Weekend trips were organised, with tours of the estate agents and residential areas. On one typical visit, a group of four civil servants called on Claire Blenkin, who, with her husband, Tim, runs Blenkin & Co, just appointed the York associates of Knight Frank & Rutley. All were looking for something similar: a bit of land and a nice cottage with three or four bedrooms in a village outside the city.
How much were they expecting to spend, she asked? About pounds 100,000. Ah, said Claire, that made it a little difficult.
The sad truth is that there are no more bargains in the countryside. Scan the pounds 40,000-and-upwards sections of the racks at agents which concentrate on the lower end of the market, such as York-based GA, and you find them filled with small city terraces, Thirties semis and modern estate houses. These are perfectly good homes, but have none of the romance associated with a move to a cathedral city or the countryside.
In the country, prices for all but the tiniest cottages start at about pounds 120,000. A good-sized, four-bedroom house with a decent garden, such as The Corner House at Bulmer, for sale with Carter Jonas, will cost you around pounds 200,000.
One of the reasons North Yorkshire prices have held up well is that Maff is not the only organisation moving to the region. The Crown Prosecution Service and the Curriculum Council are also moving to York. Direct Line insurance has just opened an office in Leeds, already employing 200 people and expecting to increase that to 900. First Direct, the Midland's direct banking service, is opening an office there with 500 staff this autumn, in addition to the 1,500 jobs created over the past four years.
On top of this, Leeds has a booming professional sector, attracting lawyers, bankers and accountants. These are having an impact on the area we may soon be calling the North Riding again.
In the professional sector, source of many new arrivals coming up from the South, there has been a resistance to living in Leeds, particularly from women, for whom the city still conjures up the redundant industrial North. They prefer Harrogate or York, or the surrounding villages. Others favour the Howardian Hills and the North York Moors beyond, where the improved A64 has brought cheaper properties within commuting distance.
Swelling their numbers have been the growing band of professional home workers, whose office is a fax line away from wherever they choose to live. Robert and Carolyn Jaques are one such couple. They run a company administering pension schemes. He was originally from York and they had always planned to return there from the company's base near Brighton.
This week they move into a country house (above right) with five bedrooms, four reception rooms and a large garden in the village of Aislaby near Pickering. They sold their seven-bedroom house in Sussex for pounds 250,000, and bought the new one from Blenkin & Co for just under pounds 225,000.
Carolyn Jaques said: 'This house has far more character. The walls are 2ft 6in thick. Houses are still slightly cheaper up here, especially if you're looking for a bit of land. It's very hard to find an acre of garden in Sussex.'
It was a Sussex couple who bought the Blenkins' own modern detached house on the outskirts of York. 'They had four children and had to trade down,' said Claire Blenkin. 'There is such a dearth of good property in the centre. It creates a strong market for old town houses and period houses in the country. People leaving London want to leave it for something better.'
Carter Jonas is currently selling three city-centre town houses. A four-bedroom Victorian terrace in a prime location with a garden (a rare bonus in York) is priced at pounds 205,000. A slightly smaller house in Ogleforth, with views of the minster and a very stylish interior, is pounds 185,000. The third house, on the Mount, is an exceptional building with six reception rooms and six bedrooms, ornate architraves and a sweeping staircase. Offers around pounds 280,000 are invited.
But these houses are few and far between. York is a city without suburbs, and is not the genteel place that people imagine. There are isolated pockets of gentility - Mulberry has recently opened a shop there - but its smart streets are easily outnumbered by modest ones, and it is still, on the whole, a small, respectable town with a stunning city minster at its heart.
It is north of York, in the land dominated by estates such as Castle Howard, that the prettiest houses are to be found. Charles Yeoman of Strutt & Parker has just sold Holly House, a four-bedroom cottage with lovely gardens in the village of Carlton Husthwaite, 20 miles north of York, for about pounds 125,000. 'If I had a dozen more like that I could sell them tomorrow,' he said.
He is selling one much smaller stone cottage with just two bedrooms in Knaresborough, near Harrogate, for the same figure. It is here that the prices start to look high.
At the other end of the market, North Yorkshire has few grand houses between the rectory and the Castle Howard-sized estate. Tim Blenkin has just sold the old rectory in Nunnington near Helmsley for just under pounds 300,000. Above that price, property is scarce.
Blenkin & Co (0904 671672); Carter Jonas (0904 627436); Strutt & Parker (0423 561274).
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