is not great
  • Would like to see more some bigger or better paying employers in the region to drive up wages
  • Public transport isn’t that great in rural areas
  • Broadband could be better in rural areas. Mobile isn’t great also in areas such as Dartmoor for example.
  • Tourism can inflate prices – you won’t find a cheap pub meal that easily here

I moved to Exeter in 2002 from London, seeking lower-cost housing and the draw of a seemingly more idyllic lifestyle. As a regional ‘city’ of nearly 130,00 residents, Exeter boasts a Russell Group University, a buoyant retail centre, pleasant city centre and a lively cultural calendar. Exeter has a lot of pluses. I’m going to give you my view as a resident of Exeter and its nearby commuter towns.

I grew up in the Midlands and as it seemed to take ages sat in the back of the car to get to the coast. Our family jaunt to the coast was usually once or twice a year. I couldn’t understand why we simply just didn’t live by the sea. (Children have such simple logic.) So it is perhaps not surprising that I moved within 30 minutes of the coast when I became a ‘grown-up’ kid.

Our decision to move here, was based on a number of factors, very similar thoughts to a lot of people today who make the move down here. We needed to buy a larger property, but not a silly priced mortgage and we were looking for a better environment to live in.

In the nearly 20 years that we have lived here things have changed quite a bit. Notably, the house build rate in Exeter and surrounding areas has been significant, the town centre (I find it hard to call Exeter a city) has changed significantly with large retailers such as John Lewis moving in.

We have witnessed year on year development and expansion. On paper Exeter is cited as being one the third fastest-growing economies in the UK.

exeter quay
Exeter Quay

Traffic and Transport Around Exeter

A quick look at the map and you’ll see that Exeter is split in half by the river Exe. A feature of nature that has formed Exeter’s city features since Roman times. For this reason, living here does feel a bit like a town of two halves. I myself do not often shop in the St Thomas district, which is the other side of the bridge. This geographic division connected mainly at the Exe bridge also serves as Exeter’s weak spot in terms of infrastructure.

The rapid expanse of population and urban growth over the decades has not necessarily been matched equally with public transport or adequate transport links. For example, the road in from Broadclyst into Exeter, routes into Marsh Barton, Topsham Road, or roads traversing at the Exe bridges can be severely congested in ‘rush hour.’ We are not talking M25 rush hour here, but it may shock you if you were expecting a quick commute.

Exeter council has pushed through plans to improve infrastructure as well as promoting and building more cycle lanes, especially needed after the effect of Covid-19 was felt on social distancing in public transport.

Exeter is reputed to be one of the more cycle-friendly cities, and to its credit, the council is increasing the number of cycle lanes. Electric cycles are a popular option here due to the rather steep hills in some places.

Some of the main inroads into the city from outlying towns can be quite busy during busy rush hour, or indeed hazardous during the winter. So it is important to consider this if you are looking to move to these towns. For example, the A38 for those commuting in from Newton Abbot is such a case. The Penn Inn roundabout at Newton Abbot is a traffic hotspot for commuters.

Overall Devon is largely a rural county, its roads having a special character of their own, some areas such as Haldon and Dartmoor can be hazardous and necessitate even at times four-wheel-drive if you are going to live there. It is common for office commuters in outlying areas to take a short day and head home if they think they are going to have a difficult journey along Haldon hill or the narrow country lanes. Dartmoor towns offer much better value for money and arguably quality of life but a car is a necessity.

You know you are in proper Devon when you hear the local radio transport news warning drivers about the shepherd moving his sheep across the road in some outlying village.

Employment in Exeter

When I moved here the main employers for my sector of interest were soon to open Met Office, NHS, Devon and Cornwall Constabulary, Flybe, South West Water and the University. Of course, this is a somewhat short-sighted list and I soon discovered there was more out there. But it did feel like a small pool at times and as the years rolled by you could swap stories from work colleagues who had probably worked at one of these major employers.

That list of major employers has certainly expanded. The advent of the Exeter Science park and further expansions of the cities business parks bring a lot of investment and interest supported by a supply of research and innovation backed by the University of Exeter. Overall the employment market seems to be buoyant. But buyer beware this is not London, there are some employment niches that aren’t that plentiful so do your research.

You will also find a plethora of small traditional family run business which have their pluses and minuses depending upon what you are looking for. In addition for some odd reason, the town seems to have more than its fair share of quite large law firms.

