One in four people in the UK live in rented accommodation, with two-thirds saying they rent because they cannot afford to buy a property. But renting out of necessity is not always the case, with canny ‘in-betweeners’ who sell their homes and rent as they look for their next place becoming common, as well as townies ‘trying before they buy’ renting in country villages before they commit themselves.
PR executive Janie Huxton is sampling the rural life in a four-bedroom house in the village of Boveney, near Ascot, with her husband, who works in the City, and their two-year-old son. The house costs £5,000 a month to rent through Quintessentially Estates.’Two months ago, we sold our £2 million house in Hampstead and decided it would be good to spend time in the country,’ explains Mrs Huxton, 36, who is expecting her second child in June. ‘It is brilliant to have two acres of land instead of a patch of concrete, and we never have to fix anything because it is all the responsibility of the landlord.’
This period off the property ladder gives the family time to work out whether they do want to live in the countryside, or if they want to settle closer to London, saving them from making a costly mistake. ‘It’s expensive buying a home, with all the extra costs involved, so renting is no longer a “dirty” word,’ explains Theresa Wallace from Savills in Sevenoaks, Kent. ‘It’s quite a fashionable, Continental-style option with no stigma attached; it’s fine to say “We rent.”‘ With a shortage of homes to let and more people choosing to rent, prices have risen by 15% over the past two years, says Mrs Wallace. ‘Expect to pay £3,500 to £4,500 per month for a top-end country house.’
The beauty of renting is having flexibility as a cash buyer a stronger position than a chain-trapped buyer so you can move quickly when the right house comes along, believes Jackie Field, head of lettings at Strutt & Parker, Newbury. ‘Renting can also be a good way to have a second home in the country, again without the commitment and problems of tying money up. You can bail out at any time, choosing when it suits you.’ The irony is that many people escaping an overheated sales market now find themselves being gazumped or going to sealed bids for popular rental homes in catchment areas of good schools.
Housefinder Mary Ryan from Property Vision notes a particular five-year span in which people let out their London homes in order to rent country houses when their children go to secondary schools in the countryside. ‘Do you really want to move just for five years? An added bonus of renting is it gives people a chance to have the lifestyle they want for not a lot of money.’
Trying before you buy can be a motivation to rent, but there are drawbacks, according to James Greenwood, managing director of Stacks Property Search and Acquisition. ‘So much of a rural property is based on where it is, to the extent that one part of a village dramatically differs from another. It can be deeply frustrating to have had an enormously successful rental property, only to find replicating it when buying impossible. But if you’re serious about moving to the country, it is a good way to be on the spot, settle into schools and find the perfect property when you’re in place.’
To get the best rural rentals property, listening to word of mouth, finding a decent search agent and checking out commuting times to the station and the office are all vital, advises Tim Hyatt, head of lettings at Knight Frank. Is rental a dirty word? Mr Hyatt thinks not, citing a trend for tenants to remain doing exactly that. ‘Some are happy simply to rent, saving the money they would have paid on a mortgage.’