country life 1

The country life – how to plan for a smooth escape

For the first time on record, the average age of someone moving to the countryside is now under 40. More of us, it seems, are cashing in on our city homes and using the sale proceeds to buy somewhere with more space and a greater sense of community. However, if you want to swap the buzz of the city for the slower pace of the countryside, there are some questions you need to answer first. Sarah Trickey, our head of residential conveyancing, looks at some issues that could affect you when buying a rural home.

How rural do you really want to be?
You may dream of being surrounded by green fields and rolling hills but life in the country can have its own challenges. Generally, there will be fewer amenities or accessing them will be more difficult than in a town. So, check out the practicalities of life in your preferred location carefully. For example, if you rely on public transport, or you may need to in the future, find out how good the local bus service is. If you work from home, or are a serious gamer, then research the actual broadband speeds. Not all rural communities are well served.

For many, the main attractions of living in the countryside are peace and tranquility. However, farm machinery and animals could make that rural retreat noisier than you first thought. Some rural and semi-rural locations may also be affected by heavy traffic from trunk roads or uses such as landfill or quarrying which need to locate outside urban areas.

It is important to research any area you are interested in thoroughly. Talk to people who live there and visit it during different times of the day. On balance you may find a larger village, with access to a GP and shop and which is on a regular bus route to town, more suitable than total rural seclusion.

Wherever you decide to buy a new home, discuss any issues that are important to you with your solicitor. They may not be able to guarantee your move to the country will fulfill all your expectations. However, tailoring their conveyancing searches and enquiries can help ensure you avoid some of the pitfalls.

Are you ready for living off grid?
Living truly off grid, generating all your own power needs, is not a realistic option for most of us, and your new rural home may not have all mains services. Always check what services it does have and the basis on which these are provided. Many rural properties rely on overhead power lines, which involve wayleave agreements or easements. These allow utility companies and others rights over land to maintain and repair their equipment. Your solicitor should ensure your home will have the legal right to connect into the necessary services, as well as checking what rights others may have over your property.

Drainage can be another issue. Rural properties often rely upon a septic tank or private sewerage system. These can be an effective alternative to mains drainage provided the system is well maintained. It is important to ensure you have any necessary rights over adjoining land, and that any discharges into the water course are authorised.

Are there any tax implications?
In most cases, the tax implications of buying a rural home are the same as for any other property. However, if your new home has a significant amount of land attached to it, you may benefit from taking specialist advice.

If the land is agricultural or used for equestrian purposes, HMRC may treat the property as mixed use, which may allow for some savings in stamp duty land tax. Conversely, owning a property with land attached could increase your potential liability to capital gains tax when you come to sell. This is because you usually do not have to pay capital gains tax on your main home, but this relief will not apply to land beyond your immediate garden and grounds.

Even if your new home is more modest, it is a good time to review your estate and tax planning. Your solicitor can help you ensure your arrangements are up to date and reflect your new priorities. 

Do any planning restrictions affect the property?
Your solicitor will check that your new home in the country has all the necessary planning permissions, just as they would with any property. Some rural properties have an agricultural user restriction which will limit occupancy to those engaged in farming.  This will affect a property’s value and suitability, so it is important to check whether any apply to your new home.

Properties in designated National Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty will also be subject to more restraints on development than comparable homes elsewhere. These may make it harder for you to extend your new home and if you have any plans for an extension or other works you should discuss these with your solicitor before committing yourself.

Will your new home remain a rural haven?
Most local authorities will have some planning policies in place that aim to protect the unique character of the countryside and to ensure that any development is sustainable. However, although you may choose a new home because of its rural aspect, or views over the open countryside, there is no guarantee it will stay that way, unless, of course, you are also fortunate enough to be able to buy the surrounding land.

If a view or aspect is important to you, discuss this with your solicitor early on. While it is impossible to predict what may happen in the future, they will be able to consider the local authority’s development plan and whether there are any proposals in the pipeline for building nearby. They can also include some pertinent questions in the enquiries before contract, so your sellers will have to tell you what they know about any proposals.

For further information about buying a home in the countryside, or home buying in general, please contact Sarah Trickey via the KWW website www.kww.co.uk

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