The region’s massive infrastructure growth is also influencing the type of industries and jobs in the area. For example, you will see a lot of housing sector/engineering project management and specialist jobs. (This also means trying to find a plasterer at a reasonable cost and notice for your own DIY job a bit tricky at times because they are all fully employed with local build contracts.)


The M5 serves us well as do trains, past Exeter the regions roads and train lines can suffer slightly from regional traffic and conditions. The rail link for example through Dawlish does have a propensity to fall into the sea every now and again when a big storm hits. This obviously causes some havoc if you are in need of the line for a commute from the other side of Dawlish and find yourself on bus replacement services. Ongoing shore defences are forever trying to win this battle against nature and the debate seems to go on with regards to how best to manage this.

In the summer, of course, the roads into the region and around are significantly busier. Those commuting into Exeter from Torquay or Bristol will almost double their journey times during a busy summer Friday commute, if unlucky. You can, however, feel quite smug in the knowledge that you do not need to spend four or five hours in traffic on the M5 to get the coast because are already here.

Bristol, the big sister in the South West has a much more ‘gritty’ urban feel about it, being significantly bigger. Whilst you might think it is close, in reality, you are still looking at a 1.5 hour drive. Exeter to Lands End is only 50 miles or so less than Exeter to London, so the regional distances can be deceptive. If you are conscious about career prospects you will find a much broader job market in Bristol than Exeter due to Bristol’s.

Air Connections

Exeter’s regional airport is a dream to use, it feels like a small airport, and I used to call it a posh cow shed after frequenting Heathrow, ‘cowshed’ used in an affectionate way. It’s no stress to travel through as a passenger.

The demise of Flybe in 2020 has caused a big shock locally and no one really knows what is happening now with this major loss. Ryanair are in situ with some limited routes as are some holiday airlines. Most likely we are not going to see any major changes until the travel industry bounces back from Covid-19.

Bristol is the nearest decent hub. There is a regular bus service (Falcon bus) which is pretty good connecting Plymouth to Bristol along the M5 corridor through Taunton. Additionally, if you want to get to Heathrow the best stress-free route is the Heathrow national express service from Exeter. You can do rail to Paddington then Heathrow Express but really its as long as it is short and if the National Express Heathrow bus works trust me it is less hassle with baggage.

If you are smiling at the suggestion of public transport my tip is Exec Cars. I have used them for business bookings for years, and what was the same or near same price as per our the local taxi company they provided a Mercedes.

Public Transport and Taxis

Exeter has two main rail stations, central (in the centre of town) which is connected to Exeter St Davids the main branch line and several small suburb stations such as Exeter St Thomas, Polsloe Bridge, St James Park, and Pinhoe which is technically another small town on the outskirts of Exeter but it has become submerged in the urban sprawl. The number of these small stations is an oddity to me considering we aren’t talking about big area. In addition, there is a rail station at Digby and Sowton which is closer to the Met Office.

A further train station has been approved for build at Marsh Barton, the region’s largest industrial park.

One of the most pleasant rail journey’s you can do is to get on at Exeter Central in the town centre and go north on the ‘Tarka Line’ to Barnstaple, stopping off if you wish on the way at the numerous mid-Devon villages and towns.

Local buses are operated by Stagecoach. I love my local bus and try to use it as often as possible, however, I do think that in relative terms they are overpriced, especially if you are traveling as a family. This seems to be a situation for public transport including trains all over this country. The bus links form a network which largely goes into the city centre, it’s not possible to get a bus that goes across town. So invariably to get to say Marsh Barton from the East of the city you need to go into the city centre then change and out to the suburb.

Taxis are somewhat expensive again, we do not have enough competition in my view. The supply is dominated by one major supplier, with a few smaller companies competing. At some peak times such as the end of term at the university, or Friday nights, you can be hard pushed to find a taxi, and you need to book in advance.

Move out of Exeter into the villages the public transport or taxi services are hard to find or reduced.

House Prices in Exeter

House prices in Exeter have seemed to rise year on year, despite the additional supply in the outlying regions. Some of these local builds have been created it seems in no time at all, many of us question their build quality, or seem to be getting smaller. This trend seems to be repeated up and down the country as local governments are hurriedly trying to reach their housing targets. Some appear, from a layman‘s perspective to have been built on areas that were previously flood plains, Cranbrook being on example.

Home values in Exeter

The current ( August 2020) house price for a terraced three bedroomed house is now around £250,000 according to Zoopla.

The median salary in Exeter is just under 30k. According to Lloyds bank in 2019.

Exeter was ranked as the 12th least affordable place to move to.

