Why fleeing the city for the countryside may blow your budget

Alexandra Goss
·7-min read
A thatched cottage near Sherborne in Dorset. £500,000 with Jackson-Stops
A thatched cottage near Sherborne in Dorset. £500,000 with Jackson-Stops

Planning an escape to the country? Join the queue.

Some 53pc of buyers surveyed by Savills estate agency this summer said a countryside location was more attractive than before the pandemic, while research by the broker Firstmortgage.co.uk found that 57pc of first-time buyers were considering a rural move. 

David McGrail, of the broker, said: “This year has made everyone reassess their life and we have seen an increase in house hunters looking in the countryside. The country offers access to bigger properties, more land and, often, a healthier way of life, which appeals to many after the pandemic.”

Sophie Parkin and her fiancé, Jonathan Irving, accelerated their move out of London as a result of coronavirus. “We were supposed to be getting married this July and moving next year, but we flipped our plans just before lockdown,” said Ms Parkin, who works in PR.

In August, the couple, both aged 29, completed on a two-bedroom home in the Essex village of Great Chesterford. Although the pair benefited from the stamp duty holiday, some of their bills have risen significantly in the country.

Sophie Parkin and her fiancé, Jonathan Irving - Tony Buckingham
Sophie Parkin and her fiancé, Jonathan Irving - Tony Buckingham

“Our council tax bill was quite a shock because we previously lived in Wandsworth, which has the lowest bills in the UK,” added Ms Parkin.

While a house in the country costs less to buy – the average rural home costs £277,036, almost half the typical £537,880 price of a city property, according to research by Hamptons International estate agency – there are many bills that can easily blow your budget if you don’t plan ahead.

Some people stretch themselves to buy a rural house, said Tom Hudson of buying agency Middleton Advisors. "They soon find they can’t afford to do it up and maintain it.

“The big country estates can cost £200,000 to £400,000 a year to run, and while most people won’t face anything like these annual outlays, they can be caught out if they have only lived in towns or cities before.”

Before you start dreaming of buying a smallholding in the Dales, here are some of the top costs of moving to the country.

Travel

Before lockdown, Britons were willing to live an average of 23 miles from their workplace, according to a survey by the Guild of Property Professionals, a trade body. Now, because many are able to work from home, they are prepared to live an average of 56 miles away.

Although a longer commute typically means a lower house price – research by the property group CBRE found that a 10-minute increase in travel time to London reduces the average house price by £21,762 – you do need to bank on a large travel outlay every year.

Ms Parkin certainly has an eye on when she and Irving, who works in IT, need to be back in their London offices full-time. “Commuting costs are high from here, at about £5,000 a year,” she said.

Movers will also need to factor in buying and running a car. James Greenwood, of buying agency Stacks Property Search, said: “Many people moving out of towns say they can manage fine on just one vehicle, but a second quickly appears.”

Utilities 

Blindwell, near Nether Stowey in Somerset, has a septic tank. It is £700,000 with Strutt & Parker
Blindwell, near Nether Stowey in Somerset, has a septic tank. It is £700,000 with Strutt & Parker

There are an estimated 1.3 million homes in rural areas that rely on oil for heating. The price of oil, which is delivered on a lorry and stored in a tank, follows the global oil price and can fluctuate quite dramatically, though it has hit multi-year lows due to the pandemic. Most suppliers have a minimum order of 500 litres, which will set you back about £150.

Many homes in rural areas do not have mains water and instead have a septic tank or cesspit. The tank needs emptying once a year, at a cost of £100 to £350 depending on the size. New legislation that came into force at the beginning of this year means that properties with a septic tank can no longer discharge water into a soakaway or water course, with non-compliant drainage systems liable to fines of up to £250,000.

Septic tanks must now be fitted with a drainage field; if this is not possible due to the nature of the soil, the only option is to fit a sewage treatment plant, at a cost of between £2,000 and £8,000 depending on the type of plant and the ground conditions of the site.

Maintenance

May Cottage near Bergh Apton in Norfolk is thatched. It is £375,000 with Durrants
May Cottage near Bergh Apton in Norfolk is thatched. It is £375,000 with Durrants

For many people, living in the country is synonymous with a chocolate-box cottage or rambling farmhouse – and these period buildings require a lot of upkeep.

Re-thatching a roof, which needs to be done every 20 to 30 years depending on the material, can cost anything from £6,500 for a small cottage to £35,000 for a large detached house, according to property website Rightmove. You also need to factor in the costs of regular inspections and repairs.  

If your property is listed, works and repairs will need to be done by specialists using heritage materials, which pushes up the cost, while insurance is often more expensive because the rebuild cost is higher.

Maintenance bills for larger properties can easily total £5,000 a year, added Harry Gladwin of buying agent The Buying Solution. “Even those cosy woodburners throughout the house could easily burn over £1,000 of logs in a season.”

Home help

One big difference between living in the countryside to the city is the cost of help, said Philip Eddell of Savills. “Labour is one of the most expensive elements of moving to the country – whether it’s au pairs, cleaners or housekeeping,” he said. “Taxis are more expensive in rural areas as there are fewer of them.”

Don’t forget the costs of having a lot of land, added Matthew Hallett of Winkworth estate agency in Salisbury. “Larger gardens demand ride-on mowers, an array of power tools and regular visits from a gardener.”

Broadband

It’s not just your Netflix addiction that requires fast broadband – Covid has ushered in a new era of home working, with 48pc of buyers saying a good internet connection is now more important in a home, according to Savills.

This can be a problem in rural areas, where the average broadband download speed is 46Mbps, compared with 64Mbps in urban locations, according to Ofcom.

Richard Winter, of the eponymous property search agency, recounted the lengths that some must go to for good Wi-Fi. “One of my clients recently had to install fast fibre optic cables for his home privately to ensure he had good broadband. This meant digging up the road, which set him back a few thousand pounds.”

Creature comforts

Brooks Farmhouse near Rugby in Warwickshire has a chicken coop. It is £965,000 with Knight Frank
Brooks Farmhouse near Rugby in Warwickshire has a chicken coop. It is £965,000 with Knight Frank

For some people who move to the country, it means embracing the “Good Life” – which can have high set-up costs.

Vicky Floros, of Mr and Mrs Clarke estate agency, said that most of her viewings are with people from London. “Everybody wants outside space, but some want massive gardens to have chickens and grow their own.”

Chicken coop company Omlet estimates that the one-off costs of getting four chickens can be anything between £400 and £1,300, with running costs of £200-£500 a year.

If you’re planning on getting a dog, make sure you budget for pet insurance – and beware your children taking up expensive new hobbies, such as horse riding. “They might even want their own pony,” Mr Greenwood added.