Since the property market reopened after the initial Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020, it will come as no great surprise that over 60% of new buyers now list a bigger garden as the top of their requirements for a new home.
Having endured more Covid-19 restrictions throughout 2020 that are likely to be with us for the long-haul – despite the promising news of three approved vaccines – it is unsurprising that so many people are now seeking a complete change of both home and lifestyle.
Indeed, 28% of UK home buyers surveyed by Nationwide in September 2020 were on the move solely because of the pandemic. This was particularly the case in London and other urban areas, with buyers seeking more outdoor space. 31% of those surveyed said they wanted to live closer to parks and green spaces and 30% were looking for a complete change with a move to a more rural area. It seems that many of these prospective buyers (35% in fact) are happy to relocate to a completely different part of the UK to achieve these lifestyle changes within their budget.
Enter the smallholding. Officially a plot of land with less than 50 acres for cultivating crops and rearing animals, smallholdings come in all shapes and sizes depending on your budget. Whilst commercial farmland in the UK has always been sought after, smaller plots and homes with larger gardens are now increasingly in demand as more buyers than ever (and twice the numbers for the same period in 2019) go in search of self-sufficiency and their own River Cottage moment.
But how do you go from city slicker to countryside connoisseur? Read on for more advice on making the move.
Learn the ropes and be realistic
If your experience of smallholdings is limited to reruns of The Good Life or lunch at the River Cottage Kitchen, then before you invest in your own little slice of heaven and uproot your life completely, it may be wise to find out what running a smallholding really entails, with a training course for the enthusiastic but uninitiated. If the idea of slaughtering a chicken has you heading straight for that vegan cookbook and 5 am wake up calls are the stuff of nightmares, then it is probably safe to say that a subsistence lifestyle may not be for you!
If you do decide to give smallholding a go, remember to start slowly and be realistic about the time and expertise (or lack of!) that you can put into the venture. If you already have a busy work and family life, starting small with a modest arable (crop) yield rather than a vast commercial pastoral (livestock) commitment is probably the way to go.
Speak to the specialists
Do your own research into any locations which particularly interest you to get an idea of property prices and any potential gaps in the market if you are looking to start a commercial enterprise. But whilst you can tailor your searches to land or smallholdings on property portals like Rightmove, Zoopla and OnTheMarket for a DIY property search, with the popularity and limited availability of smallholdings on the market, making contact with agents who specialise in these types of properties can make all the difference to your property search.
Check out some of the following websites for more information:
Once you have found your own little self-sufficient haven, do be aware that whilst you can become a hypothetical Google expert within a few clicks, when it comes to farming, local knowledge is key. Seek out local experts and support networks who can provide advice and information on valuable resources such as farming subsidies and grants.
Embrace the unexpected
Once you have your own little piece of the countryside, be aware that things will not always run to plan! Plant or animal sickness and extreme weather conditions are just a few of the issues you may have to face so a flexible approach is needed. Look at alternative options for earning income from your land such as glamping, Airbnb rentals and event space.
Those in the know also suggest really getting to know your land for at least 12 months before you rush to implement too many new and costly ideas which may not bear fruit (or veg!).
And for those of us for whom an urban commute will always be a reality, there are plenty of options for self-sufficiency. Make the most of your existing outdoor space or check out allotments available near you. If you need more flexibility, many city farms and community gardens offer volunteering opportunities.