You will find that certain wards of the city are much more affordable than others. I always feel that house prices cannot go up much further as wages simply do not sustain this continued increase. However, they do seem to be still climbing.

For those moving from the South East or downshifting this might not be such a concern. But for young families starting out, they are often pushed to the outlying districts, high priced rental, or small new builds on shared-ownership

You will also find a number of park home communities dotted around the city and nearby country. Some of them are in very desirable locations but from a personal perspective, I still find them overvalued considering the construction. I would love to be convinced otherwise.

Areas to Live in Exeter and Around for your Budget.

The most desirable areas to live in Exeter are generally in St Leonard’s (by the main hospital), Pennsylvania (near the University) and Topsham which isn’t really Exeter but is often lumped in to the lot.

More budget friendly areas are in Exwick, and the other side of the river, in the St Thomas area.

Rental prices are also relative to these areas and also proximity to the University. It is worth checking out the individual street in terms of student population if you feel particularly conscious of rowdy students on a Friday night. The university does try its best to police antisocial behaviour from its students but of course, swaths of students are going in inevitably give a ‘character’ to an area.

Reasonably Priced Commuter Towns for Exeter

For those that are considering shared-ownership as a step onto the market ladder, Live West is one of the major players in the region, and they may be able to offer something of interest.

To the east of Exeter popular ‘commuter’ towns into the city are Tiverton, Cullompton, Honitorn and even Taunton. Tiverton perhaps being the most popular in terms of facilities and transport links.

To note Tiverton Parkway rail station is not in Tiverton, rather it is just outside. If you do live in Tiverton, you can have the added option of being closer to Bristol as well as near enough to Exeter.

Cullompton, another mid-Devon town that is reasonably priced is gaining popularity with emigrants from Exeter looking for cheaper housing, but it does have fewer facilities and is much smaller than ‘Tivi’ or Tiverton.

Rightmove has a useful ‘where can I live’ tool which will help guide you to an area based on your criteria.

If you are thinking about pitching for a town that is halfway between Exeter and Bristol (which isn’t a bad idea for employment) look at Wellington, Taunton and Bridgewater or villages close to these.

If you are happy to move closer to the coast, Dawlish, Exmouth, and Teignmouth are good value. Teignmouth for me gets my vote for culture, facilities, and value. There is an annual Jazz festival making it popular with local musicians and artists as well as interesting independent shops. Local employment as you might expect is more hospitality, tourism, and retail-based than Exeter.

Inland Newton Abbot a less commercially affluent town has some good value property as does Teignbridge.

Culture and Atmosphere In Exeter

Despite my rather glum assessment of Exeter for affordability for a lot of local wage earners in the region, I have a more upbeat message regarding the culture and atmosphere of living in the city. The use of the word city is of course based on its regional importance in the county, and as such it has a regional focus, increased regional investment, and is the showcase for innovation and commerce in the South West. You do get a sense that the city is moving in a positive direction and that it is with some exceptions, generally weathering the storms that we have had over the past year or so.

In 2020 there is a major development underway in the heart of the city to build a new leisure complex and bus depot to improve the much needed travel infrastructure. See here for further details of current and past development.

The University brings a sense of diversity which we see each year with the throngs of overseas students, in response to this need we have several good Asian and Mediterranean supermarkets. Personally for me as someone who likes to experiment with my cooking I do not think I could live in a city where I couldn’t source some of these more unusual ingredients. Without this influx of temporary residents, I do not think the city would be quite as diverse and interesting, the BAME population is only 5.1% in Devon overall.

Each year we usually have a number of festivals for literature and music. If you are into the cinema there are three cinemas (four including the University cinema). The cultural Favourite has to be The Picturehouse, a small independent where you can feel a grown-up, sipping on a glass of wine whilst watching ‘Its a Beautiful Life’ at Christmas, or whatever the latest mainstream movie is.

Music-wise The Cavern and The Pheonix have held a long-established presence, as well as The Lemon Grove at the University for music events. It’s not unheard of for more significant acts to use Exeter as their sort of ‘warm-up’ gig for their main tour, so you can get some surprises every now and again. During the summer, Exeter’s Quay provides the backdrop to a number of events and festivals as well as being a popular outdoor dining venue.

I could go on, I love living in Exeter, I would certainly recommend it for most people. Come and take a look and make up your own mind!

Please note I do try to keep this site up to date, but as things change often, it is recommended that before travelling any distance you do your own checks.

If you wish to feedback on the site content please get in touch.

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