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Moving to the country: Talk Education speaks to bespoke property finder Fiona Penny

By Talk Education
10 January 2022

It’s been close to two years since the pandemic started shaking up our lives. And thanks to Covid, many parents have been prompted to look at education options beyond London, and start thinking about relocating to the country. Estate agents outside London are seeing a significantly higher proportion of enquiries from London families – and with open day season on the horizon, now is high time to start thinking about a move. We spoke to bespoke property finder Fiona Penny to find out about the current state of the property market – and to get her advice on how to make a house move as seamless as possible…

How is a property search agent different from a run-of-the-mill estate agent?

The fundamental difference between a bespoke home finder like ourselves and most estate agents is that we act on behalf of the buyer, not the seller. This means that our loyalties lie wholeheartedly with our clients, and the most important job we have is to find exactly the right property for them.

Tell us a bit about how you work, and how you find off-market properties for your clients

We are the client’s ears and eyes on their ground, and take all the hard work away from them, freeing up more time for work, family commitments – and, of course, finding the right school for their children. I have been in the business for over 14 years, and over that time I have built up incredibly strong relationships with each and every estate agent across Kent and East Sussex. We are in constant communication with each other to ensure we are the first to hear about a property as soon as it becomes available. We also get access to properties before they come onto the open market – and as a result, our clients are very often the first (and sometimes only) people to view a property before it is snapped up.

Thanks to our reputation, we are often the first port of call for vendors looking for a discreet sale – giving us even greater access to off-market properties. Many often contact us to see if we have a client who might be interested in purchasing their home.

What are the advantages of buying or renting a property through a bespoke home finder like yourself?

There are almost too many to mention! First and foremost, there’s our access to off-market properties mentioned above.

Then there’s our trusted and unrivalled local knowledge. We can tell you everything you need to know about a new area – whether it’s the most popular street to live on, the time it takes to commute to London or the best schools in the area (including the length of the school run to and from any potential new home). We have access to a bulging little black book of professional contacts who can help with the nuts and bolts of the house-buying process: solicitors, surveyors, architects, builders and more, ready to ease the stress of moving to a new area and guide you through every step of the way.

Best of all, we can give our clients a real edge in an increasingly competitive market. Estate agents know that our clients are serious about buying – so they’ll bend over backwards to make the process as smooth as possible.

Due to the pandemic, lots of families have been moving out of London (or thinking about it). What have the past 18 months been like for you?

It’s been a whirlwind. As soon as each lockdown started to ease, we were inundated with enquiries and new clients. For obvious logistical reasons, a number of families were forced to remain in rental properties throughout the lockdowns – so as soon as restrictions were lifted, we saw a huge increase in clients starting to actively search for a new home.

That said, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. Many would-be sellers were hesitant to put their homes on the market, either due to Covid-related concerns or fears that they wouldn’t find a new house for themselves. As a result, we’ve seen huge demand, coupled with an extreme lack of housing stock – resulting in a very challenging market. Which gives more reason than ever to consider using a buying agent…

How has the pandemic affected the housing market? Are house prices still going crazy?

Thankfully, the intense price rises are slowly beginning to dissipate. Yes, it’s still very much a seller’s market – but the general consensus in the industry is that house prices have finally peaked.

It’s open-day season. What’s your advice for families looking to find a new school at the same time as a new house?

It’s worth knowing that January can sometimes be a little early in the year to start looking for a house; the market tends to pick up from February half-term onwards.

However, the most important thing to remember is that families should find the right school for their child before searching for a house. So use the next few weeks and months of the open-day season to narrow down and confirm your school choices – and then start the house-search process.

And finally, what are the key things to bear in mind when considering a move to the country?

For most families, making the move from the city to the country is a huge change. Be sure that your relocation plans genuinely are the right move for you and your family, and not just a knee-jerk reaction to the pandemic.

Think about where you’ll need easy access to. Do you need to be close to a mainline train station? A particular motorway or road network? And, most importantly, schools: don’t undo the benefits of swapping the city for the country by subjecting your child to an unnecessarily long commute.

Find out about local wifi speeds and connections – with so many of us now working at least part of our time from home, this is more important than ever.Check local development plans – if you don’t do your due diligence, you may end up living next to a new housing development, which will be nothing like the country idyll you had planned.

And use an experienced and ideally local solicitor. They can help you avoid costly mistakes.

Find out more about Fiona Penny Bespoke Home Finders at