How to move house and stay sane
Buying in a new area can be a humongous headache but we've picked up some great tips from a top property search expert.
You don’t need me to tell you that moving house is a leetle bit stressful, especially if it’s a major relocation. When we made the move out of London, I distinctly remember driving along the smog-ridden North Circular, our final batch of possessions crammed into the car, heading to our exciting new rural life… with me in flood of tears, sobbing, “I’m going to miss this road!” I mean, have you ever BEEN on the North Circular? It’s basically the seventh circle of hell. But six solid months of stress and exhaustion does funny things to a girl.
It doesn’t have to be quite so hideous though. Enter Tessa Lamb, a property search specialist who knows every nook and cranny of Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Hampshire, deals with all the estate agents so you don’t have to (phew), and has helped hundreds of families relocate over the last few years; a large chunk of whom are moving from London or overseas to the countryside. Think Kirstie Allsopp without the bossiness and crafting obsession, basically. I collared her to garner her top tips for those who are looking to move to – or within – Berks, Bucks, Oxon and Hants. Tell us, Tessa!
Know a hotspot when you see it
Top of wishlists right now are Wantage in Oxon, Goring and Streatley on the Oxon/Berks border, Kingsclere in Hampshire and Bucklebury in West Berkshire – home of Kate Middleton! That fact puts it on the map but the good schools, pub, interior design shop and coffee shops are the big draw. Look at upcoming changes to trainlines – for example, the Elizabeth Line that runs West to East across London opens next year and will start at Reading, so if you commute to London, those villages around the city are worth a look. And research new building work – many towns and villages are currently expanding in size and subject to huge new developments. You don’t want to buy a house and then find out your cute hamlet is about to double in size and there’s going to a row of houses next to your back garden. And remember if developments haven’t yet been put into planning, they won’t show in searches. You need to ask locals about this kind of thing.
Be realistic about noise
My clients who move to the area from cities are often aghast at noise levels. There are a lot of airfields and RAF bases around these parts and lots of road noise – you’re often not far from a motorway, A or B road. The commuter area around Oxon is pretty noisy and the Henley area is on the flightpath to Heathrow. There is this assumption that the countryside is this silent idyll but it can be hard to find a truly peaceful spot.
Think hard about your lifestyle
So many clients tell me that being able to walk to a decent coffee shop is vital. But actually in rural areas that can be very tricky – there aren’t many villages with London-style cafés! You have to drive more in the countryside – be it for that coffee or the school run or to the station so a move could mean you need to fork out on a second car. And if you need babysitters or cleaners they will need transport too. The commute is a major one – what’s the trainline’s timetable and punctuality record like? Do you have to change trains? Will you get a seat or do you have to stand? If one of you is coming home broken and exhausted every night that will impact on your family’s happiness. You need to think about your existing routines and how they will work somewhere new.
Schools are important but not everything
Often people make the big move when their children are very young so they’re fixated on primary schools. But those years go so quickly, so don’t forget to think about secondary schools too. And bear in mind that you may have periods when different children will be in different schools and have different start and finish times, so can you make those logistics work? That said, people can get obsessed about being no more than 15 minutes from the best school in the areas. You should focus more on getting the right house because hopefully you’ll be there forever, rather than just during your children’s school years. Of course schools have to be part of the equation but they are not the whole picture.
Building your own Grand Design isn’t for everyone
Lots of people have aspirations about buying land and building from scratch but it is a really hard thing to do. When it comes to buying land, you are competing with developers who have deep pockets to woo farmers, and lots of land doesn’t even make it on to the open market. Everyone thinks it’s a cheaper option than buying an existing house but it’s not. Often it’s better to buy an existing house, knock it down and start again – but there aren’t that many properties suitable for this coming up. Basically, you have to really want to have to do it and go into it with your eyes open.
Use a property search expert
Yes, I would say this of course but it really does help if you’re moving to an area you don’t know. A vast proportion of properties are sold before they even come to the market, so if you’ve got someone helping you who knows all the local agents and has their ear to the ground, it helps you get ahead of the game. I pick up clients from the station, drive them everywhere, educate them about the area, curate 30 possibles down to four viewings so they don’t waste their time, and put them back on the train again at the end of the day.