MICHAEL AND JEAN SIMPSON, OF GUILDFORD, WRITE: We are both nearing retirement and want to fulfil our dream to own a pretty cottage and a small amount of land in Dorset, our favourite county in the South-west.
We feel the county is overlooked - many people move further south west and much attention is paid to Devon and Cornwall, while we believe most of Dorset is more beautiful and does not have large cities to scar its landscape.
There are just the two of us with occasional visits from our two grown up sons, so anything from a two-bedroom house upwards would be sufficient. But we also want land to guarantee our privacy - preferably three acres or more - and we are considering taking up riding.
We would like to be on the edge of a village, not too far from the sea, and close enough to main roads or a railway station to make it possible for us to reach London occasionally without a difficult journey.
We realise this is quite an extensive list of requirements but we have a substantial budget. Once we sell our Surrey home we should have £650,000 to £750,000 to spend.
What can we get and are we making a good investment?
HOUSE HUNTER REPLIES: Dorset is indeed overlooked by those moving south west, but one reason for that is its high cost of property.
Land Registry figures show Dorset to be five per cent more expensive than Devon to the west, and 10 per cent more than Somerset to its north.
There are relatively few properties with substantial land on the coastal fringes of Dorset and those that exist, especially around Lyme Regis and the Jurassic Coast area, are well beyond your price range.
However, your budget should be enough to produce good choice just a little inland, although remember you are not alone in relocating to Dorset from well-heeled areas like the South-east.
Estate agent Knight Frank says 29 per cent of buyers of rural properties priced £500,000 or above in the county come from local areas, but a staggering 55 per cent come from London and the South-east, 14 per cent from other parts of the UK and two per cent from overseas.
Competition has increased this year, with local estate agents such as Hamptons International complaining that Dorset residents wanting farmhouses and period properties at the top end of the market are consistently losing out to incomers.
It says although demand for properties in the area is now falling because of the summer lull, it remains 50 per cent higher than a year ago. "Local buyers are finding strong competition from the noticeable increase in buyers moving into the locality from London and the Home Counties," says a spokesman.
You should ignore the traditional summer lull in house hunting and look at the good variety of properties still on the market before more buyers make competition even fiercer in the autumn.
Robert Barber, of Dorset estate agent Palmer Snell, says: "There are two to three offers on each property being received, showing the demand for new instructions. Prices are gradually increasing."
Property one: Yew Tree Cottage, Stour Row, Shaftesbury.
Agent's details: The property is built of stone with a tiled roof and probably dates from the 18th century. Carefully extended and modernised, retaining traditional features including flagged floors and exposed beams. French doors lead on to the terrace from the drawing room and the gardens and fields which total 2.5 acres. There is also some stabling. Duncliffe Wood lies about half a mile away and is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Price: £685,000. Agent: Humberts, 01935 812323.
Property two: Mill Farm, Blandford Forum.
Agent's details: This is a detached 17th-century Grade II-listed, four-bedroom mill house with 5.5 acres of land, sitting in outstanding countryside with good rail links to London Waterloo from Sherborne and Gillingham. The A303 is close by. The property has character features internally, including an inglenook, exposed beams and original window seats. To one side of the house there is a stable yard with three loose boxes and a tack room, plus a ménage. Paddocks are at the front and rear of the house.
Price: £625,000. Agent: Humberts, 01935 812323.
Property three: Parsonage Farmhouse at Todber, near Sturminston Newton.
Agent's details: This is a Grade II-listed building on the edge of the village that has been significantly improved since the mid-1990s. There are five bedrooms with character features, including exposed beams, inglenooks, woodburning stoves and deep windowsills. The two acres of grounds consist of gardens and two paddocks, one of which has stables. The property is close to Gillingham station and the A303.
Price: £750,000. Agent: Savills, 01202 856800.
Dorset is not large (at its widest points it is 50 miles by 40) yet it is much less densely populated than its neighbouring counties. Even including the heavily urban areas of Bournemouth and Poole there are only 710,000 residents - two thirds that of Devon. But it has a high proportion of retired people - 26 per cent of residents are over 65 - and the population has been gradually declining in recent years.
Expect the popularity of the county to soar in a few years time when it becomes the only location outside of London to host an event at the 2012 Olympic Games. The Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy will be the location for the yachting events. Most property experts predict this will increase demand for coastal properties, though not necessarily inland rural ones such as yours.
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