Lustworthy pieds-à-terre in UK cities

August 2021 : The Sunday Times

When the first national lockdown was announced, many urbanites fled to the countryside. Given the demand for rural homes, it seems many of them have decided to stay.

Now “freedom day” is upon us, it isn’t quite as liberating as we’d hoped. Employers appear to be moving towards a hybrid way of working — two or three days in the office, and the rest at home — which requires a similarly blended living situation.

The compromise du jour is to have a main residence in the countryside and a city bolt hole or pied-à-terre.

They can be any sort of property, from a poky basement flat to a tucked-away mews, as long as they are right in the centre of it all. Great transport connections are a must-have, and security is usually top of the list too.

“Buying an apartment tends to be more popular than a house so it is easy to ‘lock up and leave’,” says Hannah Aykroyd, a buying agent. “Higher floors are preferred, and ideally buyers look for a well-maintained building and preferably one with a porter or caretaker on site.” This isn’t just so there’s someone around to fix a leak or sort out the post; home insurance policies often require a physical inspection of the property every 30 days to remain valid.

New rural residents may want to rent instead. At the start of the year Rightmove reported double-digit rent decreases in some of the biggest city centres across the UK, but there are signs that tenants are coming back. Rents in London have increased this quarter for the first time since the pandemic. “At the start of this year, the impact that tenants leaving cities had on rents was clear to see, but with restrictions continuing to lift, we’re seeing signs of the city centre comeback,” says Tim Bannister, director of property data at Rightmove.

City bolt holes are usually snapped up by international buyers who need a base for work or for their children while they are studying, but they have been largely absent from the market due to pandemic travel restrictions.

Three in five second homes bought last year were in the countryside, according to Hamptons International estate agency, but demand for second homes in the city rose 10 per cent in June compared with the same month in 2019.

Meanwhile, Londoners have been moving out of small central flats to the suburbs and beyond in search of space and gardens. “There are some great opportunities for canny buyers to land themselves a good deal on a little pied-à-terre in town,” says Edward Heaton of Heaton & Partners buying agency. “It’s the best time for years to bag a bargain in prime central London.”

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