Buying a rural property and living the good life is the dream for many homeowners, but it is important you do your homework before signing on the dotted line. Partner Kate Bayley from our residential property team explains what you should be aware of and provides some top tips…
Buying a home in the countryside has been the goal for many people, particularly during and after the lockdown forced on us by the Covid pandemic. Suddenly demand for rural property skyrocketed and, in some cases, so did prices.
Homeowners who were forced to work from home realised they could up sticks from the city and live an idyllic life in rural areas of Cornwall and Devon while continuing their careers – for some, from a larger property with more land for the same or even less money.
While demand has started to level out and lenders report falling house prices, there is a lot of activity in the residential property market and people are still looking to move to rural locations.
But before you start searching for that perfect pad in the country, it is worth taking time to consider some of the potential pitfalls that you might face along the way. Here are my top tips for buying a rural property…
Access to the property
Often rural properties can be found on private roads, down country lanes or along a farmer’s track. You must ask whether the access will be your responsibility or whether it is adopted and maintained by the relevant Highways Authority.
If the access is unadopted, it is important to check whether you have adequate rights of way to the property. If not, you may need to consider a deed of easement – put simply, it grants rights over the third party land, sometimes in return for a payment.
If a third party owns the access to your property, as your conveyancing solicitor, we would need to check the title to make sure there are adequate rights of way for you to access the property.
Ransom strips are also more common in rural areas, and again, this is something that we can check on your behalf by carrying out a local search.
If the access is private, it will be your responsibility to maintain. You will therefore need to also consider issues such as potholes, resurfacing and, insurance. If the access is shared by more than one property, you should ensure that adequate maintenance provisions are in place, many Lenders make this is requirement for their loan.
Remote areas are more likely not to be served by mains services, such as a mains drainage supply – if that is the case when buying a home, you should think about your potential maintenance and running costs.
You must also take into account any environmental regulations – environmental laws govern the use and discharge from private drainage systems, which include septic tanks and cesspits.
You will need to check compliance with the current regulations, as replacing drainage systems can be costly – one of the important points to note is whether the drainage system drains into land or a watercourse. The regulations have fairly recently changed so some existing systems are no longer compliant.
Similar to the access to the property, your conveyancer will need to ensure that there are sufficient rights in place to use the private drainage system.
Private water supply
Some rural properties will be served by a private water supply such as a well, borehole, spring, stream, river, or lake.
Again, our team can check whether there are rights in place for you to use and extract the water from the supply. You may need an Abstraction Licence and we also strongly recommend that the water quality is tested frequently and is safe to use.
Are the boundaries of your rural property or land correct on the Land Registry filed plan or unregistered title plan? This should be checked as a matter of course.
If you are buying a large piece of land with many acres, it is a good idea to walk the acreage to check the boundaries.
Boundary changes may have taken place over the years, so it is important to check these in order to avoid disputes – boundary disputes can often be a real problem when it comes to rural properties or land.
You will also need to be aware of which boundaries are your responsibility.
Public rights of way
There are more than 2,700 miles of public rights of way in Cornwall including 2,216 miles of public footpaths, as well as public bridleways, restricted byways, and public byways. A public right of way is a route over land which the public has a legal right to use at any time.
If you are purchasing a rural property with land, you will need to see whether you are affected by a public right of way running within the boundaries of the property. Again, we will check this for you by carrying out enquiries with the relevant local authority.
Countryside pursuits are very popular in Cornwall and Devon, as well as in other rural parts of the UK and it may well be that other individuals have hunting, fishing, or shooting rights over the property or land you are looking to purchase.
An experienced solicitor can obtain the title to see whether this is the case, however, it may not be possible to terminate these rights, so it is better to know from the outset.
It goes without saying that development can be more difficult in rural areas. There is a higher chance that you may fall into a conservation area or an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) where planning restrictions can be more limited and regulations much tighter.
Often rural properties are older and potentially historic in nature, so you may find that your house is a listed building – this may come with greater planning restrictions which affect your ability to renovate or extend the property.
Other practical matters
It is advisable to do your research when looking for your rural property – there are many practical matters which could affect your daily life. Things such as having a reliable, high-speed broadband service or strong mobile phone signal, for example, especially if you plan on working from home. Several websites offer free broadband speed tests so you to check beforehand.
How convenient is your location to the local shop, doctors, pharmacy, or school? How easy will it be for you to receive deliveries or even have your rubbish collected? Most good estate agents or property websites will provide a lot of this information for you.
For more help
Whether you are buying or selling a property, instructing a good conveyancing solicitor is key. Using a professional and experienced adviser can make a big difference to addressing some of the issues.
For more advice on buying a house or information about any of the matters covered in this blog, contact a member of our residential property team by using the online form or call 0800 328 3282.