New home, new life: why the UK is on the move

The pandemic has sparked a rise in people wanting to relocate and change their houses, lifestyles and livelihoods

There’s been a huge increase in activity in the property market
There’s been a huge increase in activity in the property market

The urge to relocate has become one of the defining lifestyle trends of summer 2020. For many, particularly those living  in cities, lockdown threw into sharp relief what they really needed from their homes. There must be few urbanites who haven’t taken to Rightmove to see what they might be able to afford further afield – especially since the stamp-duty holiday began in July. And with millions still working remotely – and many planning to continue to do so – there is less of a requirement to live in a certain area for work. There’s been a huge increase in activity in the property market: according to Zoopla, demand is up 34 per cent on this time last year.

‘Movement to the country is a phenomenon, and it’s definitely as a result of Covid,’ says Andrew Perratt of estate agency Savills. ‘Even in the depths of lockdown, we started to see significant web traffic from people looking in the country, and we thought, is this bored dreamers, or is it for real? The minute we were allowed to do viewings in person, we knew it was for real.’ (Over June, July and August, 103 per cent more new buyers registered with the agency’s country offices than in the same period last year, and viewings were up 74 per cent.)

Downsizing – not necessarily in terms of the physical size of the property, but in streamlining finances and life admin – is an option that has become viable for far more people than it was six months ago. It’s also become necessary for some: according to the Office for National Statistics, about 220,000 fewer people were in employment in the three months to June compared to the previous quarter, and many in employment have had wages cut.

Moving, although a difficult process, can ultimately reduce stress. Here are three examples where relocating – for different reasons – has brought not only  a new home, but a new life.

1. From three bedrooms to six: 'We wanted to have an adventure'

Credit: Emma Lewis

Who  Luke and Sara Vandore-Mackay and their children, Murdo, seven, Sula, four, and Skye, one

Moved from  A 1,000 sq ft house in south-west London

Moved to  A 4,000 sq ft house in  east Devon

Reason for moving  Change in lifestyle, and to start their own food business

When Luke and Sara Vandore-Mackay, both 43, left London for rural Devon last year, they were looking for a simpler, less stressful lifestyle. After scouring the country from Scotland to Surrey, they found a six-bedroom house near Axminster, where both have been able to continue working freelance: Sara as a media lawyer, Luke as  a chef and food writer.

Life has indeed become simpler: even putting lockdown aside, they spend more time at home, and less money on socialising and the various expenses of city life, though a large period property costs more to run and maintain than a small terrace house. Moving wasn’t easy: ‘We were really happy in London, and in some ways it was a wrench to move away,’ says Luke, ‘but I think we both just wanted a bit more. We wanted to have an adventure.’

Their plan, once lockdown restrictions have fully lifted, is to use the house as a venue for a cookery school and feast nights, as well as providing holiday accommodation (via their website, highgrangedevon.com). ‘The aim is that this house will eventually pay for itself,’ says Sara. ‘We want to be able  to use it as a business, so that ultimately we can break free from financial constraints. In  London, it was always going to be a constant hamster wheel of earning money and spending it very quickly. We know we’re going to have to graft to get everything up and running, but hopefully in time we’ll be completely self-sufficient.’

The house dates from the 1900s but had been modernised before the family moved in Credit: Emma Lewis

Luke and Sara’s tips

  • Don’t  try to move and start  a new business at the same time. It takes a while to set up a business, make the right contacts, and get the word around. Working freelance has given us a financial safety net and allowed us to build up the business slowly.
  • Be realistic about the renovations you’re able to take on. We looked at a beautiful old farmhouse in a perfect location, but it would have needed a lot of work; this house had been done up by the previous owner.
  • Make sure you have money to fall back on. Sara took voluntary redundancy before we moved so we had that payout, but we got through it fairly quickly. We had to get our heads around things like LPG gas cylinders and emptying septic tanks, so in the first year we had enormous outgoings. We’re reducing costs by installing an energy- efficient smart-heating app and looking into solar panels.

2. From three-storey house to a rented flat: 'I needed to streamline my life'

Credit: Ingrid Rasmussen

Who Mimi Doctor,  interior designer

Moved from A three-storey, two-bedroom house in Dorset 

Moved to A two-bedroom flat in west London

Reason for moving Starting from scratch after a divorce

After living in the country for 15 years, Mimi Doctor, 41, found herself having to sell her house in Dorset following her divorce five years ago, after a decade of marriage. She decided to move to London and, without the means to buy in her chosen area, found a rented flat. Her change in location also brought with it a change of career: having previously run an events-production company, she retrained as an interior designer (her first big break was working with the television presenter Kirstie Allsopp).

‘It was quite a levelling experience, having to start again from scratch,’ she says. ‘I loved owning, renovating and refurbishing my own place, so leaving a life and a home to embark into the unknown was at times overwhelming. It’s an adjustment to downsize. You have to let go of attachment – attachment to your belongings, old ideas of success or status, and your old life. But it’s also a chance to find out what is important to you.’

She found her flat after a friend viewed it and texted her to say, ‘I’ve seen your future home.’ ‘I knew that I wanted to live in Notting Hill; I love that it feels like a little market town that’s wedged into a busy metropolis. It’s a real mixed bag and has a connected community, which reminds me of living in the country, and I work a lot with the local antique dealers and market traders, sourcing pieces for design projects.  I also wanted a home with a  history; a modern new-build would have felt incongruous after life in the country.’

