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Escape to the country

Townies who are thinking of making the move out into the sticks, read on for our top tips on finding the right rural property in the West Country.

Spring is in the air, the birds are starting to nest, the countryside is coming back to life (and so is the housing market). Townies who are thinking of making the move out into the sticks, read on, as rural property expert Anthony Pears, Director of Jackson Stops in Sherborne shares his tips for choosing the right rural property in the West Country.

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1. How you want to live vs where you want to live

Remote and rural might sound idyllic but if your school drop off takes you two hours you might live to regret it.  Visit the house at various times of day to get a feel for the area and have a chat in the nearest pub to get the locals’ views on things. Think about how location might affect the resale when you eventually leave.

Think about the future. Got elderly parents or in-laws? You might want to accommodate them in a granny annex in a few years’ time. If you’re downsizing, is there a bedroom and bathroom or option for one on the ground floor? Is the house low maintenance and efficient or will you have to employ a team of gardeners and cleaners to keep on top of things?

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2. Work, schools, transport links … wifi

Work, school and home can involve three different locations and life will become proportionately easier and your networks will be stronger the closer you can bring these three together. Good transport links will always increase the value of a property; if you don’t need those links, looking further away may give you a little more for your money.  Check broadband speed online and ask your agent if they know where the nearest main hub is; if it’s a mile down the road and you have 10 houses full of families all logging on in the evenings then it might not be as mega as you hoped.

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3. Community

Some places are more community minded than others and your agent will probably be able to give you some insight into this.  One sign of an active community is a local magazine brimming with info and events, an updated web page or village newsletter or even a full church or pub.

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4. Period property vs new

Period properties tend to hold their value well. They may be unique and are often found in the ‘best’ or prettiest parts of a village. If the house is Listed, check any alterations have appropriate paperwork to avoid a delay in conveyancing; remember, there may be restrictions on any modifications you wish to make. Thatch looks lovely but factor in maintenance costs and establish when any work was last done (and get the name of the guy who did it).

There’s something quite appealing about having something that is brand new and where everything works but make sure you’re not paying too much of a premium for that. New properties are generally easier to maintain and can be more energy efficient but may have smaller rooms if the developer has tried to cram in lots of bedrooms to maximise the return.  Make sure you’re comfortable with proximity to any neighbours.

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5. Land or outbuildings

Having land can protect your view and give you extra privacy, allow you to keep livestock, live more sustainably and give you the potential for all sorts of development, like converting outbuildings into a holiday let or business, or even building from new.  Check rights of way, grazing rights, drainage, and ask (very topical) – has it ever flooded?

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6. West Country property hot spots

Bruton, with its international art gallery and restaurants, and the surrounding villages have been described as ‘the coolest place in the UK’ by The Sunday Times.

Historic Sherborne, especially with the multi-million pound arts centre, the Paddock Project, opening in 2021. Villages to watch are those directly north with good access to Hazlegrove Prep and Sherborne School, Sherborne School for Girls and Sherborne Prep, as well as the A303 up to London.

Bridport, which has a thriving cultural scene and is super close to the sea.

Beaminster and surrounding rolling countryside and lots of characterful houses.

South of Taunton, the villages of Blagdon Hill and Corfe.

The countryside around Chagford near Exeter, with the Chagstock festival, a great deli and, very handily, a Michelin-starred restaurant.

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7. Price guide

There may be significant variation even within the same village, so research sold prices on the Land Registry or other online services. When media reports on ‘the market’ this can also be misleading or too general. Some places are completely bullet proof and due to scarcity, properties will always hold their value. Don’t forget to factor in the costs of moving, like legal, repairs, removals, stamp duty and surveys.

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8. Start looking

You can get an idea looking online but to understand what the market is doing and gain valuable insights, call, email or meet face-to-face with an agent. Build a good relationship and you’re more likely to get called first when your dream property comes on their books.

Having some interest on your own property will enable you to negotiate from a better position, and some vendors won’t entertain viewings from buyers who haven’t sold or have their own property under offer. A good agent will be able to advise on this and potentially offer you a market appraisal and get things moving on your sale if necessary. Need a mortgage? Again your agent will point you in the right direction. You don’t want to look at property you can’t afford.

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Happy hunting!

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