Rural areas suffer from an undersupply of affordable housing. Cracking down on second homes is one part of the solution
Devon, where I grew up and have lived on and off my whole life, always had a surplus of affordable places to live. Even a couple of years ago many private rentals stood empty for months. This year, when my husband and I needed to move back from Lundy, an island off the north Devon coast, things were very different.
There was such a dearth of long-term rentals that I found myself jumping on anything listed. We competed with 50 others for an overpriced place that had flooded the previous winter, and had our application rejected for a bungalow with a scoreboard above the bed. For most properties, we didn’t even get to the application process. Many listed in the morning would be fully booked for viewings by lunchtime. Soon, we expanded our search from north Devon to the entire county, and then to Cornwall, Somerset and Dorset. Wherever we looked, I heard the same story: “Fully booked for viewings.”
Over the past 18 months, the pandemic has triggered a reappraisal of city living. Many of those who began working from home desired more space; those without gardens craved access to the outdoors. This has caused a boom in rental and buying markets in rural areas, which are now seeing an influx of what the property website Rightmove calls “cash-rich relocators”. Last summer, inquiries for village properties on the website from city residents – primarily from Liverpool, Edinburgh, Birmingham and London – more than doubled. The only areas where rents have decreased since the pandemic began are the north-east and Greater London. Where I live, it sometimes feels as though every derelict barn has an estate agent’s sign on it.