Although the flat is rented, her landlord encouraged her to decorate and make it her own, so it feels like home; she now shares it with her boyfriend Oliver and their spaniel Maggie. As Mimi says, ‘I realised that wherever you are, life is just better with dogs.’

Mimi furnished her home with pieces she brought from her old house and others she picked up from antique fairs and auctions, such as her £200 sofa Credit: Ingrid Rasmussen

Mimi's tips 

  • If you’re moving into a smaller space, you have to be really ruthless when editing your things. You have to go through that Marie Kondo process of deciding whether you really love something, or use it a lot. It’s hard, particularly if you are a hoarder as I was, but ultimately it makes you feel better. 
  • Despite the upkeep costs of a country house, I’ve found renting in the city is more expensive, and it can lack the feeling of security that owning brings. It would be nice to own again one day, but I love where  I live.
  • When you’re on a budget and need to buy furniture for your new place, try antique markets such as Kempton, and auctions: my little Georgian sofa cost £200 at auction. 

3. From  four bedrooms  in London to a  five-bed by the sea: ‘We moved  into our  holiday home’

Credit: Malcolm Menzies/Living Inside

Who John Carver, Anna Carloss and their sons Finlay, 18, and Bodie, 11

Moved from A four-bedroom house in north London, via a village in Sussex 

Moved to A five-bedroom house with outbuildings in Rye, East Sussex

Reason for moving A weekend retreat away  from the capital became a permanent home

John Carver, 63, and Anna Carloss, 54, left London for the countryside 13 years ago: looking for a weekend property, they found a dilapidated house in the village of Peasmarsh, East Sussex, which they did up. Rather than just using it at weekends, however, they loved it so much that they moved there, and visited London at the weekends instead, before eventually selling their old house and living in the countryside full-time.

Their eldest son, Finlay, was small at the time, but after the arrival of his brother Bodie, and as both boys grew older, they realised their home was a little too rural and decided to move nearer a town, which is when they discovered this weatherboarded house on the river in Rye. ‘We didn’t want to live in the middle of nowhere up a lane any more, we wanted to be near the edge of the town so we could walk to the pub and the station,’ says John.

Since moving in, they have added a separate studio and a one-bedroom cabin, which they rent out as a holiday let. Life in London, where he and Anna ran a creative agency, was high-octane and all about work, says John; now they have other interests. They haven’t slowed down, however: Anna is training to be a psychotherapist, while John has launched a new advertising agency aimed at 45- to 65-year-olds (mumdad.uk) and is studying for an MA in video art at Goldsmiths, University of London.

‘There’s a lot to do here socially, and we’re by the sea for sailing, fishing and water sports,’ he says. ‘Life is as busy as you want to make it.’

Wood cladding gives the interior of the house a warm, rustic feel, which the couple have enhanced with vintage furniture and collectibles  Credit: Malcolm Menzies/Living Inside

John and Anna's tips

  • You don’t necessarily need to be within an easy commute of a city. It can be more challenging to make money out of town, but it’s becoming more accepted not to have a London office and to go up there on the train; you can do anything anywhere.   
  • Don’t hang about for too long; right now the demand for houses in this area is huge, as you get about three times as much for your money as you’d get where we lived in London. Most properties are being bought by people moving from the city and they sell within days. Our advice is to take the plunge.

Where to relocate to (and how much a 3 or 4-bedroom house will cost you)

Clockwise from top left

1. Scottish Borders For those looking for village life and outside space, St Boswells and Reston (below) make a charming setting, in striking distance of Edinburgh and the north of England. Four-bedroom house, £195,000

2. Richmond, Yorkshire Yorkshire has become popular with Londoners wanting a change, according to Andrew Perratt of Savills. The villages near this town are popular for cottages and larger period properties. Three-bedroom cottage, £250,000

3. Salisbury, Wiltshire Salisbury is surrounded by beautiful countryside, but has good links to London. Average house prices are less than half those in the capital, according to Rightmove. Three-bedroom house, £325,000

4. Holt, Norfolk Now that commute times are no longer as relevant, Norfolk is another area that’s taking off; this market town is close to the beaches at Sheringham and Cromer. Three-bedroom house, £315,000 

 Clockwise from top left

1. Bruton, Somerset Already known as the Notting Hill of Somerset, Bruton is well set up for those moving from cities, with independent shops, good restaurants and a Hauser & Wirth gallery. Four-bedroom house, £630,000

2. Winchester, Hampshire Another good option for people  who would previously have  aimed for the Home Counties  but can now consider moving  further afield.  Three-bedroom house, £650,000

3. Canford Cliffs, Dorset Families with a bolthole in the country are starting to move their main residence to areas such as this Poole suburb. Prices are higher than average, but lower than parts of London. Four-bedroom house, £1.5 million

4. Haywards Heath, West Sussex This Sussex town was a little far from London for a daily commute. Now, its position near the South Downs and just north of Brighton (but with lower house prices) will be a selling point. Three-bedroom house, £825,000

Have you recently moved home? Let us know in the comments section below.