The coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on many industries: fashion, retail, transport and Pret-a-Manger, to name a few. But one sector to narrowly escape, so far, seems to be the property market.
According to experts, the housing market is undergoing a ‘mini-boom’ as people flee towns and cities to pursue a life in greener pastures. Recent figures from the building society Nationwide reveal that house prices jumped to a new high in August, the biggest monthly rise in 16 years, with the average home now costing £224,123.
And contrary to past experience, it’s countryside properties that are seeing the sharpest price increase – and they’re selling like hotcakes. According to estate agent Hamptons, the average home sold in the countryside in the last four months went for 97.9 per cent of its asking price – the highest share in three years. Meanwhile, 16 per cent of homes in the countryside went for more than the asking price, rising to 21 per cent for homes located in smaller towns and suburbs.
There are many factors at play here. While it’s true that the property market is working through a backlog of moves that were delayed over lockdown, it’s also grappling with a stream of new buyers who have brought forward plans to invest after Rishi Sunak announced plans to cut the stamp duty in July.
And it could be down to behavioural changes, too. Over lockdown, many who were trapped in the city realised the value of outdoor space. Others who were working from home realised that they no longer needed to be in the office, potentially unchaining them from commuter lines.
But to use a cliché, these are uncertain times and moving house in the middle of a pandemic isn’t always straightforward. We’ve asked four ‘Covid Movers’ to share their experiences.
‘Buying in the suburbs is competitive – I was worried I would lose out on my dream house’
By Jennifer Garcia de Andoin, pictured above
Before the pandemic, my husband and I hadn’t planned on selling our flat in Selhurst, South East London, for at least another few years, until we’d saved up some more money. But in just three weeks’ time, we’re going to be moving into a three bedroom semi-detached house in Surrey. After living in a one bed apartment for three and a half years, this feels like a mansion for us.
Over lockdown, we realised that we didn’t want to live in London anymore. I was on furlough from my job as a New Homes Sales Executive and my husband Luis was working from home. We have two cats, and a tiny garden so all of a sudden things started to feel very cramped. It was particularly tricky when the weather was nice. There came a point where I thought: ‘I can’t live in this flat anymore.’
Rishi Sunak’s decision to cut the stamp duty in July helped hurry up our plans to move. Before, we would have been paying almost £15,000, which was holding us back as we didn’t have enough equity in the house to cover everything. With that gone, it felt like the right time to start looking for a new place.
We found it surprisingly easy to sell our property in London. Originally, I put it on the market for £10,000 higher than what I thought it was worth, but I reduced it after two weeks because I was getting inpatient. Buying in the suburbs can be competitive, and I’d seen how much interest there was in the properties there; I was worried that I would lose out on my dream house. Luckily, my flat was under offer after three weeks and I was able to reserve a property in a new development called Tadworth Gardens in Surrey. I think if I had waited any longer, the prices would have risen by a significant amount.
Am I going to miss London? To be honest, not really. In Selhurst we don’t even know our own neighbours, but down in Tadworth Gardens there seems to be a really strong sense of community. People go jogging together, have communal dog walks and all their children are friends. Although the transport links to central London are amazing, the thing I’m most looking forward to is having plenty of green space – and maybe the opportunity to finally get a puppy, too.
‘You put all your hopes and dreams on a property, only to be told that it’s a no’
By Emily Rowland*
Over lockdown, my husband and I decided it was time to take the plunge and move from London to the countryside. It’s something I’ve been keen on for a while; I have two young children and I’m worried about the air pollution levels in London, and also the possibility of spending a second lockdown in a city in a small house, with minimal outdoor space. The expensive cost of living was a factor, too.
While we had no problem selling our house in London, finding a property in the countryside is proving a lot more tricky. My husband is disabled and he uses a mobility scooter, so location is key. Ideally we want somewhere that isn’t too hilly with a strong sense of community.
We’re looking at places in Somerset and Gloucester, but it’s a competitive market and we’ve been pipped to the post several times by people who can pay all the cash up front. I’ve spoken to estate agents who say that the majority of people looking to buy in these areas are from London. The prices are sky high at the moment, but for us finances are tight. We’re desperate to buy before the stamp duty cuts end in March and it’s been helpful to have a deadline. Experts are predicting that there’s going to be a crash afterwards though, which does feel quite worrying.
