Following the initial COVID-19 lockdown, the property market was boosted by the Chancellor’s Stamp Duty Land Tax holiday and a pent-up demand for people moving from cities to the countryside. The time alone in our homes gave people the chance to evaluate their property and what they wanted in the future, whether it be a greater work-life balance – enabled by remote working perhaps becoming the norm for many – or more space to enjoy and the countryside to explore. This has led to a surge in demand for rural properties.
During a search for a new rural home, people will often be mindful of considerations such as schools, commute times, train stations and so on, but there are some other key factors which should also be kept in mind.
Whether they be sheep, cattle or other people, ensure that you research the area that you are moving to. The property may seem reasonably priced, but having an intensive pig farm next door may be the reason! Whilst it is often difficult to find out about your neighbours, what research you can do might be invaluable. If you do not know the area well, do visit the local pub or shop and make discreet enquiries. When viewing the property, assess whether it is evident that your neighbours require access to the property (e.g. to gain access to their land), or if others seem to use the property to walk their dogs or similar. If you crave privacy and seclusion, be careful to ensure that is what you are getting.
It is important that the boundaries are checked by you so that there are no discrepancies between what you believe you are buying and the seller’s title to the land. It is also useful to know who owns and is responsible for the boundaries to avoid any potential disputes in the future.
Many rural properties are not on mains drainage. It is therefore essential to understand the drainage system and whether or not the entire system is on the property or if all or part of it is located on neighbouring land, which includes any soakaway system. If the septic tank is shared with your neighbours, it is necessary to check who is responsible for maintaining the system and how the maintenance costs are split.
It is not unusual for access to a rural property to run across somebody else’s land or vice versa. Again, you should be fully aware of who is responsible for maintaining that access and how the associated costs are split.
Some rural properties are not on mains water and will be connected to a private supply of water, which are governed by regulations. If the property you are looking to buy is on a private supply, you will need to establish the source of that supply – is it within the property or is the water taken from neighbouring land? Similarly, if the source of the water is on the property, do any other properties take water from that same source?
If the property has land, barns and outbuildings or additional dwellings, confirm that you are either getting vacant possession of all of the property or, if there are any occupiers or tenants, that you are comfortable taking on their tenancies. For instance, the local joiner who uses one of the outbuildings on a casual basis may have a secured business tenancy, which could scupper any plans you have to redevelop that barn.
Survey and planning
Many rural properties are old and may be Listed. Make sure you have a survey undertaken by a reputable surveyor. You may also have plans for the property, such as putting in that home office in the garden, so it is vital to take planning advice from the outset if you intend to carry out any works.
Understandably people would like their homes powered by renewable energy and increasingly rural properties have solar panels, biomass boilers and wind turbines. If the property you are interested in benefits from such schemes, find out who owns the apparatus and verify if any related payments will apply.
Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) Entitlements and other agricultural schemes
If the property has land, it may well benefit from BPS payments and be entered into schemes such as the Countryside Stewardship Scheme. Whilst these will be a financial benefit to you as the owner of the property, they come with obligations. Make sure you are aware of what the obligations are.
If you are interested in purchasing a rural property or have any concerns regarding a rural property you own, please contact Hugh Murphy of Keystone Law.