The perfect weekend retreat

Hankering after a country cottage of your own - or happier to rent? Having a second home is back in fashion. Penny Jackson considers the options for buying or leasing
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Packing up the car on a Friday night is quite a task if there are not to be tears before bedtime. Regular weekenders speak glowingly of their country retreats, before adding the warning that if you're the kind of couple who will still be arguing on Sunday evening about a forgotten case of wine, give a second home a miss. "We now have a rule of no recriminations or no vacation," said one weekender. "It works like a dream. Even the children stop fighting at the threat of not going to the cottage."

There has been a marked increase this year in the numbers looking to buy a second house. As people see the value of their homes increase, so they feel confident in taking on another property. Those who held on to weekend places during the recession in areas outside the Home Counties are now seeing them return to at least their original value. Clearly, money will go further outside the commuter areas, although it is apparent that there are more than a few who are prepared to spend as much on a second home as many would on their first. This in turn puts even more pressure on the short supply of country properties.

At the Winchester office of John D Wood, a thatched cottage near Arlesford with a guide price of pounds 280,000 was sold to weekenders even before it had been put on to the market, as was a house near Petersfield, which reached more than the asking price of pounds 450,000. A London couple have just bought a pounds 600,000 property near Romsey as their second home. Away from the heady prices of the south, the demand is in the more traditional range of pounds 70,000 to pounds 150,000. But even here the affluence of young London buyers is noticeable.

A Norfolk owner was driven to remark recently that he would scream if he saw another young man with jeans and a black BMW. Malcolm Duffey of Beltons has been seeing more cash buyers than ever in the past few months - a Georgian house sold in three days as a second home without even a survey. Villages along the north-west coast, with their brick, flint and chalk cottages, are always popular, he says. In Thornham, a small cottage overlooking the marshes and the sea has just been sold for pounds 175,000. But not everyone wishes to buy somewhere old, or, indeed, to buy at all. The rental market for country retreats is booming. So how do the weekenders make their choices?

Roger Scott and his family live in Middlesex. He bought a terrace cottage at Frogmore, near Kingsbridge, south Devon, through the local agents Marchand Petit for pounds 88,000. "We began looking in Salcombe, the major reason being the sailing, but it was too expensive and gets far too crowded in the summer. You can't move in the small streets. Our cottage was built 10 years ago on the site of an old boathouse. We wanted water, and it's bang smack on the creek. We didn't want to spend the time or money doing something up, and this one has low maintenance and can be locked and left. It is a long journey for a weekend, though. We were looking for four years, and I'm glad we didn't jump into anything."

Gill Purdy and her husband have a house near King's Lynn that was originally two farm cottages. They are selling it through Beltons for a guide price of pounds 245,000. "Even though we have been going there virtually every weekend for two years, I am perpetually carrying pieces of furniture and pictures. We did it up from top to bottom and lived in chaos for a while, but we knew we could turn it into something pretty. It really is a home from home. We employed a local builder whom we have known for 20 years, and that made all the difference because we could trust him. We always knew exactly what we wanted, although we did compromise on the position. It is rather isolated, in four acres of garden with a bluebell wood. We are moving because we want to be on the coast. The journey on a Friday and Sunday evening can be terrible, so I have taken to going down early while my husband uses the train."

Frances Sanders and her family rent an unfurnished cottage from a farmer in West Sussex, with another family. They pay pounds 575 a month plus council tax. "The best thing about it for us is that it gives us the chance to do things as a family," says Mrs Sanders. "The children love the space, because we have only a small garden in London and most of what we do is out of doors - cycling, walking or going to the beach. We leave a lot of stuff such as anoraks and wellies down there, so we don't have to pack much.The share works very well, although I am not sure it would if we didn't all have children. We have a cleaner on Mondays, which takes any strain out the relationship. In theory we have separate food shelves and spaces in the freezer. We treat the cottage very much as a bolthole and haven't got involved with the local community. It feels like home, but the great advantage of renting is that it's simply furnished and decorated, and we feel no compulsion to improve it. It also means that someone else sorts out all the problems. The cooker went out at Christmas and the farmer sent someone out straightaway, even though it was Christmas Eve."

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