House hunting in England: rural splendor in the South West region

Built over the footprint of a former farm building, this contemporary 4,170 square foot home sits on four acres in Binegar, a small village in the Mendip Hills, five miles east of the cathedral city of Wells in the South West region of England.

The house is spread over one level, with living areas and bedrooms in an open plan under skylights. “It’s very unusual to have a house of this size with such a modern approach, as most houses in this area are more period or traditional,” said Lucy Drane, senior appraisals specialist at The Modern House, the listing broker.

Sellers Katherine and Geoff Ladd worked with Bath architect Michael Williams “to keep the material palette very simple, including wood and microcement,” Ms Drane said. After a year of construction, the couple moved into the house in 2019.

The house meets passive house standards to minimize energy consumption, using Internorm triple-glazed glass, mechanical ventilation with heat recovery system, rainwater harvesting and biodigester to recycle organic waste . Reclaimed wood appears throughout (Siberian larch covers the exterior of the house) and the outdoor decking is made from recycled plastic. “Our underfloor heating rarely comes on because the house is so efficient,” Ms Ladd said.

A long driveway leads to the house from a local road. The main entrance is through a timber-framed atrium with a clear polycarbonate ceiling, which opens into a hall and a long great room with a vaulted ceiling. Ms. Ladd designed the kitchen, whose black appliances offset a 13-foot steel island. A sliding glass wall opens from the kitchen to a back patio.

Floor-to-ceiling shelving lines a wall separating the living and bedroom spaces. The four bedrooms are of equal size and one of them has an en-suite bathroom. The identical proportions were “a diplomatic thing for their children”, Ms Drane said.

Several hundred yards from the house, the Ladds have built a separate cabin with a bathroom and kitchen, which the couple manage on short-term rental. “It could easily become overflow accommodation for the house,” Ms Drane said. The couple also “re-wild” the land and added a pond, Ms Ladd said. “So many wildlife came back,” she said.

Binegar is a farming village of some 355 people in Somerset, one of the seven counties that make up the south west region of England. Wells, known as the country’s smallest city and a tourist attraction for its 800-year-old cathedral, lies five miles to the west. “It’s beautiful and rural, but you have Bath and Bristol about 40 minutes by car, Bristol airport 30 minutes and good rail links to London from Castle Cary,” about 12 miles to the south, said Mrs Drana. London is about 125 miles northeast.

In a familiar post-pandemic narrative, buyers in Wells are faced with scarce inventory and rising prices. The Covid-19 pandemic “has accelerated the Somerset market exponentially”, said Nathan Emerson, chief executive of Propertymark, the association of property professionals. “It’s become a popular place for people leaving the big cities.”

According to data from UK property site Rightmove, prices in Wells averaged £329,520 ($401,000) through 2021, up 8% from the 2019 average. , prices were up 12% from 2019, although they were down 3%. during 2021.

“It’s calmed down a bit, because people who were going to move here have moved here, but it’s still a seller’s market,” said Adam Holland, director of the Holland and Odam agency in Wells. “We haven’t had such a small inventory of properties in the 20 years we’ve been in business.”

Britain’s separation from the European Union has also been a factor, “with a new range of people returning from Europe”, said Matthew Clarke, an agency partner at Greenslade Taylor Hunt in Wells. “We are also seeing expats returning from Hong Kong.”

Adding pressure to the market, Wells’ status as a tourist destination makes it popular for investors in short-term rentals, said Ollie Jones, branch manager at the Allen & Harris agency in Wells. “While central Wells has restrictions, other cities have fewer, and that’s a growing opportunity in our area,” he said.

While prices vary across the region, Mr Clarke estimated the average price of a detached house at £550,000 ($670,000), rising from £750,000 to £1m (913,000 to $1.22m of $) near the cathedral or near a school. “The highest recently was £1.35m in the city centre,” he said. Terraced townhouses sell for an average of £325,000 ($395,000), while flats range from £200,000 ($243,000) in new builds to £300,000 ($365,000) “for larger apartments. pleasant in older buildings closer to town”.

Mr Holland said a “modern four-bedroom detached house” in Wells would cost around £500,000 to £600,000 ($608,000 to $730,000), while a three-bedroom semi-detached house with a terrace would cost in average around £330,000 ($400,000), and a two-bedroom apartment around £165,000 ($200,000).

As Britain continues to face a nationwide housing shortage, building new homes in Somerset is a challenge ‘due to vast waves of protected land and national parks, as well as restrictions massive on construction,” Mr Emerson said. “These areas that attract people are areas where there will not be a lot of construction.”

Domestic buyers are fueling the Wells-area real estate market, “which is driven by two forces,” Holland said: “The first is education, because people want their kids to go to the great local schools. And the other is retirement, with people looking for a different pace of life, with access to both big cities and the countryside.

The pandemic has tipped the balance towards younger buyers. “Once Covid enabled mobility, area schools, coastal access and commuter connections started to attract more families,” he said.

While Londoners make up part of the region’s market, buyers from nearby Bath and Bristol are more common, said Cathy Morris-Adams, managing partner at Lodestone agency in Wells. “It’s more of a place where locals aspire to live,” she said. While demand from overseas buyers is weak, she said, it has soared in nearby Bruton, which Condé Nast Traveler has called “the coolest town in the West Country.”

There are no restrictions on foreign buyers in England, said Dominika Bullegas, a property lawyer at London law firm Healys. “But it’s not easy for a non-UK resident to get a mortgage,” she said, adding that specialist lenders, international banks or mortgage brokers can sometimes help. .

Once a seller has accepted a buyer’s offer, lawyers (called solicitors) on each side collect documents, including proof of funds, and carry out a series of property searches. “We also recommend a survey to determine the condition of the house,” Ms Bullegas said.

The buyer’s lawyer delivers a “contract pack” of documents and collects a deposit amounting to 10% of the purchase price.

For UK buyers, the process takes five to seven weeks, Ms Bullegas said. “But overseas buyers can expect to wait two months or more. The UK is completely inundated with non-UK buyers, and everyone has a very heavy workload.

English; British pound (1 pound = $1.22)

Overseas buyers face significantly higher taxes and fees than domestic buyers, according to Justin Bryant, director of Blackfriars Tax Solutions in London. “The government has been cracking down on foreigners for about a decade,” he said. “Before 2013, foreigners weren’t even taxed on property investments in the UK.”

The main property sales tax, the Progressive Land Tax (SDLT), has reached a maximum rate of 12%, which applies to sales of £1.5 million ($1.83 million) or more. Since 2016, the government has also levied a 3% surcharge “if you already own property anywhere in the world,” Bryant said. And there’s a 2% levy on non-UK buyers, introduced in April 2021 to help cool the market. “It all had a massive effect,” Mr. Bryant said. “Central London has never returned to its prime.”

Broker commissions in England range from 1 to 1.25%, said Ms Morris-Adams of Lodestone. Annual property taxes on this house, called council taxes in England, total around £3,000 ($3,620), according to Ms Ladd, the saleswoman. Monthly electricity bills total around £250 ($305), she said.

Lucy Drane or Charlie Arden Brown, The Modern House, 011-44-20 3795 5920

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