12 September 2023 Evening Standard

How to ensure a smooth move to the countryside — and avoid immediate regrets

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Swapping the lively capital for a rural idyll is a decision not to be taken lightly. Here’s how to swerve London leaver’s remorse.

Do you really want to live in the countryside?

Many dream of making the move from the hustle, bustle and pollution of London to the slower pace and clean air of the countryside, but you need to have a well-researched plan.

Of the thousands of London leavers who launched themselves into country living during Covid, many now feel they acted rashly. It could be wise to rent for a year in your chosen location first to test the water before committing to a purchase. Make sure you visit at different times of the year to ensure it’s not just a summer fling.

Consider a market town

Do you know what you’re signing up to? Lifelong city dwellers need to appreciate that some rural areas have limited services. If you like to keep busy, make sure that you have easy access to the things you enjoy.

Look for market towns such as Tenterden in Kent or Hungerford in West Berkshire, with thriving communities that have good coffee shops, bakeries, yoga studios and a sports centre. Evaluate the proximity to major roads, train stations, schools and public transportation options. Good connections will alleviate feelings of isolation.

Don’t overspend

While Covid pushed the values of many country homes up by 20 per cent or more, the previous decade had been stagnant while London continued to grow.

More remote areas of the South East and South West became overheated as a result of the race for space. Avoid them while prices soften.

Go for towns and villages that saw consistent pre-pandemic growth such as Rye in East Sussex, Tisbury in Wiltshire, or Knutsford in Cheshire.

If you’re looking to add value through refurbishment, bear in mind that building prices have gone up by about 60 per cent since April 2020.

The best houses in the perennially popular areas tend to do well in a good market and insulate against a downturn.

Set your priorities

What are your favourite architectural and landscape styles? The architecture varies a lot from place to place. Surrey commuter towns have plenty of Edwardian homes; Hampshire villages have Georgian; Bristol has Victorian, for example.

Equally, the Thames Valley is very accessible but also pretty flat (and dare I say boring?). The Chilterns and the Surrey Hills offer special views and woodland walks. Unfortunately, the quintessential Cotswold stone house does not exist in the heart of the South Downs!

Keep a London bolthole (if you can afford it)

While the allure of the countryside may be strong, some individuals may find themselves missing the vibrancy and amenities of city living.

Keep in mind that circumstances and priorities can change over time. Many of us regret selling our London pads when we moved out, so consider whether it is feasible to keep a London flat too — your kids (or you) might want it in the future.

Do you have sustainability goals?

Moving house is the ideal chance to address your green goals. However, this is not cheap. Eco refurbishment costs are around 15 per cent higher than traditional ones.

But sustainable tweaks will reduce running costs, usually with a payback time of less than 12 years, and enhance the value of the property as legislation comes forward demanding better energy performance. 

Weigh up all the options

If you’re primarily moving out of London for budget reasons, consider whether you’d actually be happier in another city such as Bristol or Edinburgh. Making mistakes when buying a country home can be costly, especially in the current market. Compromised houses are having to be discounted to find a buyer.

Remember who you should trust

Estate agents are paid by the vendor and therefore want to get them the best possible price. Equally, friction costs (legal, survey and loan arrangement fees, as well as the dreaded Stamp Duty) can add 15 per cent or more to the price you pay and you will not get this back if you regret your purchase and resell. Paying a reputable buying adviser will save you significantly more than it costs.

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