Property: Down in the country, something stirred

Rustic rentals are all the rage as people flee the city, if only for the weekend.

Country lettings have been stimulated of late by two distinct market trends. While people moving out of the cities seem happy to rent for at least six months in order to find their feet before buying, there are also a number of employees who are relocating within Britain, coming in from abroad, or on short contracts.

"It is far better to rent a property, than buy in haste and make a mistake," says Nicholas Rooke of Strutt & Parker's Canterbury office. "People are selling their property at the top of the market and are prepared to rent and sit tight for six months to two years before they find the right house."

But where do all these rentable rural properties come from? Mainly, from those who have to move abroad or to other parts of the country for work and do not want to sell up the family home. Increasingly, they are putting their homes in the hands of a reputable letting agent. That, at least, brings them some income and ensures their house is not left empty for months on end. "A lot of people renting out their houses in Kent are working in Europe," says Mr Rooke. "One chap moved to Europe then, a few years later, he started working two days a week in Chatham and found it easier to commute from Europe than from Canterbury."

In some cases, country renters are people who want a second home in the country but don't want to fork out for another property. Some of the more ideal "weekend" properties are cottages on large country estates in pretty locations, which are let by the estate owner but would never come on to the market for sale.

Alison and Peter Dean, who have recently had twin boys, live and work in London and rent a cottage in Oxfordshire. "We wanted a weekend escape but didn't want the responsibility of owning one. If anything goes wrong, the managing agents put it right," says Alison. "To make it really easy for us we have a cleaner, who comes in when we are not there."

Although the Deans weren't sure at first if they would really like their country cottage (another reason why they rented), they now go there every other weekend. The cottage has a garden and Peter has developed green fingers, even growing his own vegetables - something he had never even thought about doing before.

"Although numbers looking to rent are down on this time last year, it is noticeable that many of the new applicants are City-based and looking to establish a second home in the country, either for summer occupation or all year round," says Brian Muir of FPDSavills' Henley office.

The agent is letting two properties, which would be perfect for a weekend retreat. One is a mid-terrace two- bedroom thatched cottage at Great Tew, Oxfordshire, available for pounds 700 per month; the other a three-bedroom coach house in Henley for around pounds 750 per month.

One of the problems of renting a country home is that if it has a garden, you might find yourself mowing and weeding most weekends. However, there are a number of rental properties which come with a gardener. FPDSavills has just put a converted boathouse near Marsh Lock, Henley, on the market which has both a gardener and swimming-pool attendant included in the monthly rent.

This turn-of-the-century converted boathouse has two bedrooms, about a quarter of an acre of landscaped gardens, and it's on a private island in the Thames - an absolutely perfect location for the complete hideaway home. It has a wet boathouse, two moorings, swimming pool and self-contained guest apartment, and is available for pounds 3,250 per month.

Hamptons International in Wiltshire has a four-bedroom listed house on its books in Biddestone, near Chippenham. It has an attractive, enclosed garden and is available for pounds 1,500 per month including gardener.

"We have been really busy over the last six to eight weeks," says Zoe Goddard, area director of Hamptons International in Esher, Surrey. "We rent quite a lot to corporate tenants who do not want to buy because they are only here for a few years. We are also seeing a lot of tenants taking properties in modern developments because they are easy to run."

She has a variety of properties available to rent, from a five-bedroom modern house in West Byfleet for pounds 2,600 per month, to an eight-bedroom Edwardian house in Surbiton for pounds 5,500 per month.

Strutt & Parker lets properties all around the country; it has a semi- detached estate cottage in Framsden, Suffolk, with two bedrooms for pounds 375 per month, a detached weather-boarded two-bedroom cottage with stunning views over Fingringhoe Marsh near Colchester, Essex, for pounds 500 per month, and a two-bedroom penthouse overlooking Oulton Broad, Suffolk, for pounds 750 per month. In Kent, the same agent is letting The Lake House, in Eastwell Park, near Ashford. It's a Grade II-listed, four-bedroom stone hall house on a private sporting estate for pounds 1,900 per month. The agent also has a semi-detached three-bedroom period cottage in Selling, near Faversham, for pounds 525 per month. And in Torquay, Devon, you could take on a Grade II- listed house with six bedrooms and a large garden for pounds 1,200 per month.

Nicholas Zorab Estate Agents is letting two properties in Hampshire: South Lodge in Awbridge, near Romsey, a four-bedroom property which is available for pounds 1,200, and a three- bedroom period cottage in Lockerley for pounds 650 per month.

The West Country is also a good area for people looking to rent a holiday home. "Landlords tend to be either investors or people moving elsewhere in the UK or abroad," says Lesley Marshall of Hamptons.

"The key for letting a property successfully is that it should be of good quality and presented to a very high standard. The rents offered for this type of property are commensurate," says Alyson Lownie of FPDSavills' Winchester office.

She is letting West Street Cottage in Hambledon, a village house with four bedrooms, large private garden and good access to air and sea ports and motorways. It is available for pounds 2,500 per month.

All the agents agree that, for a property to let well, it has to be in a good position and it must be in tip-top order. "People are going for the best quality at the best prices. Values have stabilised but our message to landlords is that if you don't spend money and keep the property up to scratch, it won't let," says Goddard.

Strutt & Parker Canterbury, 01227 451123; FPDSavills Henley, 01491 843000; Hamptons Wiltshire, 01672 514877; Hamptons Esher, 01372 466646; Strutt & Parker Ipswich, 01473 214841; Nicholas Zorab, 01794 511911; FPDSavills, Winchester, 01962 841842

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