Recently, we put an offer on a cottage in Stroud which was just under the asking price. Within a week, the price crept up and eventually the estate agent told us that another buyer who was in a better financial position had got the house. This has happened before. It’s really sad; you put all your hopes and dreams on a property, and even start researching schools, only to be told that it’s a no.
I do wonder whether the Londoners who are splashing their money around realise that living in the countryside might not turn out to be the ideal dream that they think it is. But for us, it feels like the right decision and we’re trying to remain positive. Sometimes, it takes a bit of stress to achieve something really worthwhile.
*some names have been changed
‘In lockdown our front room was a food bank and parishioners dropped by every day – we need a bolthole to escape to’
By Rhiannon Llewellyn
When your husband is a vicar, your home is never just your own. Nor should it be. Brutus and I are lucky enough to live rent free in our Putney vicarage with our growing family, and enjoy our possibly slightly unusual set up, with parishioners regularly dropping by, the “office” just round the corner, and the organist living in our spare room. We wouldn’t change it for the world, but if lockdown taught us one thing it was that from time to time, we all need a bit of a break from work.
In the past few months we have operated a food bank from our front hall, delivered twice daily prayer, mass and children’s liturgy from the living room, my husband has worked flat out with funerals up 1200pc in May alone. Our doorbell has never stopped ringing with generous donations of food and supplies. Not many people run what is essentially a community centre from their homes, and though we love our little west London parish, we’ve realised that escaping work now and again is necessary to keep us able to best serve our parish without burning out.
We always planned to get on the property market at some point and had been saving for a deposit for years, but the whole lockdown experience spurred us to get something sooner rather than later. We have put an offer in on a little two bedroom flat in Hastings, with the idea being that it’ll be our home away from home, our bolthole by the sea with space for our children (we have a two-year-old son and plans for another) to run about.
I think we’re paying a bit too much for it but we just want to crack on and do it, particularly given how uncertain the market could become. We have saved for this for years, and the pandemic has made us more sure than ever that this is the right thing to do. I’m keeping everything crossed that we’ll complete soon and be able to start spending weekends (Fridays and Saturdays for us, weddings and funerals permitting) by the sea.
‘I’m waiting on tenterhooks to see if my dream to move to the countryside will become a reality’
By Peter Jenkins
If you had asked me 18 months ago if I’d ever consider leaving London, I’d have rolled my eyes at you. I’ve lived in London for 25 years working in PR, and live alone with my dog in a beautiful architecturally designed house in Hither Green which I love. I like going to restaurants and to the theatre, and all the fun and possibilities that London has to offer. I never thought I’d leave the city. But just over a year ago things began to change. I was made redundant and didn’t work for a while. I travelled a bit and when I came home I looked around and thought ‘there must be more to life than this’.
I started to think about selling up, and settled – slightly randomly – on Grantham in Lincolnshire. I fell in love with a beautiful listed rectory which has buckets of land and no one overlooking it. As a keen gardener I was excited by the prospect of being given a blank canvas far bigger than my London garden and making it my own.
I got a buyer for my house, but when lockdown happened everything fell through. I eventually put it back on the market and had another offer within 24 hours, but it’s all going through terribly slowly and I’m grateful to my very patient seller in Grantham who has been so good to wait for me all this time.
It’s been quite tricky and stressful. Lockdown reinforced my plan to move to the countryside. I can work from home and I feel even more of a pull to the country now. There is a sense of urgency about the whole endeavour, not least because of course there’s a chance that the market could crash, although I’m not sure that’s imminent.
I’m concerned about the changes in stamp duty that have been brought in by the government which have really helped fuel the market but I think there’s a sense that it’ll only be in place for a year, so getting this all done and dusted this year is really my priority.
I just can’t wait for it to be settled so I can start my new life. I never would have foreseen this, but there’s nothing like a redundancy and a pandemic to clarify things for you.