Dip a toe in the backwater before you buy your wellies

Are you yearning to move to a rural idyll? Increasing numbers of would-be country dwellers are discovering that it makes sense to rent for a few months before making any irreversible decisions. Mary Wilson investigates
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The Independent Online

Summer in the city makes many people dream of escaping to the country, away from the heat, the noise, the traffic fumes. But before you flee and buy your rural idyll, it might be wise to try renting first.

Summer in the city makes many people dream of escaping to the country, away from the heat, the noise, the traffic fumes. But before you flee and buy your rural idyll, it might be wise to try renting first.

A few months as a country tenant not only gives you a chance to properly suss out your chosen area for rustication, it will also give you the chance to find out whether you really take to rural living. What seems blissful on a soft summer evening may not have quite the same appeal in the teeth of a howling November gale.

More importantly, by selling your town house first, you are in prime position to jump when the right property comes up. And, living locally, you will have a first-hand understanding of the area's properties in terms of prices and what is available.

Carter Jonas's Marlborough office has 500 people looking for houses, with more than 100 renting locally while they house-hunt; many are young families from south-west London. "We are finding that most of our tenants are renting specifically to cut the chain so they can buy more easily and quickly," says Luci Bowers. "They might take a six-month lease, but this often goes extends to a year as there is so little on the market just now."

The Marlborough office deals with quite a few estate cottages; the rest of their rental portfolio comes either via people letting out their home because they are going abroad for a couple of years, or via houses which have been bought purely as investments.

Properties currently available for rent include Downview, a three-bedroom thatched cottage with a large garden in Rockley, near Marlborough for £850 a month, to four-bedroomed Lammy Down House, in Baydon, in the heart of the Lambourne Downs for £2,250, to Haredown House, a substantial period house in Great Bedwyn near Marlborough with eight bedrooms, heated pool and tennis court for £4,500.

Carter Jonas's offices in Oxford and Cambridge have also noticed this "try before you buy" trend with a significant portion of their potential buyers having already sold their family home and renting locally. "In Oxford, there is a huge competition for family houses, so purchasers want to be in the best possible position," says Tanya Hall.

The Oxford office has two wings for rent at the Manor House in Barton Hartshorn, a 17th-century building near Buckingham. Both properties have the use of a tennis court and private gardens, for which a gardener is included in the price. The South Wing has five bedrooms and three reception rooms and is available for £3,000 a month. The West Wing has four bedrooms, four reception rooms and a suite on the second floor, suitable for an au-pair or teenager, for £3,500 per month.

"We are definitely finding that applicants want to try before they buy," says Alyson Lownie, head of FPDSavills country-letting department. "This applies to both families and younger couples. They like the idea of living in the country, but haven't actually practised it, so this gives them time to find out if it is for them. And people are more cautious now. They used to feel that if they made a mistake, they could sell again at a profit. Now they want to get it right first time."

Lownie is also seeing a number of people who are letting out their London house while renting in the country: "They are worried that if they sell the London house, they will never be able to afford to get back again."

FPDSavills has a two-bedroomed wing of The Old Nursery, a period property in Beccles, Suffolk, for rent at £700 a month; Grants, a detached period house in 20 acres, with seven bedrooms and four reception rooms in Limpsfield, Surrey for £4,250 a month; or a six-bedroom, four-reception house with swimming pool complex in Ascot for £10,000 a month. Meanwhile, Hamptons International has a very pretty five-bedroom thatched cottage in Virginia Water, Berkshire, for £3,000 a month.

Carter Jonas, Marlborough, 01672 514545
Carter Jonas, Oxford, 01865 404431
FPDSavills, Ipswich, 01473 234800
FPDSavills, Sevenoaks, 01732 789760
FPDSavills, Windsor, 01753 834666
Hamptons International, 01344 873081