It may seem a strange to discuss potential issues of buying a rural property on a site where we are extolling the virtues of moving to a greener, calmer space. However, it is easy to assume that buying a rural property is as simple as buying one in a built-up location and this isn’t always the case. Many of the aspects of purchasing a house in the country are, of course, similar but there are also some potential pitfalls that should be considered.
We have come across a number of unusual (to city folk!) features and circumstances during our journey to find a our rural idyll. We thought it was important to share this knowledge for anyone starting a similar journey. Below is a brief list of potential pitfalls to consider when choosing your home in the country along with links and tools to use as resources to help with your due diligence:
Rural property accessibility problems
Most urban properties either have parking on the street right outside or an easy to access driveway for off road parking. Several of the remoter properties we viewed, including the one we ended up buying, had access issues; some were not immediately obvious. Access to villages, hamlets and remoter locations is often via single track or narrow roads. Whilst it is possible to buy a modern house or cottage in a village, many countryside properties are over a hundred years old. These were built before vehicle access was a consideration. If there is off road parking it can be narrow and difficult to turn into or out of with a large modern vehicle. It is a good idea to check how easy it is to manoeuvre your car (or one you may be buying in future) to access a driveway from each direction.
Right of way
A less obvious issue is right of way. A couple of the houses we viewed were accessed via a variety of shared driveways, over unadopted byways, or were shared with a public footpath. When researching this we found a byway typically does not allow vehicle access. Therefore, there is a possibility that vehicle access could be denied to the property in the future with a drastic depreciation of the property value. Whilst this may be rare, especially if previous owners have used the access continuously over a long period of time, it is an especially important detail to check.
Estate Agents tend to gloss over details like this as being insignificant. Therefore, it is always recommended to do your own due diligence and seek legal advice. The title register and title plan should give an indication of whether the access falls within the ownership of the property. The local planning office or highways agency are a good source of knowledge for the designation of roads.
Some homes in the countryside with land may have footpaths running across them. These come with a variety of potential issues such as:
- Members of the public accessing your rural idyll.
- Cost of Public liability insurance. Required in case any person using the footpath was harmed (e.g. climbing a broken style).
- Potential requirements and cost to maintain the footpath as well as any gates/styles.
If the property you are considering has land then it is important to check if there are any footpaths or public access. Close inspection of Ordnance Survey maps of the area will give you this information.
Sewage and drainage issues
If you live in a town or city, like us, you have probably taken your sewage arrangements for granted. If you want to live within a countryside setting, however, it is likely that you may be confronted with a variety of private sewage system designs. These can vary from open cess pits to septic tanks or more modern sewage treatment plants. New regulations were introduced in 2015 regarding discharge of private sewage.
Many people who own property with such systems will be unaware they may now be legally obliged to update their system prior to selling. This is another detail that is not necessarily picked up or pointed out by Estate Agents. Therefore, you can get quite far down the purchasing process before a Solicitor highlights the issue. The cost of replacing such a system can run into thousands of pounds so this is another area that requires careful due diligence before committing.
General Binding Rules
The key issue is the requirement to meet the “General Binding Rules”. Full details of the rules can be found at the link at the bottom of the post.
The main emphasis of the rules is to prevent pollution even from small domestic discharges.
In summary these General Binding Rules require you to:
- Install a proper sewage treatment plant if you discharge direct to surface water e.g. direct to a stream.
- Add an additional level of treatment if you discharge to ground water e.g. through pipes into the ground. A septic tank and soakaway is no longer sufficient and requires a drainage or infiltration field.
- In addition, you may need to apply for a “Permit to Discharge” from the Environment agency if you:
- Discharge to a well or borehole.
- Discharge more than 2000 litres a day to ground or 5000 litres a day to surface water.
- Are within a groundwater source protection zone.
Even if the system meets the above requirements there are also additional rules on maintenance requirements as well as the minimum information the seller should give to the buyer regarding the system in place at the property.
If a sewage system is required to be updated or replaced, then the new system must meet current British Standards as well as current building regulations. These regulations impose restrictions on location of the system such as minimum distance from buildings and boundaries.
One final thing to consider is the location of the Sewage system especially the soakaway or drainage field which are usually underground and could even be located on a neighbouring property. If this is the case then it is important to get a solicitor to check suitable easements are in place. These are required for access to the system for maintenance etc.
The cottage we chose had a septic tank which the vendors insisted complied with the binding rules and we believed it did not. We requested the vendors arrange for an inspection as it was their responsibility to meet the regulations before selling.
Click the link for full details of the General Binding Rules
Broadband access issues
While we are continually becoming more connected with internet access spreading throughout the country, it may come as a surprise to find rural locations without good broadband coverage. Most properties we looked at had broadband but many only had “standard” speed which was as low as 1 Mbps. This may be adequate for browsing the internet but if you are intending to work from home, using video conferencing or have multiple users in the house streaming Netflix etc. then this could be an issue. Rightmove gives an estimate of speed for a property but when we were searching in 2020, we found the feature wasn’t very accurate. We double checked each potential home on multiple sources such as Ofcom (which also gives mobile coverage data) as well as multiple service providers own online broadband checkers. You can typically enter the actual property address for more accurate information.
Some properties we really liked didn’t have the required speed. Therefore, we researched alternatives such as 4G dongles and satellite systems. In the end we decided it would be too risky to go for this option without knowing if they would work. It was with regret that we had to say goodbye to some very appealing rural properties due to insufficient broadband speeds in the area. Conversely, we also found some very remote locations that had benefited from early roll out of ultra-fast speeds.